THE UPPER LETABA CATCHMENT MEETINGS
Forests and Grasslands are like gold - rare but incredibly valuable and if we want to save our water, we need to save them too. In September, people who live and work in our catchment met to collaborate on how to achieve this. Bronwyn Egan covered the importance of maintaining and restoring natural vegetation around rivers in order to retain their services of storing and purifying water within the river systems. Vince Egan then presented the GIS map of the Upper Letaba Catchment that will capture the remaining fragments of indigenous vegetation, river buffers and corridors as well as how to integrate ecosystem services with income generating activities into the future. Mike Gardner, stressed the necessity of research to understand the tourist market in this area and the link between functional ecosystems and the drawcard they offer as beautiful environments for relaxation and holidays.
Ideas were shared as people got into groups with focus-areas around their specific work and interests. The main discussion points have been summarised below and a list of actions to date and plans for future work has been sent to interested parties.
Mapping: Where and how much is left and can they be linked?
This group discussed the GIS map which will display land-use in the Upper Letaba Catchment, as well as inform where the current areas of untransformed natural vegetation lie. These will be verified through field work so that they can be graded according to their ecological state. Mapping will allow for planning of restoration by pinpointing potential corridors where indigenous vegetation can be reinstated in order to link pristine areas together to support migration and seed dispersal. Without a clear map, it is impossible to determine where the remaining areas of natural veld lie and this hinders engagement and collaboration around sustaining them. Such a map will form the foundation of how to manage the water in the Upper Letaba Catchment.
Water Quality and Quantity: Actions to support clean, abundant water through river buffer health
A large group debated the concerns over how water quality is affected by changed land-use. Our water bodies and riparian vegetation provide a sense of place that is vital to a healthy tourism industry as well as to the residents of the area and supports mammal, bird and reptile diversity. Many farming practices have already been modified to more environmentally sustainable methods which is encouraging and can be replicated. Testing and monitoring of water quality as well as the state of vegetation in the riparian zones is vital and the results should be public knowledge. Illegal mining on the slopes of the Iron Crown requires interventions because the miners utilise cyanide and other heavy metals which leach into streams in the area.
Biodiversity and Corridor Renewal
Despite the fact that Woodbush Granite Grassland cannot be restored to its original biodiverse extent, there is value in clearing land of exotic plantations, crops and weeds where these areas can be linked to pristine sections of WGG to create connecting corridors. Forests are easier to restore although also extremely time consuming and funding-intensive. Fences are required for safety reasons but other options are being explored. Biodiversity around crops can improve pest control, prevent erosion, and support soil health and Bioagents are becoming more freely available. Data on water-use by avos vs pine and gum in our specific catchment is crucial. If correctly implemented, water laws require that conversion from plantations to orchards free up land for indigenous vegetation re-growth.
Another group discussed how Stewardship includes correct management of natural land as well as placing those areas under protection in terms of environmental legislation. This can only be done with the support of landowners and therefore awareness and collaboration are vital. It is important that site visits are made with landowners so that challenges can be understood from both sides and have the potential to reduce unintentional environmental infringements.
Tourism and Environment
Bodies of water are appealing to visitors for water-focussed activities and creating a ‘sense of place’. Group members agreed that a survey of visitors to the area would be a valuable tool. Questionnaires could ascertain needs and expectations from tourists as well as their attitude towards the importance of the natural environment and if eco-tourism and environmentally friendly products would attract more visitors. If the various tourism-related individuals and businesses would support the initiative, researchers from the University of Limpopo could also assist. A proposal has been developed by HADEF and Love Limpopo and will be shared with relevant stakeholders.
Alien Invasive Removal
An action project has been instigated by Lepelle Northern Water, private landowners in the area and Working for Water to remove alien invasive plants in the lower reaches of the Ebenezer Dam. Funding for herbicides and training for EPWP workers is being sourced and research on appropriate herbicide use and other removal methodologies is taking place. The area has been measured and adjacent landowners are interested in assisting.
The GIS map is a tool for engagement as well as management as it allows for an overall unbiased view of the area that all can view and give input to. Populating the map and collaborating to understand how to manage water is an important action towards alleviating the fear of water shortages. The map has been designed to incorporate change and is a living record on an ongoing basis. Many different pieces of information can be pinned together like the relative figures of water consumption; the economic value of different land uses as well as the age of orchards, species of gum and pine and fire regime information. Establishing a strategic economic zone in this area, based around water should be pursued and the data required captured in the databases associated with the map.
Thank you to all who participated in the Water workshops and shared their insights and ideas. We look forward to the next Water Workshop in early 2023. If you would like the full documents of the Water meetings with the action-list or have expertise / interest in assisting in any of these action-groups, please contact Bronwyn on 081 402 0417 or Megan on 082 479 7285.