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Vergelegen Estate rid of alien threat

After fighting to get invasive vegetation under control, Vergelegen Estate cut down the last two trees in a celebratory ceremony last Thursday.

Vergelegen Estate, which is owned by Anglo American South Africa, has been fighting to eradicate alien vegetation from its grounds since 1995. The estate went as far as putting together a board to champion this colossal task due to the size of the property.

“The board comprised of both representatives from Anglo and private residents in the area,” said Vergelegen CEO Don Tooth.

In 2004 they obtained funding from Anglo American, in years prior to this the clearing project was funded by profits from the estate.

In total the estate is 3 000 hectares large and of that the alien vegetation populated 2 200 hectares.

During a presentation delivered by Tooth last Thursday, he mentioned that since the alien vegetation has been eradicated from the estate the natural vegetation has grown exponentially.

“The wildlife on the estate has flourished. So far we’ve had five spottings of leopards, 47 Bontebok are currently roaming the estate. Bird species have increased from 80 in 1995 to 152.”

The insect life has also grown as well allowing the estate to reduce their use of pesticide sprays by 75%.

Besides working toward preserving the land for generations to come, the estate also wants to share the knowledge regarding the clearing of alien vegetation with others who face a similar threat. Through this project they have also presented undergraduates and post-graduates with the opportunity to further their education as Vergelegen has created an informal “Centre of Learning Excellence”. To date, this has helped seven undergraduates, ten post-graduates and five undergraduates.

“From these 17 are from local institutions and five from international institutions.”

Vergelegen along with Anglo American have been working toward having part of the estate declared a private nature reserve as they have become home to a wide variety of fynbos which includes critically endangered Lourensford Alluvium Fynbos and Swartland Shale Renosterveld.

Norman Mbazima, the deputy chairperson of Anglo American South Africa, believes Vergelegen is a national asset.

“It is something we want to preserve, it is part of our heritage and history. It is a special place where the fynbos has come to flourish and it is something that we can show our children and their children.”

Anton Bredell, provincial minister for Environmental Affairs, commended the estate and everyone who has been part of this task that has been ongoing for more than two decades.

“This has never been a commercial venture. Personally, I feel that the government should declare war against alien vegetation. We need to do more to eradicate it from our environments and we realise this in terms of setting the bar for a best practice for similar situations,” he said at the site of the last two alien trees on the estate.

Before the last two Eucalypti, which used up to 200 litres of water per day, fell, Bredell announced the site has officially been declared a nature reserve.

Although the alien vegetation has been seemingly dealt with, teams will still be doing continuous work to ensure that they are kept at bay.

During the presentation, Tooth and others involved with the project mentioned seed banks. Due to these it is impossible to know whether or not alien invasion has been completely removed from the affected areas and thus teams will stay on and perform regular audits of the cleared spaces.

Factors that contribute to the spreading of seeds lodged in the seed banks are foremost the infamous wind in the Helderberg, birds and fires. Three major fires have thus far threatened the estate and their fight against the invasion. A fire in 1997, in 2009 which lasted for 21 days and the 2017 fires. Nevertheless the estate and everyone involved with the project is firm in their belief that after the next three years of re-cleaning they will have removed approximately 95% of the alien seed bank.

According to a statement released by the estate, Vergelegen was acquired by Anglo American in 1987. The environmental investment forms part of an extensive programme to restore the historic estate and establish it as a showcase of South African heritage, culture, wine and biodiversity

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