What’s going below our fynbos?

There’s a flurry of activity going on BELOW the fynbos plants on Flower Valley Farm. And much of this action is being driven by the humble dung beetle.

 

Following a recent study on Flower Valley Farm, it was found that SEVEN different species of dung beetles occur here. And while they may frequent the indigenous Stinkhoutsbos Forest, the study found they prefer the fynbos-covered slopes on the farm, in particular the Critically Endangered Overberg Sandstone Fynbos and the Vulnerable Agulhas Limestone Fynbos.

The greatest diversity of species was also found in these two habitats.

HERE’S HOW THE DATA WAS COLLECTED

The research team, led by Roger Bailey (Flower Valley’s Acting Executive Director) set up pitfall traps, using cow manure to lure the beetles. These were checked regularly. And the dung beetles caught were identified before being released back into the surrounding area. 

Seven different species were identified, including:

  • Circellium bacchus (Flightless dung beetle)

  • Catharius tricornutus (Three-horned dung beetle)

  • Psorodes tuberculata

  • Trox sulcatus

  • Trigonopus species

  • Histeridae species (Steel beetle)

  • (The final beetle could not be identified).

WHY DOES THIS MATTER? WHY DOES THIS MATTER? 

Because dung beetles play SUCH an important role in fynbos. 

• When they bury dung, they help maintain soil health. 

• They facilitate dung-seed dispersal. 

• They also help keep fly numbers down by removing the dung. 

Even more importantly, they’re an indicator species: their presence helps us evaluate the impacts of human activities on habitats. 

BUT DUNG BEETLES FACE SEVERE THREATS:

In fact, a recent global study found dramatic rates of declines that could lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species. Dung beetles appear to be the hardest hit. Urbanisation, loss of habitat, insecticides and pesticide residue in dung are among some of the threats.

On Flower Valley Farm, we protect our dung beetles, and the habitat they live in. 

And we’re partnered by a group of committed conservation-supporters, all whom have adopted one or more hectares on Flower Valley Farm.

Flower Valley’s latest news

Latest News

In the Bailey household, we take Valentine’s Day pretty seriously. At the very least, my wife ‘expects’ (although I try to surprise her) a beautiful bouquet of flowers – preferably fynbos. And not just any fynbos, of course. We only opt for responsibly harvested fynbos.

So we popped in at our Sustainable Harvesting Programme member, Lourens Boerdery, to get some tips on arranging a fynbos bouquet. Here Maria Lewis shows us how it’s done.

These Valentine’s Day bouquets will be sold at Pick n Pay. And for every bouquet of fynbos sold with a Flower Valley sticker on it, R1 is donated to our Sustainable Harvesting Programme.

These funds are used to train harvesters to pick fynbos with care, in a way that doesn’t damage the environment. This is such a wonderful role Pick n Pay is playing to help protect Fynbos landscapes and livelihoods.

Get our latest news here.

Kind regards,

Roger Bailey

Acting Executive Director: Flower Valley Conservation Trust

Here’s how YOU and Pick n Pay are conserving Fynbos

When you buy Fynbos bouquets with THIS sticker on them, you’re helping to conserve Fynbos. 

Flower Valley Conservation Trust has teamed up with Pick n Pay to protect Fynbos. For every bouquet of Fynbos sold in a Pick n Pay store with the sticker on, R1 is donated to Flower Valley’s Sustainable Harvesting Programme (SHP).

Pick n Pay has been a supporter of the Sustainable Harvesting Programme for more than a decade. They sell Fynbos harvested by members of the Programme. Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, Head of the Ackerman Pick n Pay Foundation, is also a Patron at Flower Valley Conservation Trust.

Roger Bailey, Flower Valley’s Acting Executive Director says, “For years we have worked closely with Pick n Pay. This new agreement is the pinnacle of our long-standing cooperation. Their support will help make a difference.”

With the funds raised by Pick n Pay, Fynbos harvesters receive training to pick this resource with care – in a way that doesn’t damage the environment. The funds also support monitoring and ongoing research into Fynbos harvesting.

The SHP is an assurance programme. It helps to guide harvesters to pick Fynbos in the appropriate way. It also supports them to pick the correct species.

Many Fynbos species face extinction, and more than 30 have already become extinct. That’s why harvesters are guided to only pick species that are not threatened. 

Keep an eye out for these reusable shopping bags in your Pick n Pay store. They feature Flower Valley Conservation Trust, and our Sustainable Harvesting Programme. And the proceeds of the sales of the bag support fynbos conservation.

