Case Study By Sean Altern – Consultant: Biodiversity Conservation Services
When an unfortunate vehicle accident veered off the side of a steep mountain pass, the result caused considerable damage to valuable fynbos growing on the slope below the road. NCC Environmental Services were contracted to implement restoration on the impacted areas in order to allow the vegetation to recover, prevent further deterioration (which would otherwise occur as a result thereof) and erase all physical signs of the event.
Designing a customised solution
Whilst there are generalised methodologies advised for various types of rehabilitation, each case must still be assessed on a case-by-case basis. These tried and tested methods then needs to be customised to the broad spectrum of site specifics and eco-system driving influences of the area. To quote well known environmental author Mike Mentis, ‘One thing my experience taught me was that a common reason for poor or failed rehabilitation was that it was done unthinkingly, following a recipe, repeating what was done on a previous project, not delving into an understanding the processes at the site, not modifying the generic guide to fit the exact circumstance’.
For this specific site it was decided that restoration would occur naturally if the receptor areas were made ‘more receptive’ by removal of negative impacts and installation of eco-friendly recovery assisting installations. This is in tune with NCC’s ingrained natural approach to always work with nature and enable the environment to heal on its own rather than trying to force an outcome or ‘over work’ something that does need it. This approach to projects has been formulated in sound theory with implementation being both practical and cost effective.
The first phase of the project involved reshaping or general ‘roughing up’ of the compaction and skid marks caused by the accident. If you have ever walked a mountain trail and wondered why the path exists and is not overgrown the answer is compaction due to human movement. This compaction keeps seed from germinating and keeps the path floor clear. Likewise if the resultant compaction was not addressed any regrowth would struggle.
The next step involved the installation of 100% biodegradable soil saver cloth and silt nets. Not only will these installations prevent erosion by protecting the barren soil but also trap seed and sediment and moisture allowing for subsequent plants to more easily re-establish in the micro climatic conditions created.
The great benefit in utilising biodegradable materials is that it repurposes invasive alien plants as timber, the installations do not need to be removed thus causing further trampling and in the likely event of a fire there are no plastics that will be burnt and melt into the ecosystem.
Assessing the area from a botanical point-of-view highlighted the fact that many of the indigenous species surrounding the site make use of wind dispersal for their seeds (anemochory). Others had hooks to catch onto passing animals (or clothing) to be discarded elsewhere (epizoochory) whilst a few others had nutritious elements covering the seed in order that these are carried away and buried by insects such as ants (myrmechory). With nature providing such an array of methods to move seeds about and reseed the area why would we need to do anything more?
NCC ensures that all projects are scrutinised under various in-house specialists and allows for high levels of customisation, resulting in well thought out, realistic and successful plans.
Very often nature can heal itself but may require a little help to get going. This tends to play out by removing the negative impacts (pollution, compaction, litter, and those things that nature cannot undo) and then allowing or encouraging the positive drivers to work their magic (natural seeding, wind, fire, and faunal influences). The result is often a much more natural restoration than what might be achieved by over working an area and trying to replicate everything ourselves.
NCC Environmental Services Project Team
- Jonathan Szoke – Project Manager
- Sean Altern – Project Lead
- Lulama Zibi – Technician
- Robin Klein – Technician