CHAIRMAN’S REPORT 2023
The previous chairman of the Enviro-Trust, Warren Manser, emigrated to the UK at the end of 2021 and left a void at the head of the organisation. As a way to lighten the load, the chair was shared between three people during 2022. Alex Gotte, Truus Hedding and Maggie Langlands were co-chairs for the year, sharing out the portfolio responsibilities and each taking on four months in the driving seat.
Alex’s portfolio responsibilities were bush clearing, Erf 554, clean-ups, and communications. Truus took on the museum, the Two Harbours Walk, the Community Garden, the wildlife refuge and Eco Kids. Maggie oversaw the partnership with Bruce’s, our Greater Kromme Stewardship involvement, environmental monitoring, fund raising, book publishing and fishing line bins, as well as any issues regarding the dormant memorial bench portfolio.
The clearing of plots for building or just as a fire precaution is an issue because it is uncontrolled. The wholesale destruction of natural bush is harmful to the environment because it removes the habitat used by our wildlife and of course the destruction of protected vegetation is an offence. We have intervened in an attempt to safeguard protected plants and trees and to encourage selective plot-clearing. We have called on the support of Kouga Municipality with limited success: we find that the Department of Water Affairs is painfully slow to respond to complaints and queries: and we are constantly met with resistance from plot owners whose sense of environmental responsibility seems not to apply to themselves. We will continue to do what we can to limit the destruction and protect our threatened plant and trees, with particular focus on Public Open Spaces.
Ward Committee and Erf 554
The environmental portfolio on the Ward 12 ward committee is handled by a representative from the Enviro-Trust. Our role is to represent environmental interests in the ward, and to advise Councillor Maree about environmental legislation and regulations where necessary. One of our major concerns over the past twelve months has been the proposed sub-division and re-zoning of Erf 554, a land portion that is of concern to us because of the protected plants growing on it.
The sub-division and re-zoning of Erf 554 has been delayed owing to objections raised by neighbouring property owners. These objections are not related to the Enviro-Trust’s proposal for protecting the last remnants of unique and threatened vegetation (on the grassy area alongside the bowls club), but they have meant that no progress has been made with making this mini-community garden a reality. In the meantime heavy vehicles continue to park on these plants, members of the Cape Floral Kingdom (which has World Heritage statu)s. At least twenty-five different plant species are found in this small area, among them the protected Brunsvigia gregaria and the wild orchid, Satyrium princeps.
Our primary clean-up is in conjunction with the International Coastal Clean-Up around the world, at the end of September. In 2022 we joined with FOSTER and Rotary St Francis for a community endeavour on a perfect day, and participants brought in an impressive haul of litter and junk from the Cape St Francis coastline.
We hosted the Strandloper Expedition in October as part of our clean-up activities for the year. This group of scientists hikes a section of the SA coast each year, collecting litter and spreading information about the devastating effects of abandoned fishing tackle on marine life and birds. We made a donation towards their initiative and hosted them at Bruce’s, inviting our members to hear about their project and to meet them for informal discussion.
Fishing Line Bins
Another of our contributions to keeping the environment clean and safe is the fishing line bins located along the coast. This is an initiative of SA Plastics, who provide the bins free of charge and even deliver them a couple of times a year. One of our members, Denys Rothero, has kindly agreed to manage this project for us and he has a team of volunteers who make an invaluable contribution by emptying the bins regularly. Our thanks to Denys and the team – Brian Saunders, Jani Ellis, Janine Prins, Derek Cook, Neville Medley and Melville Fish.
Our website https://stfranciskrommetrust.co.za/ and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com › krommetrust are our main communications media: Si Cunneen and Geanné Darke’s posts have kept everyone up to date through the year on our activities and on environmental issues generally. We also set up a stall at the monthly market to maintain contact with residents – and we are extremely grateful to the market organisers for providing space for us at no cost. Additional communication comes through our liaison with FOSTER and Rotary, with representation on each other’s committees and at each other’s events. We believe this has been valuable to all three associations. Finally, we will be launching an email newsletter in the new year to give greater detail to our members.
