The Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative (ABI) Alien Clearing Project is celebrating the completion of its first year. The project is coordinated by the Flower Valley Conservation Trust team. It has seen more than 25,000 hectares cleared of invasive aliens, and 347 beneficiaries employed in year one.

The project is funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) through its Land User Incentive Scheme, with co-funding provided by partners involved in the project. DEA funded the project’s first year activities to the tune of R6-million, while landowners and other participants contributed substantial time and effort to cover planning and management costs.

The ABI model has seen land user groups such as conservancies take on a major role in the planning and roll out of the project. These groups work closely with the 34 contracting teams undertaking the clearing. Local municipalities, non-governmental organisations, SANParks and CapeNature were also members of the project’s Implementation Committee, playing a major role in the success to date.

According to Roger Bailey, Conservation Manager at Flower Valley Conservation Trust and Coordinator of the ABI Alien Clearing Project, the model has allowed alien clearing to take place strategically across much of the Agulhas Plain. “The level of involvement of the various stakeholders has also been a major strength of the project, with all the partners ultimately taking responsibility for the work. The assistance we’ve received from key DEA staff has also been instrumental in assisting us, as we pioneer this project.”

It’s also hoped that an assessment of the first year’s activities will highlight areas where the project can be improved and can be run more efficiently. “We’re testing a new way of doing things, and as such, we’ve learnt a lot along the way. For example, the administration that is required in this project has called for an enormous effort from all partners. But the project has benefited from the very fact that systems can be tested and improved.”

An opportunity also exists to further improve knowledge on invasive alien clearing methodologies and the model, through research and monitoring. Bailey says, “Different species require different methods of clearing. Our experience in the veld can now assist us to become better at clearing and to share that where we can. We can also highlight from veld observations that the current favourable weather conditions for plant growth have boosted the regeneration of invader plant species, which in turn has impacted on the project’s clearing work.”

The ABI Alien Clearing Coordination team has now worked with relevant stakeholders to compile the annual plan of operations for the second year. This forms the basis on which the project will implement its clearing plan in the coming year.