How to make a Valentine’s Day bouquet

Fynbos Valentine’s Day bouquets don’t make themselves. There’s are a number of steps to ensure you can buy a fynbos bouquet for your other half. As an example:

  •  Teams of harvesters head into the fynbos landscapes to pick the fynbos (Flower Valley Conservation Trust helps ensure harvesters pick fynbos responsibly). 
  • The picked plants are transported – as quickly as possible – to the fynbos packshed. (The plants need to be kept cool as much as possible). 
  • A team cleans the excess material off the fynbos stems. 
  • And a second team is responsible for the creative side – arranging the fynbos bouquet. 
  • From here, bouquets may be transported to a distribution centre (of a retailer), before making their way to the stores.  

We popped in at our Sustainable Harvesting Programme member, Lourens Boerdery, to see the creative side in action (and hopefully get some tips on bouquet arranging).

Here Maria Lewis shows us how it’s done:

Spotlight on the fynbos Vulnerability Index

The Vulnerability Index has been recognised internationally as an important contributor to conservation in the fynbos biome.

This Index is a key component of the Flower Valley Sustainable Harvesting Programme. It’s used to guide wild harvesting of fynbos across the Agulhas Plain.

Now the role the Vulnerability Index plays in protecting fynbos against inappropriate harvesting practices has featured in the scientific journal, ‘Journal of Environmental Planning and Management’. The article was compiled by Dr David Bek of Coventry University, Sean Privett and Flower Valley’s Acting Executive Director, Roger Bailey (among others).

“The Vulnerability Index is a pioneering initiative which draws upon existing botanical knowledge to develop locally nuanced guidance as to the vulnerability of fynbos species to harvesting,” the authors write. 

“As such, the Vulnerability Index is an important contribution to conservation in South Africa, whilst it will also support the long-term sustainability of the wildflower harvesting industry.”

The paper adds that it sets important precedents for other wild harvesting industries, such as harvesting for medicinal purposes and horticultural collections, and how these should be regulated.

This Index was developed by a team of botanists, who looked at 150 harvestable fynbos species.

 

It differs from the Red List in two ways:

1. It focuses specifically on the risks posed by harvesting;

2. It focuses only on natural species populations in the Agulhas Plain. 

According to Dr Bek, that makes it a powerful resource, “This Index is different because it shows how vulnerable each species is to harvesting – based on biological and geographical attributes.” 

In fact, during the development of the Index, 52 of the 150 species were immediately designated as ‘no-go’ species for harvesting. Dr Bek says, “That shows that more than one third of all the species assessed in this exercise are at significant risk, with the potential to become locally extinct through harvesting.”

He adds, “This highlights the precarious state of the fynbos biome as a whole.”

The challenge is that many of these no-go species are not considered as threatened in the Red List categorization, given the different set of measurements, he says.

Currently CapeNature makes use of both the Red List and the Vulnerability Index when issuing permits for harvesting in the wild in the Agulhas Plain.

The authors now recommend that the Index be rolled out in other harvesting areas in the fynbos biome. Dr Beks says, “We also urge that the principles underpinning the Vulnerability Index are institutionalized in the regulatory spaces of conservation in South Africa, and are shared across the globe.”

To read the full paper, click here.

New Year brings deepened commitment to children

The new year brings renewed commitment to enrich young children’s lives and provide them with a beautiful, warm and nurturing learning environment.

Building on past successes, the Early Childhood Development team at Flower Valley Conservation Trust aims to now deepen our support in the quality of training and resources shared with teachers and field workers. 

The following goals form part of the team’s continued focussed investment in children’s lives:

The launch of an outdoor class 

Natural, wild spaces offer children an optimal environment in which to nurture their inborn sense of wonder and play. A new lush garden space on Flower Valley Farm will become an extended play space for children as part of the Milkwood Programme.

Teachers will accompany the children on regular visits to the farm, where they’ll observe a simple programme that will encourage the children to freely explore the space and play. The visits will include ring work with nature songs, verses and a story. Each child will receive a small basket housing a soft toy in the form of a fynbos creature, which they will take back to the class, where continued activities will link their outdoor play time with their time at school. The children will also enjoy a hearty meal and have ample time to immerse themselves in the mesmerizing sights, sounds and smells of nature.

A mentor to support teachers

A newly-appointed mentor will support all teachers and field workers in their practical implementation of the Milkwood Programme. The qualified and experienced mentor will do onsite visits to observe and assist the teachers in all aspects of learning.

Two current teachers, Dorah Siduka and Sandiswa Mpela, have completed their level 5 qualifications and have been assisting other teachers in their home language, isiXhosa. Their support has brought about a positive shift in both the motivation and quality of practice of fellow teachers. The new mentor will further support their work.

