Armed with pangas, a group of alien invasive plant fighters have been chopping away at trees and shrubs in the Bellamont Road forest in Umdloti.
To the untrained eye it looks as if the forest is being decimated by the women from Hlengiwe Luthuli Environmental Management appointed by Tongaat Hulett Development to clean up the forest under the Sibaya Coastal Precinct Conservation Trust.
However, horticulturist Geoff Nichols, who heads up the horticulture portfolio, said the controlled chopping is part of a long-term rehabilitation plan.
“We are clearing out the alien plants to make space for indigenous species. Besides the roughly 100 casuarina trees we have already targeted, the main culprits are the Brazilian Pepper which was used by the sugar industry as hedging, as well Triffid weed or Chromolaena, Cestrum or Inkberry and Lantana,” said Nichols, who successfully rehabilitated the once alien invader infested Zimbali forest from 1998 to 2016.
They have already worked through about a third of the 300 hectares of forest which is spread out in sections across Umdloti and along the Sibaya precinct. Nichols said while about 40 percent was invasive plants, there were some healthy pockets as well. “Some of the forest is old growth which has not been disturbed too much. These sections have big trees with large cavities ideal for the nesting of birds, bees and Genets, which is good to see.”
Surprisingly he said they did a head count of Bushbuck and found the population was way too high for the size of the forest.
“Ideally there should be about one Bushbuck per 15 hectares. We have counted about 33 in the roughly 100 hectares we have covered. There should not be more than seven,” said Nichols.
While the Umdloti residents will be thrilled to hear about the many buck, Nichols said they pose a threat to the smaller Red and Blue Duikers.
“Bushbuck eat everything from 1.2 metres in height right down to the ground and they eat a lot. This leaves very little food for the smaller Red Duiker which is about the size of a Labrador and the even smaller Blue Duiker about the size of a fox terrier. This also leaves little protection for the smaller creatures to breed in.”
In time, the Bushbuck will be relocated to surrounding eco estates and forests to restore the balance.
Meanwhile Umdloti UIP Caroline Wyly Simkins has been keeping the peace by informing Bellamont Road residents about the cleanup mission.
“This work is the only chance the forest has of surviving as the alien plants are taking away the nourishment and water needed to keep the forest alive. Through this rehabilitation project the forest can become sustainable again and by controlling the overpopulation we give the animals a chance to live a healthy and happy life,” said Wyly Simkins.