Rehabilitation Project on Berlin Plantation, Kaapsehoop

August 19, 2019

The area being rehabilitated above Battery Creek Gorge. Environmental guidelines for commercial forestry in SA require a 30 metre buffer along cliff edges.

The Kaapsehoop Heritage Association (KHHA) has been implementing a rehabilitation project on the Battery Creek Gorge, located on the Berlin Forest Plantation. The project is a joint collaboration between the KHHA, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency and Safcol, with funding from the Kruger to Canyon NGO.

By Brian Morris

Safcol’s Berlin Plantation is located near the town of Kaapsehoop (about 32 km from Nelspruit) in Mpumalanga. The area is characterized by high rainfall, ranging between 990 to 1540 mm per annum and located at 1740 m.a.s.l.

The area is located within a Critically Endangered Ecosystem, the Kaapsehoop Quartzite Grassland ecosystem.

The Kaapsehoop Heritage Association was formally established in 2017 with the sole purpose of implementing stewardship conservation projects in the town of Kaapsehoop and on Safcol and DAFF conservation land adjoining the Kaapsehoop village.

The project is a demonstration of biodiversity conservation stewardship within a forestry context.

The objective of the project is to rehabilitate an area of 3.6 ha along the edge of the Battery Creek Gorge.

The Environmental Guidelines for Commercial Forestry Plantations require:-
• a 30 metre buffer should be maintained along the edge of a cliff; and
• a 20 metre buffer strip should be established from the outer edge of the temporary zone of a wetland or from the outer edge of a riparian zone.

The Battery Creek Gorge is located within a short walking distance from the town of Kaapsehoop. The views from the Gorge are spectacular and the view of the Battery Creek waterfall is impressive from the edge of the gorge. Upstream of the Gorge and waterfall is the Battery Creek perennial stream feeding the waterfall and flowing through pine plantation.

Battery Creek Falls.

The recent clearfelling of pine plantations along the Battery Creek Gorge resulted in a degraded environment, characterized by bare soil and the prevalence of invasive species, such as wattle, bramble and bugweed.

The project entails the following activities:-
• The use of existing pine trash/debri on site as erosion control mechanism, by cutting and packing the material along the contours.
• Site preparation including application of manure/compost/lime/fertilizer. The final combination of soil improvement materials will be determined based on soil analysis.
• The work will entail the physical sowing of suitable grass species/seeds within the impacted area by hoeing out planting furrows and the sowing of seed.
• The initial clearing of alien vegetation and two follow ups, six months apart.

The site after clear-felling and before rehabilitation.

Project Progress
Following the clear felling of a pine compartment within the project site, a delineation was conducted by Safcol to clearly demarcate a 30 meter buffer from the cliff edge and 20 meter buffer from the riparian zone upstream of the waterfall.

Work on the site commenced in November 2018 by first clearing the site of discard pine branches and trash, following clear felling. The site was largely inaccessible due to the presence of pine discard material and heavily infested with alien invasive plants (Silver wattle, bugweed and bramble). Pine trash was cut into shorter manageable lengths by chain saw operators and by hand and then packed in rows along contours.

All alien invasive plant species were also cut down and packed onto the woodrows and cut stumps were treated with herbicide.

Thereafter thick mats of pine needles were racked onto the packed woodrows.

The harvest debris was gathered into rows along the contour to prevent erosion.

A soil analysis was undertaken to determine soil properties, and although the analysis revealed low pH of the soil, it was decided to proceed with rehabilitation without any further soil amelioration.

A mix of indigenous Highveld grasses (comprising 6 species) and Eragrostis tef (Tef) was purchased for the project through Enviropulse CC. The following species were included in the mix:
Cymbopogon caesius (Broad-leaved Turpentine Grass), Cymbopogon pospischilii (Bitter Turpentine Grass), Digitaria eriantha (Smuts Finger Grass), Heteropogon contortus (Spear Grass), Melinis repens (Natal Red Top), Pogonarthria squarrosa (Herringbone Grass).

The rationale behind this selection of grass species was to have pioneer grasses (Tef and Natal Red Top) that can fulfill the function of fast germination, the provision of temporal cover to curb soil erosion and to prevent weedy pioneer forbs (non-grassy weedy herbs) from establishing before the full production in the grass layer has been restored. Although Spear Grass is not a true pioneer in the Highveld as it is in the Lowveld, it was included because it is adapted to withstand moderate disturbance and overgrazing. Smuts Finger Grass is well adapted to grow in substrates where the soils are well drained. This grass provides good cover, especially when grazed and it will fulfill an important role in preventing soil erosion at the sensitive sandy soils on Sandstone. Unpalatable Turpentine grasses are included to provide cover, whilst not attractive to horses grazing in the area.

Ripping of the surface was completed by hoeing and grass seeds sown within the ripped area and then lightly brushed over to slightly cover the seeds. For success of grass species germination it is critical that seeds are sown no deeper than a half an inch. 60kg of grass seeds was applied within the initial area of 2.25 hectares of the prepared site, in two stages commencing at end of November and in mid-December, following good rainfall.

Good rainfall during January to April following the sowing of the grass seeds has resulted in successful germination and good grass cover by the end of April 2019 with an estimated 65% success rate with regard to grass seed germination and growth. Success of seeding was more pronounced in areas sowed in mid-December, than end of November and the timing of the sowing of grass seeds is critical to ensure successful growth, when soil moisture is high and good rainfall follows sowing.

New grass emerging in the rehabiliated area five months after sowing the seeds.

Critical to the success of the project is to follow up with regular weeding of the re-grassed area and the clearing of alien invasive species by felling and hand pulling of seedlings and applying stump or foliar spraying with herbicide (Plenum). The main invasive plant species are bugweed, wattle, pine, bramble and ink bush.

In addition about 0.25 ha of indigenous forest edge has been cleared of all alien vegetation (primarily pine, wattle, bramble and bugweed). The forest edge abuts the areas being re-seeded with grasses, and closer to the cliff edge.

It is anticipated that the total cost per hectare will be in the region of R19 000 as ongoing follow up will be required to maintian the site free of alien invasive plant species. Thereafter, the maintenance of the site will be required at much lower costs, than would be required should the area have been left in the state preceding rehabilitation.

The benefits of the project can thus be summarized as follows.

• Improved habitat for species of plants and animals
• Protection of the Ecotone - cliff edge
• Soil erosion control
• Lower invasive plant infestation (and lower costs to maintain in the long term)
• Improved landscape – aesthetics
• Compliance to environmental guidelines

• Awareness for the community about the importance of environmental rehabilitation
• Co-operation between forestry and conservation (the project is being implemented as a demonstration for forestry with regard to rehabilitation of excised areas)
• Job creation
• Enhanced tourism potential
• Lower long term maintenance (alien clearing) costs.

Seedlings of forest species (eg. Cape Holly) emerging on the forest edge following the clearing of alien invasives.

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, May 2019

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