The Butterfly Art Project

Five teachers attended the Butterfly Art Project in Muizenberg in October last year. They completed the Early Beginnings Module, in which art is used as a healing tool to help children process their emotions. The teachers learned skills with which to facilitate art in the classroom and also worked on their own personal development. They completed 20 hours of art activities that included art with pastels, water colours, clay, scrapbooking and loose materials. They handed in portfolios that will be reviewed.

As a highlight, they enjoyed a guided tour to the Zeitz MOCAA Museum and returned home with refreshed motivation and deepened skills. Flower Valley will continue our partnership with the Butterfly Art Project and we are looking at ways to bring the project to the Overstrand where more teachers can attend it.

“Wild spaces offer children an optimal environment in which to nurture their inborn
sense of wonder and play.”

The Nurture Project: Supporting inner work

Teachers can bring beauty and a love of learning into the world. They form an integral part of children’s lives, especially during the first seven years when children mainly learn through imitation. The Flower Valley team is researching ways in which we can support the inner work and life of teachers to aid them in their role as educators.

The teachers who attended the Butterfly Art Project in Muizenberg were shown how art could be used as a medium to connect with, explore and nurture their own inner selves. They greatly benefitted from the course and the ECD team will continue to build on this experience in future.

The team also aims to invite teachers on possible nature retreats. Time spent in nature combined with good nutrition, physical activity, and periods of self reflection will support the teachers’ personal health and wellbeing.

Two more centres to be registered this year

Two ECD centres will receive their Department of Social Development partial care registration this year. Registration is significant because in order to receive it, the centre needs to operate from a safe formal building with enough trained staff to meet the department’s set out ratios. In order to meet these ratios, schools need to source a significant amount of additional funding.

Seesterretjies, a small centre in the fishermen’s village of Buffeljagsbaai, will receive funds for staff salaries and running costs from a local branch of I&J, a South African fishery. Flower Valley supported the centre in brokering this invaluable partnership.

The Good Hope Centre in Masakhane will also receive its registration. The centre can grow to include an additional 60 children, with plans in place to register 20 of those children by April 2020. In the course of the year, an I Med vision training and outreach centre will complement the early childhood development work of the Good Hope site, through basic primary health training and intervention. Good Hope will also remain to be a site for ECD professional development and employment creation for emerging professionals.

Parenting programmes that support parents as first educators and primary caregivers of young children will be integrated into the existing services provided at the centre. Flower Valley will also continue to facilitate home visits to parents of children registered at Good Hope to provide them with basic information on early childhood.

Learn more about these and other future projects, or to make a donation.

Update: The latest on the Alien Clearing Project

Nearly 2,000 hectares of invasive alien plants have been removed in the Agulhas Plain since the launch of the Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative (ABI) Alien Clearing Project, implemented by Flower Valley Conservation Trust. The project launched in August 2019. 

Of the area cleared, 400 hectares consisted of larger trees, or new sites for clearing alien invasive species. Chainsaw work is often required for initial clearing (first time removal of alien plants) and is sponsored by the private land owners.

The Flower Valley team and all the contractors are working hard to meet our targets set out in the Annual Plan of Operations to clear more than 5000 hectares of alien plants.

Support from contracting teams

Over R1.8 million has been invested so far to support the employment of 12 contracting teams. The majority of these teams have been working in the project since 2013. Their commitment and positive attitude is commendable, considering the variable weather conditions and hard work of removing alien invasive plants. We look forward to continue working with these conservation champions in our community.

The teams are also currently sporting their brand new personal protective clothing and equipment.

The project is funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs, with co-funding from private landowners and land user groups. Additional support is provided by philanthropic donors, including the Drakenstein Trust and Millennium Trust, to support the management and strategic planning of this large-scale project.  

And coming up in February? 

The teams will be offered accredited training in: 

  • First Aid
  • Health and Safety
  • And Herbicide Applicator

The training is supported by funding from the Department of Environmental Affairs. 

 

A big thank to the following Land User Groups for their commitment, ongoing support and collaboration towards the eradication of aliens invasive plants. 

Is wild fynbos harvesting viable without Silver Brunia?

A new study has highlighted the importance of Silver Brunia (Brunia laevis) as an economic driver for fynbos harvesters. And the potential threats this could hold for the species – and for fynbos pickers.

The study, undertaken by Matthew Fainman and Prof Beatrice Conradie at the Centre for Social Science Research at the University of Cape Town asked the question: “Wild-harvesting fynbos flowers: Still a viable business?”

According to Matthew, at a Sustainable Harvesting Programme (SHP) stakeholder engagement session held on Wednesday, 22 January 2020, “Brunia made up 6% of the flowers harvested, but 10 to 30% of the team’s revenue. So we asked the question: Can a harvesting team still be profitable without Brunia?”

