The Western Cape’s fynbos is seriously threatened because of underfunding that will affect the biodiversity of the region and radically reduce the province’s scarce water supplies.
CapeNature, tasked with managing vast stretches of water catchment areas in the Western Cape mountains, is the third-worst-funded statutory conservation organisation in the country, in the second-richest province.
There has been a huge increase in the number of fires in the province’s water catchment regions in the past five years, coupled with a lack of funds for staff and equipment to fight them.
More frequent fires means an increase in young fynbos vegetation, which has been proved to be less effective than older fynbos in “trapping” water to filter into the province’s rivers and dams to supply cities and towns.
It is estimated that it will take at least R52 million to set up an effective fire management operation in CapeNature’s water catchment areas, to carry out proper fire management and to set up a proposed land use advisory unit.
Mark Botha, director of the Botanical Society’s flora conservation unit, said yesterday: “CapeNature has been hung out to dry, yet their contribution to the economy of the Western Cape is massive. They have to look after all the mountains in the province that produce our water, yet they get peanuts.
“The City of Cape Town sells around R2 billion of water a year, which all comes from the fynbos catchment regions CapeNature manages – clears aliens, fights fires – but not a cent of the water sales goes back to (CapeNature).”
The Botanical Society and CapeNature have submitted a joint report to the provincial treasury on the issue.
Last month, five major fires in the Boland mountains destroyed about 35 000ha of water-catching fynbos.
Anne-Lise Vlok, CapeNature’s ecologist in the Gouritz region, said 24% of the 41 000ha Outeniqua Nature Reserve had been “nailed” by repeated fires.
Between 1930 and 1950, there had been on average one fire every two years in the Outeniqua reserve, two fires a year between 1950 and 1975 and six or seven a year between 1975 and last year.
“We are in trouble,” said Vlok. “The fires have had a devastating effect, but we don’t have enough resources to put out fires in young veld when property and lives are not threatened.
“The main role of fynbos is to capture water. The more frequent the fires, the less effective the fynbos is at capturing water.”
Zane Erasmus, CapeNature’s fire programme manager, said lack of resources meant they had been able to do only 11 of the 97 controlled burns they should have done last year. They had also not been able to burn all the necessary firebreaks.
Fanie Bekker, acting head of CapeNature, said yesterday: “We need to optimise our resources by tapping into our partners in Working for Water, Working on Fire, poverty relief and expanded public works funding programmes to ensure we maintain the present level of water in the catchments.
“That’s a priority. If not, it will have consequences for water users.”