Flo­ra, fau­na

Oudtshoorn Courant - - NEWS -

Eig­h­teen mont­hs – and two spring se­a­sons – af­ter the 2017 fi­re, and Fe­at­her­bed is look­ing glo­ri­ous! Our in­di­ge­nous fyn­bos and co­as­tal fo­re­sts are flou­ris­hing li­ke t­hey ha­ven’t do­ne for a­ges, and the bi­rds, the in­sects, and the small a­ni­mals are back at work with a will.

In truth, we didn’t need to do much to en­s­u­re t­his success – na­tu­re has won­der­ful me­cha­nis­ms for re­sto­ring it­self af­ter fi­re – but we did car­ry out one vi­tal in­ter­ven­ti­on: we re­mo­ved (and are still doing so) as ma­ny of the in­va­si­ve a­lien seed­lings as we could.

Plants from ot­her a­re­as – trees, sh­rubs, gras­ses – will be­co­me in­va­si­ve in a new en­vi­ron­ment if t­hey don’t meet e­ne­mies t­he­re (bugs, fun­gu­ses and so on) that slow their ra­te of re­pro­ducti­on. T­his le­a­ves the in­di­ge­nous ve­ge­ta­ti­on u­na­ble to com­pe­te for spa­ce, air and wa­ter – which is ex­act­ly w­hat hap­pe­ned at Fe­at­her­bed, be­gin­ning in the 1960s: an Aus­tra­li­an watt­le (A­ca­cia cy­clops, which South A­fri­cans call rooi­krans) es­ta­blis­hed it­self he­re, and alt­hough we’ve al­ways had a pro­gram­me of cut­ting them do­wn by hand, it see­med at ti­mes that we we­re fig­hting a lo­sing batt­le.

C­le­an s­la­te af­ter the fi­res

But the fi­res re­du­ced a­bout 95% of the rooi­krans on the re­ser­ve to as­hes, which ga­ve us an in­va­lu­a­ble op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­start with a c­le­an s­la­te.

So, we hi­red a te­am of 15 pe­op­le, and t­hey be­gan to re­mo­ve the seed­lings that e­mer­ged four and six mont­hs af­ter the fi­re (t­his is nor­mal – the seeds can lay dor­mant in the soil for de­ca­des). T­hey mar­ked the land in­to plots of 900sq m and pul­led by hand – at ti­mes as ma­ny as 200 000 – plants in a sin­gle plot and left the car­cas­ses w­he­re t­hey fell in or­der to re­turn the car­bon to the soil.

E­ven as t­hey we­re doing t­his, the fyn­bos (Ca­pe mac­chia) be­gan to re­ap­pear: the succu­lent groun­d­co­vers, the as­to­nis­hingly green e­me­rald grass (ac­tu­al­ly a sed­ge!), bulbs li­ke the wat­so­ni­as and the paint­brush li­lies, and sh­rubs li­ke the du­ne o­li­ves and the wild sa­ge.

The soft, e­ar­ly rains that fell af­ter the fi­res hel­ped too, and the fo­rest spe­cies – par­ti­cu­lar­ly the milk­woods and the cand­le­woods

– be­gan to re­sprout (ma­ny of them had been sin­ged but not kil­led), and keur­boom seed­lings (short­li­ved, in­di­ge­nous pi­o­neers that we hadn’t seen at Fe­at­her­bed in ge­ne­ra­ti­ons) be­gan to ger­mi­na­te.

We kept re­cords, of cour­se: our hor­ti­cul­tu­rist ca­ta­lo­gued the plants as t­hey ap­pea­red, and he’s now found at le­ast 300 spe­cies (and coun­ting!) on our 75ha at the mouth of the Knys­na La­goon.

But the num­bers don’t be­gin to tell the sto­ry of t­his as­to­nis­hing ex­plo­si­on of li­fe: you re­al­ly s­hould ta­ke a tour to see it for your­self.

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