Mission: Finding areas of Erosion in the Wetlands of Kamiesberg
Date: 19 July 2008
Requesting organisation: Working for Wetlands
Location: Kamiesberg, Northern Cape
Pilot: Harold Bloch
The Kamiesberg flight was the sixth and final mission in 2008 for Working for Wetlands. The mission was flown by Bateleurs pilot Harold Bloch of Cape Town, and this is the short report he sent us after the flight:
“We had a great flight on Saturday 19th July, startng at 06h30 on a cold and misty morning. The team was made up of Nancy Job, a Wetland Specialist, Winston Coe, the Provincial Co-ordinator for Working for Wetlands, Graham Smith who is a fellow Bateleurs pilot, and myself.
We took off and flew to Garies/Kammieskroon/Leliefontein in Namaqualand, where we started our low level survey.
Nancy was particularly eager to find areas of erosions in the wetlands. Often this starts next to roads where the necessary drainage had been under-engineered. Farmers grow their crops [mainly sheep fodder] in the wetland areas and in so doing have drained the wetlands. However, the area is in pristine condition and it was very exciting to see the area after the rains with springs issuing from every granite outcrop. The amount of water was truly amazing. Nancy was delighted and felt she had enough material to get started. The repairs will be done by the community with the consent of the farmer. The Dept of Public Works supervises the repairs using local community workers and in so doing provides jobs for local people.
The flight to Kammieskroon was over thick low level fog. But miraculously it cleared in the survey area and stayed that way while we worked. The return flight was again over thick fog. A coastal survey had been requested but this was impossible due to the fog.
Something else of interest was the destructive operations of potato farmers along the west coast. They use centre pivots and farm a plantation for 3-4 years, after which the ground becomes infected by a potato blight which they treat by letting the ground lie fallow for 10 years. They then create another centre pivot plantation next to the first one, and this pattern continues so that an area may have 5 -10 fallow centre pivot plantations and only one being actively farmed. Apparently this plays havoc with the aquifers in the area. The huge amount of destruction to the fynbos was really sad to see in this marginal area.”
“The Kamiesberg Local Municipality is custodian of the Kamiesberg centre of endemism – a distinctive and unique bioregion located in the high-lying region of the uplands, an area just north of the town of Garies. This area constitutes a key priority for conservation by virtue of its remarkable biodiversity and high levels of endemism – plants and invertebrates are found here that occur nowhere else in the world.
The flight to Garies left from Stellenbosch airfield at 07h00 in favourable weather, although low clouds covered the landscape. We were treated soon after take-off to the full moon setting on one side and the sun rising on the other. A small amount of snow remained on the Winterhoek mountains. We traveled in the direction of Piketberg, over the Riebeeck Kasteel mountains and north along the Olifants River, which had recently been in flood, and the Knersvlakte plains, before reaching Garies at the base of the Kamiesberg Uplands. From there on our flight remained within the upper reaches of the two montane catchments (F30A and F50A).
The flight was extremely valuable in providing an overview of the wetlands of the Kamiesberg Uplands and definitely helped confirm the location of the handful of largest remaining intact wetland systems. Unfortunately it also very starkly brought to light the extent of wetland loss. Previously it was thought that there had been a loss of 30% of the wetland area. It now appears that the loss of the original extent of granite renosterveld valley bottom wetlands in the Kamiesberg Uplands is more likely to be around 70% or more. Two areas of intact wetland abutted by cultivation were identified for further investigation. A third site was photographed, where a known headcut occurs, and it is expected that ground surveys will locate sites for intervention.
The considerable experience of our Bateleurs pilot and navigator ensured an extremely efficient flight and that we were well-placed to thoroughly investigate the area. Further, both were experienced at placing the aircraft for the perfect photo, and we are lucky to have Harold’s photographs as proof of this. Our flight lasted approximately four hours. We returned just after 11h00, grateful to have been in the hands of two very capable pilots and for the opportunity which The Bateleurs continues to offer to the Working for Wetlands programme.”