Dube TradePort Rehabilitation and Restoration Project

18 October 2011

Dube TradePort and Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) entered into a joint venture, the La Mercy JV Property Investments (Pty) LTD, which has undertaken a program of large-scale rehabilitation and restoration. This project comprises alien clearing, the re-creation of grassland and wetland habitats through the active planting of locally endemic indigenous plants, species rescue and active management etc., on the land Dube TradePort and the La Mercy JV occupies in La Mercy. The project involves best practice management of all vegetation types in and around the site, which include remnant grasslands, scarp forest and wetlands on former sugarcane land.

The La Mercy JV Property Investments has contracted Servest Landscaping to undertake alien clearing on Portion 1 of the site. After extensive clearing of alien species, burning has started as an active management tool to ensure further eradication of alien plants and to stimulate regrowth of indigenous grassland species. “Fire is a natural process and a vital part of veld management…fire removes moribund material, releases nutrients and stimulates growth of forbs and other plants” comments Ken Farnsworth divisional manager at Servest Landscaping, who is overseeing the burning. “If fire management is not implemented the efforts to try and re-create grasslands and wetlands will be wasted. So to the considerable financial and professional resources invested in this project, undermining the perceptions that the project aims to generate. This project is one of the largest and we hope, most successful projects of its kind ever undertaken in South Africa” added Dr. Richard Kinvig Divisional Director – SiVEST Environmental Division, and project ecologist.

Considering that there is an airport on site, as well as the neighboring residential area of Mount Moreland, there has been particular attention paid, by Dube TradePort as to the effects of the burning on the site. The burning that is currently being undertaken is referred to as a slow, low intensity burn which will remove a relatively high amount of moribund vegetation and reduces the germination levels of alien species on site. In addition, it will allow for a more successful alien plant control follow-up and in years to come more intense burns, which will drive the ecological succession and control alien invasive plant species. “Unfortunately, the burn is occurring after a relatively wet winter and recent rainfall producing greater quantities of smoke than is desirable…” Brick –Working on Fire project manager.

The community of Mount Moreland has been included and notified about the process through the ratepayers association. These representatives for the community are also invited and regularly participate in Dube TradePort meetings through which all community concerns and complaints relating to Dube TradePort and La Mercy JV Property Investments activities are raised.  In this regard the feedback from the community has been valuable in shaping the way in which the La Mercy JV Property Investments has gone about the burning. A case in point has been the decision to burn smaller sections at a time in order to reduce the amount of smoke that could be a nuisance to the community. Burning will also be undertaken over the shortest period possible to minimize associated impacts.

International best practice dictates that active interventions and management, such as burning, are essential for the successful rehabilitation and restoration of grasslands on a project of this scale.

Burning is a management tool utilised to clear alien plants and ensure the re-establishment of grassland ecosystems, which are fire driven systems. Burning inhibits alien species regeneration while it encourages grassland species to increase their vigour, thus ensuring they flourish. Certain grassland forbs and geophytes have evolved to flower in response to chemicals released in smoke, while many fruits and seeds will also only germinate if exposed to these same chemicals. As a responsible developer, it is the aim of Dube TradePort to rehabilitate (alien clearing and species rescue) 464 hectares and restore/recreate an additional 408 hectares of land over the next three-years. The rehabilitation and restoration offsets the environmental impact of the building and operations of the Dube TradePort and enhances the environmental services within the precinct.

The result of this project will be the re-introduction of indigenous species, the revival of the wetlands, scarp forest and grasslands adding immensely to the aesthetic appeal of the area, with walkways and bicycle routes being created for public use. The area, which is being rehabilitated and restored, has for many decades been rundown as a result of a sugarcane monoculture and cultivation mindset. When asked about the restoration areas, Farnsworth added that “… these areas are to be replicate as close as is possible, the natural habitat (grassland and scarp forest) and this long term vision will greatly enhance the beautiful surroundings …”. The restoration areas will be conserved in perpetuity, contributing to the long term sustainability of the Dube TradePort.