Caution against eradication of vegetation

Bridget Pitt, Princess Vlei Forum

We refer to a recent Southern Mail article on “ Residents call for fencing and lights” (November 6).

We share the concern of Sasmeer residents regarding security at Princess Vlei.

Security at the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area remains an ongoing concern to the Princess Vlei Forum and we have been actively exploring ways to improve safety and security. However, we would like to caution against indiscriminate culling or eradication of vegetation on site.

Princess Vlei is suffering from decades of neglect.

Apartheid spatial planning stripped this important green lung of the necessary resources and infrastructure to make it an open, safe, accessible community facility.

While the situation has drastically improved since the plans for the mall were scrapped in 2014, given limited funds, this neglect cannot be reversed overnight.

Princess Vlei has the potential to provide not only a valuable community natural recreational facility, but also to play a critical role in conserving our biodiversity heritage in an ever-growing city, in a context where ecosystems worldwide are facing catastrophic threats, and species are going extinct at unprecedented rates.

Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and Cape Flats Sand Fynbos are both threatened vegetation types found on the lowlands of Cape Town. There are 190 known plant species found at Princess Vlei, which is one of the last remnants of this unique Cape Flats habitat in the southern suburbs.

However, inappropriate mowing and brush cutting will cause many of these to go extinct. Untimely mowing has led to the loss of mass displays of the spring floweringrain daisies. These communities, which feed many insects and life forms further up the food chain, have collapsed on parts of the vlei and will take years to restore.

The forum is working with the City to realise the potential for Princess Vlei, and to give life to the community vision developed over years of consultation. We have raised funds for a full-time site manager, who has radically improved the situation, enabling the deployment of Expanded Public Works Programme workers, giving oversight to restoration, and facilitating communication with communities.

The City of Cape Town has contracted the services of a 24-hour security patrol.

We are encouraging the City to create a dedicated managerial post at Princess Vlei when the forum’s funding for this comes to an end.

The forum has also raised funds for an active programme to conserve and restore the vlei for future generations. We are currently planning the reintroduction of a number of highly threatened red list species. This includes the whorled heath, Erica verticillata, a beautiful plant once abundant in wetlands on the Cape Flats and the namesake of the suburb of Heathfield.

Recent restoration plans take into account the need to ensure that visibility is maintained, to avoid providing cover for antisocial behaviour.

Together with our manager we are identifying and appropriately dealing with bush encroachment.

Over the past year we have involved about 700 school pupils in nature conservation and art events, including planting and cleanups.

This provides valuable alternative interests for our youngsters, lessening the chance of their involvement in anti-social activities (and thus lessening crime).

Community policing and increased local custodianship are the only way to conserve the vlei into the future.

As a small volunteer organisation, we encourage neighbours and the broader community to join our vision to rehabilitate and conserve Princess Vlei for the community and generations to come.

We will be having a guided walk around the vlei in the new year -details to be announced. This will give a good idea of the restoration work we are doing, and we would like to invite all interested a

nd concerned residents to join us. Email imagine@princessvlei.org