Friends move to conserve rare fynbos

Muizenberg Park is home to an endangered vegetation type, which has local conservation significance.

In light of this, Friends of Muizenberg Park (FoMP) are engaging with the City to promote better management of the park, including the possibility of a controlled burn.

The vegetation is made up of a combination of plants and particular types of soil called peninsula granite fynbos (PGF) which fringes Table Mountain. This vegetation occupies the less steep, lower slopes of the peninsula, from Lion’s Head across to Muizenberg, with a few patches towards Cape Point.

Although most people confuse it with sandstone fynbos, it grows on a far richer soil type, and much of it has been lost to vineyards and wealthier suburbs.

According to the City of Cape Town’s biodiversity fact sheet, PGF is earmarked as endangered, with a national conservation target of 30 percent.

About 57 percent is already transformed, of which 40 percent is found in Cape Town’s urban areas and 13 percent under vineyards and pine plantations.

About 30 percent is conserved, but this includes large areas that are currently mismanaged as Afrotemperate Forest, or are still under pine and gum plantations.

The last remaining peninsula pine plantations are found on land where PGF historically grew. The original vegetation would also have supported many wild animals that are now extinct on the peninsula.

Spokesperson for the FoMP, Sam Ralston-Paton, said: “We would also ultimately like to put up some signage to provide information on the natural and cultural heritage in the park.”

The park falls within the city’s fynbos biome; originally, the natural vegetation would have been a mix of peninsula sandstone fynbos on the upper reaches (nationally endangered and legally protected) and peninsula granite fynbos (critically endangered and legally protected) on the lower granite soils transitioning to sandveld.

“There are still remnants of granite fynbos in the upper reaches of the park – and – properly managed and surveyed, there may well be rare species in the area,” said Ms Ralston-Paton.

The park, however, is not considered a critical biodiversity area in the City’s biodiversity network (which is a map of the City’s conservation priorities).

“The upper reaches do, however, include natural vegetation in moderate to restorable condition,” Ms Ralston-Paton said.

The City’s biodiversity network still suggests that this area has local conservation significance.

Interestingly, PGF is the main ecosystem on the northern peninsula that conserves baboons. Most larger animals have been lost due to development and human use of the fertile soils, but PGF is very popular for recreational activities, such as hiking, cycling, dog walking, horse riding and jogging.

Almost 40 percent of the total PGF now remains.

This type of vegetation has been noted by environmentalists and conservationists to have the largest number of emerging weed species in the country; with many Mediterranean weeds colonising the area.

However, most weeds cannot cope with fire. This is a result of the long history of colonisation and the relatively fertile soils.

The City of Cape Town’s biodiversity fact sheet says that the biggest threat to this grouping is alien plants and animals: wattles and pines in that order, with blackwood being the worst invader, although black wattle and stinkbean are also major threats. Many herbaceous invaders are also a problem.

The next biggest threat is fire protection. Significant areas of this veld type from Newlands to Cecilia, Orangekloof and Tokai are not being burnt frequently enough, and are being invaded by relatively species-poor Afrotemperate Forest.

Ms Ralston-Paton said that PGF is endemic to Cape Town and that it is mostly found on the lower slopes on the Cape Peninsula, from Lion’s Head to Smitswinkel Bay.

According to the biodiversity fact sheet, it almost completely surrounds Table Mountain, Karbonkelberg and Constantiaberg, through to the Kalk Bay Mountains.

Then, south of the Fish Hoek gap, it is limited to the eastern side of the peninsula – from Simon’s Bay to Smitswinkel Bay – with a few small patches between Fish Hoek and Ocean View.

Chapman’s Peak Drive offers a scenic route to see what PGF looks like.

Ms Ralston-Paton couldn’t say if local gardens would have retained the combinations of vegetation.

“Perhaps some small remnants persist in people’s gardens just below Boyes Drive, but it is unlikely to be viable in the long term. There is another patch around Old Boys Drive which is growing okay,” she said, adding that there are definitely some species of medicinal value growing in the upper reaches of the park.