Rehabilitation of natural wetlands at Renishaw Hills’ development to attract local flora and fauna
A well-orchestrated programme of invasive alien plant removal, excavation and re-planting of indigenous vegetation, in an effort to restore the area’s natural wetlands, has begun at Renishaw Hills within the Mpambanyoni Conservation Development on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.
The Renishaw Hills development – a new mature lifestyle village near Scottburgh – is centred on the natural beauty of the region with a focus on restoring the indigenous flora and fauna throughout. The wetlands’ rehabilitation forms an integral part of the overall restoration project which is being funded by Renishaw Property Developments – a subsidiary of Crookes Brothers Limited, the JSE stock exchange-listed organisation driving the Renishaw Hills development near Scottburgh.
Led by experienced team members Elsa Pooley (landscaper and botanist), Geoff Nichols (leading KwaZulu-Natal expert in rehabilitation) and Amanda Maphumulo, horticulturist, the wetlands’ restoration programme – which started in May 2016- will convert about 22 hectares of sugar cane farm back to being a partially functional wetland. The work is being performed in conjunction with Mpambanyoni Conservation Development’s estate manager, Gareth Hampson, and every aspect of the project strictly adheres to the guidelines of the Environmental Impact Assessment that was carried out in preparation for the development.
“Wetlands are a vital part of the biosphere,” explained Geoff Nichols. “They provide free goods and services to the planet, slowing flood pulses, keeping water upstream longer, cleaning pollutants and silt while creating a habitat for various fauna and flora.”
He said a good example of the use of wetlands is as roosting sites for Barn Swallows who return every summer to roost in the reedbeds associated with marshes.
The process of restoration will take many years but it is estimated that, should everything go according to plan, the area should have wetlands functioning at about 50 percent in the next three to five years.
“With the halting of herbicide use, the indigenous plants will take hold over the next few years and the sponge effect will be slowly restored once we physically block the herring bone drains to raise the water table again,” explained Nichols.
The Invasive alien plant control team, which has been working on the whole estate the last three years, is now working to a co-ordinated programme with the rehabilitation and landscaping of the new estate. In an effort to re-establish the natural vegetation, the restoration team is scouring the local remnants of wetlands for plants that have been lost to the system such as Red Hot Pokers, Arum Lilies, Crinum or Vlei Lilies, River Pumpkins as well as about 70 other plant species. A number of plants are also being sourced from the local Izinyoni Indigenous Nursery.
“I have had a passion for these wetland plants for years and have collected many species which we are about to return to one of the wetland ‘nurseries’,” said Nichols. “This is good wetland that will allow us to plant stock plants for the rest of the site.”
He explained that certain other adjustments are being made as the effects of the restoration become evident.
“We are seeing clear water running and the banks are stabilised with plants, preventing excessive runoff into the wetland. Decisions will now need to be made as to whether this will be a woody or non-woody wetland as steps will have to be taken either way.”
In addition, wetland triage has begun which involves pushing back soil plugs about 5metres wide to block the drainage channels. These blockages raise the water table which in turn provide habitat for skulking birds and animals while also creating the deeper channels that create the extra surface area that become the wetland’s ‘small intestine’. This allows water to percolate slowly through the plants and their root systems which filter out all pollutants created by human activities.
“With the establishment of the plants, the animal life will begin to arrive,” explained Nichols. “They will most likely come from the surrounding area which has good wetlands, wild forest and remnant grasslands. Many more wetland birds and animals will increase as the flora and, with it, shelter and food increase in diversity through our efforts as well as by natural means.”