Alien Invader Plants Within South Africa
by Eden Wildy, Alien Invader Plants Project Manager, Wildlife & Environment Society of SA, KwaZulu Natal Region.
Over 9000 species of alien plants can be found within South Africa. To date, 198 of these species have been legally defined as alien invader plants. These species are non-native, non-indigenous, foreign or exotic and have the ability to spread naturally (without the direct assistance of people) in natural or semi-natural habitats. Invader plant species produce a significant change in terms of composition, structure, or ecosystem processes. From a nature conservation perspective, the mere presence of an alien invader plant species is a threat.
However, not only do alien invader plant species pose an ecological threat, but potentially have dire social and economical ramifications as well. For instance, a far-reaching ecological, as well as economic and social, implication is the depletion of South Africa’s water resource that alien invader plant species incur. In KwaZulu-Natal, alien invader plants use approximately 576 million m3 per annum more than the natural vegetation they have invaded and replaced.
As a result, alien invader plants are being taken seriously in this country with the establishment of numerous alien invader plant control and eradication programmes. Furthermore, the Minister of Agriculture, Thoko Didiza, has recently signed the new alien invasive regulations under the Conservation of Agriculture Resources Act (1983). This legislation increases the list of legally declared alien invader plant species. The amendment subdivides the 198 listed plant species into three categories. These categories are:
Category One: Plant species that may not be grown and must be eradicated.
Category Two: Plant species with commercial or utility value, which may only be grown with a permit under controlled circumstances.
Category Three: Plant species, which have amenity value and which may be grown, but not planted, propagated, imported or traded.
Landowners found to contravene any section of the Act are liable to be penalised, with matters taken to court in cases of non-compliance. The penalties range from fines of R500 to R5000 to imprisonment. Further consequences for landowners can be expected after the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act is rewritten. It is anticipated that the rewritten legislation will be promulgated in mid-2002. This will have further ramifications for landowners. Property will not be able to be transferred, or subdivided unless the property complies with the Conservation of Agriculture Resources Act and a certified clearance is obtained stating that the property is clear of alien invader plants.
Nevertheless, a major obstacle to a successful campaign against alien invader plants species is the dire lack of public-awareness to the extent of the alien invader plants problem. In lieu of this, the Wildlife & Environment Society of SA (WESSA), generously sponsored by Hillside Aluminium of Richards Bay, has initiated an Alien Invader Plants Project. The Project’s objective is to combat the threats of alien invasive plants in KwaZulu-Natal. This objective will be achieved through increasing public awareness of alien species and means to control and eradicate them. Environmental Education will, initially, be the focus of the project. A course providing an introduction to Alien Invader Plant Management has been developed and is being offered at WESSA’s KwaZulu-Natal Environmental Education centres. Interested parties can contact Eden Wildy on 031 201-3126.
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