By Bonnie Schumann, the EWT’s Drylands Conservation Programme Senior Field Officer
It was with some trepidation that we commenced planting our nursery-grown Karoo plants on our large restoration site on Maanhaarspoort in March last year. The planting we undertook in 2014 on the first section of the rehab site was followed by one of the worst winters on record. In fact, several records were broken around South Africa that year in terms of the coldest temperatures measured. In addition it was a very dry, windy year. As a result our bossie (bushes) survival rate on the rehabilitation site was sad, to say the least. This is the nature of the Karoo – an arid system characterized by extreme temperatures – and thus as restoration practitioners, we go into battle with the elements with our fingers crossed, our fingers gloved, and our helmets on…and we make a plan! After all, the survival of the Critically Endangered Riverine Rabbit depends on connecting and restoring its habitat! We are thus conducting a number of trials on this site looking at ways to increase plant survival. We designed shade cloth structures to place around the plants to protect them from the sun and wind, and we are measuring their success relative to equal numbers of “control” plants that have no protection. We are also looking at survival following both a spring and an autumn planting.
In August we planted the second half of the 3000 plants propagated for this area, and will compare the “spring” plants’ survival over time to those planted in autumn. We also conducted a trial using tyres to protect the plants, tagging two species.
As it turned out, luck was in our favour as the 2015 winter was mild in comparison to the previous year, with a little well timed autumn and spring rain – reflected by the near 100% survival of the bossies planted in 2015. We tagged 690 plants represented by eight species in March 2015. On the 30th of September we went to check them and 99% of the 690 tagged plants were alive and flourishing. In addition, 83% of the draaibos and 64% of the skaapbos were flowering. Now we wait with baited breath to see what influence summer will ultimately have.
The work of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Drylands Conservation Programme is made possible by the generous support of Rand Merchant Bank, Altron, Powertech, Ford Wildlife Foundation, Lindt & Sprungli South Africa, Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the National Lottery Distribution Fund, Koos and Rona Rupert Opvoedkundige Trust, Cape Hunters and Game Conservation Association, Save Our Species, Table Mountain Fund, Zoological Society for Species and Populations, Elizabeth Wakeman Henderson Charitable Foundation.