Clearing alien invasive trees from Cape mountains

The Husqvarna crew that assisted the Helihack team to clear alien trees from the Langeberg mountains wilderness area, in celebration of Earth Day on 22 April: (L to R) Charles Henderson, Pieter Smuts, Johan Kruger, Larry Morris, Divan Vermaak and Wynand Lombaard.

A collaborative initiative between Cape Nature, Helihack, Husqvarna, local landowners and other interested parties, was launched in mid-April to clear invasive pine trees from the Langeberg mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Western Cape’s Bosmansbos wilderness area.

The project, which coincided with Earth Day on 22nd April, aimed to clear alien vegetation which has invaded this remote wilderness area and poses a serious threat to its biodiversity.

“Husqvarna supports many conservation efforts in South Africa and we first became involved with Helihack two years ago,” commented Divan Vermaak, Husqvarna’s Veld Management Specialist. “This was in response to their innovative approach towards the sustainable management of water resources through the elimination of invasive pine trees in the province’s remote mountain catchment areas. As champions of sustainable land (veld) management, we understand that no single organisation can achieve this goal alone. Husqvarna, therefore, put its weight behind this latest Helihack project by sending in a team and equipment to assist.”

Vermaak explains that because water management falls within the veld management spectrum of their business, they have been very fortunate to participate in a couple of previous Helihack projects, supplying PPE and equipment to make the mountaineers’ jobs easier.

“During a Helihack operation, experienced volunteers are suspended from helicopters and dropped with their chainsaws onto remote mountain tops where they clear invasive pines and other alien plant species,” he explains.

Preparing to be lowered onto a mountain top to clear alien vegetation.

Over the two or three days of the undertaking, the group cut down some 5 000 trees.

Teams of volunteers were airlifted to specific locations on the Langeberg mountain range, braving rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions. Relying on each other's expertise and support they were able to successfully clear the invasive pines and other vegetation threatening the delicate ecosystem and help to restore this World Heritage Site to its natural state.

Working in this remote environment, the battery-powered Husqvarna chainsaws were pushed to the limit by the Helihack team.

“The Helihack team has been testing our battery-operated chainsaws to see how they handle this type of work, and the feedback has been great,” says Vermaak. “As a result, Husqvarna sponsored a battery-operated chainsaw as well as training on the safe use of this equipment.”

Michael Raimondo said that the battery-operated chainsaws have proved to be a game changer for the Heliack team as they are light, reliable and easy to operate.

“We have to work very quickly and the battery-operated chainsaws are light and reliable which saves time and energy,” said Michael. “Made for purpose, you can flip off one battery and put on another, even while dangling from a rope with your chainsaw next to you. With just two batteries, you can operate the chainsaw all day.”

Raimondo added that when working in wilderness areas, quiet is better than noisy and the battery-operated chainsaw really delivered in this regard. The battery-operated chainsaws were backed up by the Husqvarna petrol-powered chainsaws which were used to clear the larger trees.

“Through our successful partnership with Helihack in collaboration with all the other stakeholders involved, we have demonstrated the incredible impact and success that can be achieved when people work together towards a common vision,” concluded Vermaak.

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