In Focus, Sept. 4, 2007
By Susan Botha, NRI*
During a SKEP community participation meeting held a few years ago a local Namaqualander said, "We want the mine dumps to be gone." Now the Namaqualand Restoration Initiative (NRI) is slowly turning this wish into a reality.
The NRI, an invention of Dr. Peter Carrick, was created to develop restoration guidelines underpinned by scientific work, specifically for Lowland Namaqualand and to engage with mine operators in the implementation of such practices.
With start-up funding provided by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the NRI started at the beginning by learning from the restoration experience possessed by local Namaqualand practitioners and scientists.
"We realized we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many mine operators and farmers have been doing restoration for some time, and we could learn from them," said Carrick.
Armed with a recorder and an open mind, Susan Botha, one of the NRI team members, went to interview farmers, mine operators, agricultural scientists and restoration business owners.
The wealth of knowledge gained from these interviews was synthesized to develop restoration guidelines and highlight gaps where more knowledge or scientific work is still needed. One such identified gap was the difficulty in getting non-succulent perennial species to establish on restored areas.
Among many other initiatives, the team, led by Raldo Kruger, undertook several field experiments over the last three years to decipher the ecological requirements for the establishment of a diversity of perennial species on mined areas.
Kruger, who has been monitoring the experiments through wind and rain, said: "We have learnt so much from these field trials. The first four to five months are the most critical for the little seedlings and once they have survived these they tend to make it through the dry summer season.
"So we give them all the help we can. Planting the seedlings in boxes provides them with extra protection from the wind and by adding nutrients and water we give them the extra boost to get their roots down faster.
"We are still monitoring seedling survival from the latest set of trials at this stage and should know by the end of this year which treatment combination gives us the best bang for our buck."
In addition to the start-up capital provided by CEPF, the NRI has received further funding from De Beers Namaqualand Mines.
De Beers has also committed to financially support small businesses to do contract restoration work on their mined areas, and these teams will be trained according to the guidelines and methods developed by the NRI.
These businesses will be run by restoration managers who will each manage a small team of people to do restoration.
Posts for restoration managers were advertised throughout Namaqualand and the response has been incredible.
Carrick and Kruger, together with a panel of other interested parties have since conducted interviews and will appoint people in due course.
In the meantime, the NRI has developed a restoration training course, complete with manual, to take the new business owners through the steps involved for successful restoration to occur.
The restoration businesses should be operational by the end of 2007 and it is envisaged that one team will restore more than 35 hectares annually, replacing dumps with the diversity of plants that was there before
*This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of SKEP Enews produced by the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme.