Ironically the planting of natural grasslands to pine and eucalyptus in the early 1900’s was regarded as a forward thinking conservation measure, providing an alternative to indigenous forest timber needed to construct wagons, carts, buildings, furniture and mine supports particularly on the Witwatersrand. The destruction of grasslands led to the demise of associated flora and fauna. Some flora like Kniphofia crassifolia and the small lizard Eastwood's long tailed seps(Tetradactylus eastwoodii), are believed to be extinct. The fate of the critically endangered Hirundo atrocaerulea (Blue swallow), Acontophiops lineatus (Woodbush legless skink) and Afroedura pondolia mulitiporis (Methuen’s dwarf gecko) remain precarious.
Pieter Winter has drawn attention to a number of noteworthy plants in the Haenertsburg area such as Aloe lettyae and Indigofera rehmannii which are found nowhere else in the world. There are also numerous useful grassland plants. For instance, the leaves of Athrixia phylicoides are used to make ‘bos’ tea and the remaining hard stems for hand-brooms. Traditionally the tea is used for coughs, sores and boils as well as an aphrodisiac. Scilla natalensis (Blue squill), which has a conservation status of ‘vulnerable’ is used as a birthing aid, an enema, or to heal tumours, boils, sores and fractures. Ground leaves are fed to a child who is late in walking. For more useful information a medicinal plant booklet with photographs by local nature lovers is on sale in the village to support the Grassland Project.
Proximity to Haenertsburg village and plantations has had negative repercussions for the grassland as there is a lot of mowing, ploughing and burning of fire breaks. Less than a decade ago the entire grassland next to Haenertsburg was burnt every winter. Today landowners and biologists are starting to implement block and rotational burning to ensure that biodiversity is protected.
Sadly the grassland is sometimes used for dumping by builders, road contractors and possibly residents. Timber trucks, off-road vehicles, motorbikes and quad bikes have created destructive paths and tracks. Birds and Vervet monkeys help to spread invasive alien plants from gardens into the grassland and forest patches. Rubus cuneifolius (American bramble) introduced for making jam, quickly colonizes paths and riverine areas becoming a hiker’s nightmare.
The degradation of the Haenertsburg grassland is being challenged and rectified primarily with funding from the National Lotteries Board. This funding is being used to involve the community and raise environmental awareness and appreciation. A Grassland Guardian Award either Gold, Silver or Bronze level is being offered to those who commit to removing alien invasive plants from their gardens by a certain time period. The Bronze Butterfly Award allows till 2010 for invasive plants to be replaced with something which cannot spread via bird, monkey or wind into the grassland. To date 48 local gardens have participated including the SAP and the graveyard. Participants recognize that Haenertsburg is privileged to be situated next to a conservation hot spot and residents have a stewardship role to protect numerous threatened plant and animal species.
by Cathy Dzerefos, Limpopo Branch, Botanical Society
For further information on the Grassland Project please contact:
Cathy Dzerefos at - Tel/Fax: (015) 276-5003 Cel: 083-746-2239
Pieter Winter (National Botanical Institute) is gratefully acknowledged for providing information on biodiversity. The National Lotteries Board, the Botanical Society of South Africa, Stevens Lumber Mill, Silicon Smelters, Budget Rental (Polokwane) and the Earthwatch Institute have made funding available for mistbelt grasslands.
Cathy Dzerefos is a resident of Haenertsburg and a private Environmental Consultant. Her research has a strong emphasis on ecological and socio-economics of rural areas within the Savanna and Grassland Biomes. She is a founder member of the Limpopo Branch of the Botanical Society.