Most people in Hermanus are aware of the saga of the CBD bypass road. It has now reached a critical point.

If the provincial environmental authority (DEA&DP) gives the project environmental authorisation, the way will be open to build a provincial road that will cut a swathe through a very special section of our own Fernkloof Nature Reserve (FNR). 

Is the proposed exchange a fair one?
You be the judge. Above is a photo of the pristine fynbos next to Mountain Drive.

You may well ask how that is possible. Surely Fernkloof is a protected nature reserve? Yes, it is. South Africa has laws in place that are designed to prevent the loss of conservation-worthy land. 

But there is a caveat. If the supporters of the road can prove that there is no feasible alternative and that the need for the incursion into the reserve is critical, then a so-called “biodiversity offset” can be motivated to make up for the loss of protected land. 

What is a “biodiversity offset”? 

It’s supposed to be a fair swop. The proposers can identify a piece of land that is equally conservation-worthy, that can reasonably be incorporated into the FNR, and will be protected and maintained forever – just like the rest of FNR. DEA&DP has asked the project to propose such an exchange of like-for-like fynbos as compensation for land that will be lost to the road in FNR.

The finished road plus pedestrian walkway would cut a swathe 30 metres wide through the vegetation. Of course, getting to that point would entail a far wider area of impact, as the current Hermanus to Stanford roadworks make clear.

Is there another piece of land so special that it can be exchanged for a slice of Fernkloof’s unique fynbos? Whether DEA&DP approves a route through Fernkloof hinges largely on this issue. DEA&DP instructed the road consultants to appoint an “independent biodiversity specialist” to conduct a study to see if such a piece of land can be identified. This study had to be included in the Amended Final Environmental Impact Report. 

Drum roll for the big reveal… If the consultants had wanted to shoot themselves in the feet, their aim could not have been better.

Authors of the offset report

Let’s first look at who wrote the “Biodiversity Offset” Report. No, not an “independent biodiversity specialist”, but a trio made up of an employee of the Overstrand Municipality (hardly independent) and two members of the consulting team that is trying to justify the bypass in the first place (who are neither independent nor biodiversity specialists). 

Who are the specialists who reviewed the report? They are none other than an engineer connected to the company that stands to gain if the road is built, and an employee of the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works who wants to build the road. 

What is offered as fair exchange?

This photo shows what the Overstrand Municipality offers in exchange

So what is being proposed in exchange for running a road through the most vulnerable and biodiverse section of FNR? What piece of land is so biodiverse that it is a suitable exchange for land in Fernkloof? 

As the offset, the Overstrand Municipality has offered to clear portions of the Onrus River catchment area between the De Bos Dam and the R43 of alien invasive vegetation for a maximum period of five years. 

Well over 70% of the affected land is in private ownership, over which the municipality has no control and which the nature-loving public would not be able to access.  The rest is owned by the Overstrand Municipality (and a negligible portion is public land).

Even if it were cleared, have the private property owners been involved in this offset proposal? Again, no. None of them have been consulted on this plan, nor has the Onrus Mountain Conservancy with which the properties are associated. No consultation has been held with any of the conservation organisations in the area, nor has it been put to the Fernkloof Advisory Board. 

Add to this the fact that in any case the municipality has an existing legal obligation to keep its property – especially in a riverine area – clear of aliens, offset or no offset. This has not been done in any significant way. So not much gain for Fernkloof there. And there seems to be no budget specified for the alien clearing, even for the five years specified, let alone after that. 

For many years the Onrus Estuary Forum has been asking the municipality to clear water-sucking trees and to repair damage to the Onrus River watercourse caused by previous failed attempts at clearing, which resulted in large trees being felled into the river, to no avail. Attempting to rectify this under the guise of a biodiversity offset can charitably be called disingenuous. 

As Whale Coast Conservation Chair, Dr Pat Miller says: “The offset plan is supposed to provide an environmental compensation for the loss of land from a formally protected area and the loss of wetland protected by a previous Environmental Management Plan. These are extremely serious issues. This Offset Plan does not even begin to approach the gravity of the issue. It should be rejected out of hand.”

However, it is not quite the end yet. If you would like to have a voice in the outcome of the bypass saga, please fill in an easy-to-use online form that you will find at: https://forms.gle/1rR9WB8mESPoQ2NB8. As of this weekend, the Whale Coast Conservation campaign has already elicited over 1 000 responses.

About the Author

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Whale Coast Conservation passionately lives by its slogan “Caring for your environment”.

Its small staff and volunteers are dedicated to

  • raising community and visitor awareness of the unique, biodiverse natural resources of the Cape Whale Coast region and
  • to projects that convert awareness into practical actions that lead towards living sustainably.

WCC ensures expert representation in public participation processes that contribute to environmental and developmental policies and legislation.  We monitor regional development; and ensure compliance with legislation and guidelines.

WCC increases general public awareness of sustainability through environmental education, citizen-science research projects, community projects and campaigns.

WCC communicates with its audience through exhibitions, signage, technology demonstrations, workshops, talks, film shows, newsletters and articles.

WCC places emphasis on educating future generations through its Youth Environment Programme (YEP).  YEP is offered to 24 schools in its target area with a total of over 10,000 learners.

WCC facilitates schools’ participation in special events such as Earth Day, Walking for Water, Arbor Day and Coastal Clean-ups.

WCC facilitates educator development programmes to improve the capacity of educators to offer informed environmental content in their lessons across all learning streams.

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