If this headline sounds like the title of a video game, it’s a misnomer. Actually, it’s about the passionate commitment of 300-plus, generally mild-mannered, peaceable members of the Kleinmond Nature Conservation Society (KNCS), who are prepared to give their all to ensure the well-being and survival of their part of the smallest Floral Kingdom in the world.

It might be instructive to remind ourselves of its fragility and what a huge responsibility rests on our shoulders to protect it. This tiny portion of the earth’s surface, located on the southernmost tip of Africa, originally comprised 40 000 m2; that figure has now shrunk to a mere 18 000 m2, of which only 5.6% is preserved in nature reserves. It is estimated that this amazing mini-kingdom once consisted of more than 6 000 unique species; of these, 125 have already become extinct or are in imminent danger of extinction, and a further 1 134 are vulnerable or rare.

The challenge is spelled out in one of KNCS’ newsletters: It is the actions of our present generation which will decide whether future botanists will count only five kingdoms and we earn for ourselves a reputation which will ring down through History as wanton, irresponsible destroyers – or whether we are remembered as the generation that woke up before it was too late.

When the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (KBR) was established in 1998, Kleinmond was incorporated into the 100 000 hectare UNESCO-designated conservancy, which begins in the Atlantic Ocean 7.5 km off-shore and stretches from Bot River to Gordon’s Bay. As Botha Maree, current chairman of the KNCS points out: “That means that Kleinmond is surrounded on three sides by a proclaimed nature reserve, which is home to the most complex biodiversity on our planet and includes mountain, coastal and intermediate fynbos coverage. We have more than 1 800 different plant species in the reserve, 77 of which are found nowhere else in the world – compare that with the next richest, the South American rain forest with just 420 species per 10 000 square kilometres!”

The KNCS has a proud 44-year-old history which has seen it actively participating since the beginning not only in the management structures of the KBR, but in hands-on initiatives to protect and publicise its riches. Today it has 354 members, which include residents of neighbouring towns, Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay and Rooi Els, with just over a quarter living outside the area, some as far away as Europe.

Hikers on one of the many trails created by the KNCS in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.

From the word go, one of its chief functions has been the never-ending task of hacking out alien invaders, like hakea, myrtle, Port Jackson wattle, black wattle, spider gum and pines. Indeed, some residents as far back as the 50s were already doing their best to keep them under control. One of the KNCS’ longest-serving members, Peter Slingsby remembers how in 1978 it mounted a determined effort to rid the Palmiet area of exotics. “It seems unbelievable now, but R200 a month funded three municipal labourers and two students, who worked long days with bow-saws and axes. Sample counts led to estimates that over 100 000 pines were removed from the West Bank area alone.”

These efforts were not always greeted with enthusiasm by locals who lamented the ‘barrenness’ of the mountains without trees, as well as the lack of shade that followed their removal. The battle against this ‘green desert’, as it has been dubbed, continues today, with some of the areas along the R44 between Kleinmond and Arabella being a prime example of what it can look like if unattended. Most of this land is privately owned and with a few exceptions (like the proposed Wildlife Sanctuary), little has been done to clear it.

Botha Maree points out that since a hacking group was formally constituted by the KNCS in 1994, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of invasive exotic trees have been removed in the nature reserve bordering the town. “Our hacking group of roughly 25 members still goes out once a month to continue the battle, but it’s a never-ending task because the aliens grow much faster than fynbos and their seeds are widely dispersed.”

Sadly, a lot of these originate from household gardens and municipal open spaces in Kleinmond and he pleads with residents to consider planting indigenous trees rather than exotics.

Protecting our natural treasures

A recent initiative has been to include children from Kleinmond Primêr, who call themselves Nature Buddies, in the alien clearance programme. By nurturing their interest in and knowledge about the natural environment, it is hoped that they will play their part in protecting it into the future.

Another of the important functions of the society has been the establishment and unremitting upkeep of hiking trails in the reserve. Beginning in the early 1980s, 51 km of paths, within a 5 km radius of the Kleinmond town hall are now available to hikers from all over the world – from easy walks along the coastal path to more demanding hikes in mountainous terrain.

Members of the KNCS who use sections of this network of paths on a regular basis, are two flower-picking teams. Sanctioned by a formal picking permit, they sally forth once a week, irrespective of the weather, to pick specimens of those species flowering at the time, to display in the Kleinmond Tourism office and the Kleinmond Library for the enjoyment of visitors. The data base they have created lists an astonishing 564 species, including 41 proteas and 35 of the identified 76 orchids in this area.

Ready, steady, get set, go! Kleinmond residents gather on the lawns of the lagoon for the September coastal clean-up.

Unfortunately, not everyone who picks flowers in the reserve does so legally and some of the rarer species have been trafficked out of the area, pointing to the need for constant vigilance. Indeed, the KNCS is proud of its role in ensuring that removal of the beautiful Erica pilansii has been declared illegal after hundreds of kilograms were stolen from the Kogelberg State Forest. In March and April each year masses of these beautiful red flowers can now be seen along certain sections of the Perdeberg trail.

Another important and ongoing project is the society’s periodic coastal clean-up, involving as many locals as possible. Botha Maree again: “This year one of our committee members (Carl Swart) arranged two clean-up initiatives. The first one was on World Wetlands Day early in February, when 37 members of the public participated in a clean-up of the Kleinmond lagoon and the immediate surroundings. They were joined by 47 children, all members of the Strandloper Eco Youth Club. An astonishing amount of rubbish was collected along the dunes and beach adjoining the lagoon.

Braam van der Merwe and Lorraine Beneke are two of the KNCS flower pickers who go on weekly foraging trips into the surrounding fynbos to collect a selection of local species for the permanent displays in the Kleinmond Library and Tourism Office.

“The second clean-up in September covered a much larger area. It was part of the annual International Coastal Clean-up which involves thousands of volunteers from more than 100 countries. Seven groups (totalling 65 adults and 39 children) participated in clean-ups at the Kleinmond main beach, lagoon, and harbour; Palmiet beach and lagoon; Bettys Bay, Pringle Bay and Rooi Els. The Kleinmond areas were generally cleaner than in previous years, however cigarette butts are still the single most picked-up item; in increasing rather than decreasing numbers!”

The unrelenting efforts of the KNCS to protect its magnificent natural surroundings can best be summed up in the words of Peter Slingsby: “When you look up at the magnificent sweep of Kleinmond’s peaks, and admire the floral treasures that meet you on every corner of every footpath, try if you can, to imagine the mountains as a dismal forest of prickly pines, thorny hakea and barren wattles, and be thankful!”

For further information contact Botha Maree on bothamaree@gmail.com or 081 769 4731.

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