Creating an Ecological Corridor

Groundwater levels are busy returning to historic levels in the Tokai area of the Table Mountain National Park. In addition, years of hard work has led to a functional ecological corridor, creating a protected green belt between the mountainous areas above Tokai and the Cape Flats lowlands below.
Marsh pegodabush (Mimetes hirtus) has been doing well since the rise of the water table.

This conservation success story has taken more than 10 years to achieve, but has only become possible after Mountain to the Ocean Forestry (MTO) started harvesting their pine plantations. Since then, SANParks has been working hard to restore the land to what it once was, a process that will now benefit the greater community.

The rehabilitation process entails restoring vegetation in areas previously covered in pines. Seedbanks are stimulated with fire to spur on new growth, and where needed, fynbos is also planted.

This process has contributed to the restoration of an entire system, allowing biodiversity to function properly again, says regional ecologist at the SANParks’ Cape Research Centre Carly Cowell. One of the most prevalent changes is the groundwater levels.

“We are getting less rain in winter, but levels are still rising. This may be due to the extreme consumption of invaders such as pines. It is known that large eucalyptus trees, for example, can consume up to 90L of water per day. A stand of more than 1 000 pine trees will certainly consume a lot of water,” says Cowell.

The water from the mountainous areas above Tokai will feed the wetlands and go into the city reserve at Rondevlei, the only place in Cape Town where hippos live. “Historically, Tokai would have been a giant filter to fill the underground aquafers and water systems in the Cape flats. The entire system is being restored,” says Cowell. The increasing water levels are a positive development in a time where conditions are getting warmer and dryer.

The change in water levels also has a positive effect on plant species. “Species often disappear because there is no water, but restoration goes hand in hand with species coming back.” Cowell says that the marsh pegodabush (Mimetes hirtus), for example, has returned to the area after years of being absent. These shrubs grow in Cape Point but previously occurred in Tokai and surrounding areas. Attempts to reintroduce them in the past failed, says Cowell, but now that water tables are rising, they are thriving.

The water levels and successful growth of former lost species are not the only change. Wildlife is busy returning. Lower Tokai, where restoration started from 2006, has seen the return of birds attracted by fynbos, butterflies, moths and even bees.

“The Cape grysbok, normally found only in Silvermine, came down to the offices in Tokai this winter. In the past, the pines formed a barrier that prevented them from moving because they felt too exposed.”

For the first time there won’t be isolated pockets of fynbos. The peninsula sandstone fynbos in Silvermine will finally connect with the peninsula granite fynbos (endangered) found near the SANParks offices in Tokai. From here Cape Flats sand fynbos stretches all the way to the valuable wetlands. Finally, animals and water will move freely and an entire biodiversity can function again.

Written by René de Klerk– SANParks Times Reporter

Pictures: Carly Cowell and René de Klerk

Content courtesy of SANParks Times: www.sanparkstimes.co.za

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