SA’s na­tional flower un­der threat

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Front Page - Guy Rogers rogersg@ti­soblack­

South Africa’s na­tional flower is un­der threat from cli­mate change, up­ping the ante for thou­sands of peo­ple work­ing in the protea in­dus­try.

If global warm­ing trends con­tinue as they are do­ing, the coun­try’s fa­mous fyn­bos plant king­dom, in­clud­ing the flag­ship protea, will be pin­cered be­tween ad­vanc­ing grass­land and Ka­roo veg­e­ta­tion, NMU botanist Pro­fes­sor Richard Cowl­ing said.

“Only fyn­bos in high moun­tain refuges will sur­vive and many species in­clud­ing proteas will be wiped out.”

On an­other front, in the Sneeu­berg around Nieu Bethesda, win­ter snow­fall is de­clin­ing, caus­ing grave con­cern to farm­ers who rely on snowmelt to re­plen­ish valu­able ground­wa­ter re­sources.

On the coast, Ur­ban Rap­tor founder Arnold Slab­bert said, kudu were rang­ing be­yond their arid Ka­roo habi­tat into in­creas­ingly dry areas around Nel­son Man­dela Bay.

And in the metro it­self, the flamingo-cov­ered pans pre­vi­ously dot­ted across Par­son’s Vlei have not con­tained wa­ter for years.

Per­haps most ob­vi­ously of all, the wa­ter sup­ply in the west­ern re­gion of the Eastern Cape is be­ing squeezed ever tighter, Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity cli­mate change spe­cial­ist Prof Guy Mid­g­ley pointed out.

Be­fore the rains even­tu­ally came at the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber the com­bined level of Nel­son Man­dela Bay’s dams had dipped to just 17.4%.

This week the fig­ure stood at 54% but amid more dry weather and howl­ing winds lev­els are dwin­dling again.

Once hard to pin­point, now clearly just the tip of the ice­berg in a world un­der siege, lo­cal ex­am­ples of cli­mate change illuminate the new 1.5C° Re­port by the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change.

Cowl­ing said that as the cli­mate warmed trop­i­cal grass­land would spread from east of Port El­iz­a­beth west­ward into the fyn­bos belt, and the in­va­sion would mean more fires.

Com­bined with the grass­land’s west­ward march, the arid suc­cu­lent Ka­roo would be push­ing from the hin­ter­land to­wards the coast, he said.

“So ex­cept for those species that sur­vive in refuges on high slopes of the Kouga Moun­tains, for ex­am­ple – it’s not look­ing good for fyn­bos or our na­tional flower.”

Stern said win­ter tem­per­a­tures were get­ting warmer in the Sneeu­berg and there were fewer falls of snow.

“The snow set­tles and sinks in to re­plen­ish our un­der­ground wa­ter, a cru­cial re- source for us. There be­ing less snow the wa­ter ta­ble is drop­ping and farm­ers are reg­u­larly hav­ing to ex­tend their pipes to draw out of their bore­holes. Clearly it’s cli­mate change and it’s a huge con­cern.”

Slab­bert said as coastal veld dried and opened up, kudu and warthog were rang­ing out of the Ka­roo and push­ing out bush­buck and bush­pig.

“Kudu never oc­curred in Port El­iz­a­beth but now they’re on the edge of Blue­wa­ter Bay.”

He said he used to have to wear gum­boots to cross the sat­u­rated Par­son’s Vlei flats north of Bridge­meade but now the whole area, in­clud­ing five pans formed cen­turies ago by wal- low­ing buf­falo or ele­phant, was dry.

“I vis­ited the big­gest pan 23 years ago and there were about 300 flamin­gos on it. When I went back it was dry and it has been ever since.”

Mid­g­ley said the fire and drought pat­tern in the Eastern Cape re­flected the essence of cli­mate change.

“Cli­mate change is a process and in this case de­clin­ing hu­mid­ity and rain­fall and higher winds and tem­per­a­tures are en­sur­ing more fre­quent and in­tense droughts and fires.”

Pho­to­graph: JUDY DE VEGA

IN­CREASED PRES­ENCE: Open coun­try species such as kudu are ex­pand­ing into coastal areas as veg­e­ta­tion dries up

PIN­CERED: The protea will be forced with other fyn­bos species into small high- alti­tude refuges if cli­mate change trends con­tinue

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