Cape Town - Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning together with CapeNature has announced a preliminary plan to de-proclaim and abolish the ecologically rare Driftsands Nature Reserve on the Cape Flats after land invaders occupied it during July 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Conservation groups and experts have raised the alarm on the dire impact this would have on conservation as the reserve was situated on Cape Flats Dune Strandveld, an endangered vegetation type that was endemic to the coastal areas around Cape Town, including the Cape Flats.
Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning spokesperson Rudolf van Jaarsveldt said, “the Driftsands Nature Reserve situated on the western boundary of Mfuleni has been subjected to continuous unlawful occupation since July 2020”.
“The natural ecosystem inside the reserve has been transformed to the point where the negative impact is irreversible and therefore Local Government MEC Anton Bredell has allowed the de-proclamation process to be initiated.”
However, FynbosLIFE programme manager and botanical ecologist Caitlin von Witte said this move by Local Government was a concerning precedent to set for future generations whose survival depended on the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity.
“If other reserves follow suit and succumb to land invasions, there will be no more ‘biodiversity’ in the UN Biodiversity Capital of the World, a tourism title Cape Town currently boasts. Strandveld is a particularly rich source of medicinal and nutritional plants, and wetlands, such as the system of floodplains, depressions and seeps at Driftsands, support rich animal and plant life and help protect surrounding areas from flooding.
“More than 90 bird species have been observed in the reserve,” Von Witte said. She said the endangered Cape Flats Dune Strandveld had two subtypes: False Bay and West Coast, both found in Cape Town and nowhere else in the world.
“Driftsands is one of the largest remaining sites of the False Bay subtype which is nearing Critically Endangered status. Including Driftsands, only 7% of the False Bay subtype is adequately conserved at five sites on the Cape Flats, all of which are critical components of the City’s Biodiversity Network,” Von Witte said.
Jacqueline Bishop, a conservation biology researcher at UCT said the underlying dune sands and dune slack wetlands were stabilised by vegetation, and the system had a unique hydrological function that was part of a network of wetlands all feeding into the groundwater.
“Historically, the area comprised a massive expanse of interconnected wetland-river seasonal water bodies fed by the Cape’s winter rainfall. This network has been heavily impacted over the last few decades with water bypassing the natural catchment via canalised rivers and stormwater systems to the sea,
“What we see today are mostly isolated areas (and maybe quite ecologically degraded) that were once part of a large network and are all in need of conservation and protection,” Bishop said.
An intergovernmental task team was established to plan for disaster management and mitigate the risks of the nature reserve and the team noted that the Driftsands area had been the subject of several feasibility studies over the past two decades relating to the housing needs in this part of the city.
In response to ANC provincial agriculture spokesperson Patrick Marran’s parliamentary question on whether there were plans to relocate the reserve’s current land occupiers should the reserve be abolished, Bredell said there were no plans to relocate the occupiers to other areas since there was no other land or sites available.
“The inter-departmental Task Team has recommended that letters be provided to occupiers of the area in the reserve at risk of flooding during winter, requesting them to voluntarily relocate to a safer, demarcated area within the current nature reserve.
“Once the unlawful occupants have moved from the dam, the City of Cape Town will be able to undertake the necessary maintenance of the City’s infrastructure,” Bredell said.
Marran said the public should be concerned about this plan to abolish the nature reserve because not only will a nature reserve be lost but this was an easy way out for the provincial government to provide decent services to the people currently living in the nature reserve – such as human settlements and infrastructure.
Van Jaarsveldt said members of the public were invited to submit written representations or objections to the proposed abolition of the Driftsands Nature Reserve by May 26.