The data for the research was based on Flower Valley’s harvesting team between 2008 and 2015. Keep in mind that these results are from a single case study, and represents a typical model for small scale harvesters, but other business models do exist within the wild flower industry.

Fynbos prices stagnated and even declined

The research found that prices for Brunia rose from R1 to R1.80 per stem over that time. But real prices (prices adjusted for inflation) for other species either stagnated or declined over this time. “For the Flower Valley team, it became clear that Brunia laevis is how the team made a profit,” he said.

The fynbos stems are picked by harvesters, arranged into bouquets at pack sheds, and are then sold by retailers in South Africa and in the United Kingdom.

The research concludes that this trend “could lead to overharvesting of valuable species as independent harvesting teams scramble to maintain their revenues”. Matthew added that, “The low prices paid to harvesters in turn result in low prices paid to landowners. This weakens the economic incentive for landowners to conserve fynbos.”

The threats of broadcast sowing

This could lead to more broadcast sowing – a practice whereby a landowner spreads fynbos seeds in natural landscapes. Often these species, however, don’t naturally occur on these landscapes, and they in turn could provide environmental threats to locally endemic species.

According to Flower Valley’s Programme Manager for Natural Resource Management, Kirsten Watson at the SHP meeting, there’s a need to investigate the environmental sustainability of Brunia laevis as a priority. There’s also a need to explore economic diversification options for small-scale harvesters, such as alien clearing, fire wood or other fynbos products.

Honeybush: Barriers to small-scale production

In another research project discussed at the SHP meeting, Stellenbosch University’s Rhoda Malgas looked at why a specific community with a long history of honeybush harvesting is not pursuing honeybush production today.

Despite the opportunities in honeybush production (an industry identified in the development of the Green Economy), the old mission station of Genadendal in the Overberg has highlighted numerous limitations to pursuing this industry. These include a perceived lack of experience, knowledge and interest, difficulty in securing labour, theft, no irrigation and limited access to land.

Rhoda says, “It became clear that many issues lie in the governance side – and not so much on the biophysical side.”

Ways to overcome these barriers

Rhoda suggests in order to overcome many of these perceived limitations, more extension officers are required with agroecological training. “We also need transgenerational knowledge exchange between youth and elders. We need specialised short courses for land-users. And we need to document and maintain local ecological knowledge as a means to conserve wild and agricultural resources.”

Kirsten said the South African Honeybush Tea Association and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning are working to create a Community of Practice in the industry – aimed to unify and empower a fragmented sector. “There’s a need to investigate this idea further for a cut flower or Fynbos community of practice in our area to help address these challenges.”

Is fire a key driver or destructive force?

By Mitch Afrika

On 17 December 2019, news came that smoke had been spotted just below the lower Flower Valley border. The smoke was seen in a dense poplar tree forest, on a neighbour’s property. But with no way to enter, we had to wait it out and let it burn out towards Flower Valley Farm.

Then our worst fear came true: this wildfire started raging on Flower Valley Farm, running in its length across the farm. Seven intense hours after the fire reached the farm, we were lucky to have been able to extinguish it – with around 30 hectares of Fynbos lost in the process.

Were it not for the support of neighbouring land owners and the fire department, things could’ve been so much worse.

Then came another miracle: ONLY 12 days later, the first flowers started emerging on the burnt patch.

First we saw the Fire Lily (Cyrtanthus ventricosus). Fire Lilies are known mostly for their phoenix-like behaviour. They emerge in areas that were burned by what is usually described as a seemingly-destructive fire. 

Not long after, the Paintbrush Lily (Haemanthus coccineus) also emerged. This plant flowers every year on Flower Valley Farm, but is believed to flower out of season when triggered by fire – as in our case. We especially noted the plant flowering in our firebreaks (this was a firebreak cut on the day of the fire).

Can one therefore really describe this as a destructive wildfire?

What is perceived as destructive may not be so destructive at all. Most Fynbos species are adapted to regular fire cycles. Exclusion of fires in Fynbos causes landscapes to be dominated by a few selected dominant species. But when there are wildfires, ecological burns and/or controlled burns, you’ll experience higher species richness.  

What the burned area will look like over the next few years, only time can tell. But I’m excited to see and experience it.

Flower Valley’s 2018-19 annual report available

The Flower Valley Conservation Trust’s annual report for 2018 – 2019 is now available. Says Executive Director, Lesley Richardson: I’ve been part of an intricate Flower Valley Conservation Trust journey. This journey has seen Flower Valley evolve and grow. What started as a non-profit organisation that protected Flower Valley Farm has today grown into a Trust that works across the Cape Floral Kingdom.”

The full report is available here.