Professor Cowling comments on Tuesday’s article ‘Damned if you Don’t so better you do’!
The concerns raised by some residents regarding the impact on wildlife of mechanical clearing of dense, mostly alien-invasive bush on vacant plots, open spaces and other undeveloped land in St Francis Bay, is understandable. There is no doubt that the habitats of some bush-seeking creatures are being destroyed.
But this must be seen in the context of the designated uses of these land parcels. None is allocated for nature conservation. Most are erven – small plots intended for homes and gardens. The wildlife they support will inevitably be displaced.
The larger parcels – public open space and undeveloped land – are not representative of our regions biodiversity. Like the erven, they too are densely infested with alien tress and indigenous shrubs such as taaibos and bitou.
Prior to the development of St Francis Bay, these areas would have experienced frequent fires, keeping the vegetation low and sustaining populations of all manner of wildlife adapted to these more open conditions. The absence of frequent, bush-destroying fires has resulted in massive bush encroachment throughout our area, and this has reduced the diversity of both plants and animals.
Therefore, the removal of bush is not a blow for biodiversity, its a boon. Cleared areas, provided the regrowth of alien trees (mainly rooikirans) is controlled, will sustain populations of low-growing herbs and shrubs that are becoming all to rare in our region.
The fact that wildlife can persist in urban areas is a plus, but not essential for the persistence of the biodiversity of our region. The St Francis region is well-endowed with nature reserves, which cover some 330 hectares. These reserves are expertly managed, and the wildlife routinely monitored, by FOSTER on behalf of the Kouga Municipality and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency. Managing vacant plots, undeveloped land and public open space for fuel reduction can complement our reserves by enabling the persistence of species requiring more open conditions. An excellent example is the open space north of the SPAR complex. Here the veld is mowed each year to create a park-like appearance of kershout bush clumps scattered in a matrix of grassy fynbos, the latter supporting large populations of our beautiful pink candelabra plant. This is the win-win situation that we are seeking.
So much for the negative aspects of bush clearing. The positive side is all too clear for St Francis residents: fuel reduction to curb the spread of wildfires! There is no need to elaborate on this point.
I do hope this account allays people’s concerns about the impact of bush clearing on wildlife. I am happy to respond to further concerns. Please send messages to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for putting the bush clearing activity into perspective Professor – Editor