Two Harbours Walk
For a number of years now the Two Harbours Walk has been one of the more popular activities on offer in St Francis, used by both residents and visitors. It is a beautiful walk along the edge of St Francis Bay with its various views towards Cape St Francis to the south and the Cockscomb Mountain to the north. And it is also challenging enough to give everyone a workout with the satisfaction of a beer or ice-cream at the Port, or a coffee at Bruces at the end.
Ken McGregor is our “in-house” engineer and this year he has once again taken charge of all repairs and maintenance needed on the Two Harbours Walk. It may not look like it, because the trail looks so natural and unspoiled, but continuous maintenance and trimming of bushes and grass is needed. Ken, with the help of Neale Grobbelaar and some local workers, has devoted a lot of time and effort to keeping the path safe and negotiable. Some of the funds raised by the Enviro-Trust are put towards this project every year and, in our view, it is money well spent. We also would like to acknowledge donations of planks and wooden platforms towards this project. Thank you to Frank Dabrowski who volunteers his time and considerable effort to keeping the path near Romazini Valley trimmed.
We fielded many questions about the major repairs to the dune stabilisation in front of one property along the Two Harbours walk. The stabilisation infrastructure, including gabions and pole walls, had been installed by the municipality and it was collapsing. The property owner called on Kouga Municipality to undertake the necessary repair and replacement work, which they did, and we thank them for maintaining this section.
Thank you, too, to the cycling club for their responsiveness, and thank you in particular to Tyrone Kindness, who capably separated the cyclists’ and walkers’ sections of the shared path to reduce the chances of collision.
Along with Dusty and Ed Elton, James and Glyn Potts are the ‘angels’ who keep the Community Garden tidy and beautiful. They report that the local rains were a blessing to our garden in 2022, and that the hard work of Dennis Titus saw the community garden prosper and improve.
The focus in 2022 was restoring pathways and steps. Where possible existing stairs were recycled, and where necessary new pavers, poles and ‘latte’ were sourced from Buco at cost. That cost was covered by the Potts’s, as was the monthly cost of removing garden refuse, including the many alien species such as Port Jackson and Brazilian Peppers.
In addition to this, the Potts extended family did a clean-up of the garden for Mandela Day, removing three full garbage bags of plastic, glass and litter. We are extremely fortunate to have help from the Potts and Elton families, and also from the Links, whose staff quietly and without fanfare do the grass cutting every month.
The plans for 2023 are to remove invasive cacti, install an additional dustbin, and continue with maintenance of pathways, walkways and the river bed in order to create an inviting and memorable experience to all who visit the gardens.
When Warren Manser left we lost not only an energetic chairperson , but also a qualified environmental officer with experience in animal rescue management. It was Warren who originally initiated the Kromme Enviro-Trust Wildlife Sanctuary.
From the beginning of 2022 we have endeavoured to find a person to “man” the sanctuary in the event of an emergency. We have spoken to various people, in PE and the Greater St Francis area, as to how we can efficiently deal with wildlife emergencies that may occur from time to time. So far we have not found anyone qualified to take this on, but we will continue the search.
We are fortunate to have the full and voluntary co-operation of Dr Nerine Botha, our local veterinarian, and of some experienced people who are qualified to care for injured or stranded animals including birds. Some members of our local Station 21 NSRI team have been trained in what to do when there are sea or shore animals in distress. We have compiled a comprehensive list of contact numbers and expect to be ready to be of help when the call comes.
Environmental education, including involving young children in environmental activities, is one of the core goals of the Enviro-Trust. However, we had to suspend the Eco Kids programme when Covid and lock-down happened.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to revive this programme, as it needs a dedicated and energetic convenor. The committee actively tried to identify such a person during 2022 but was unsuccessful. We have recently made some new contacts, however, and are hopeful that we can offer an Eco Kids programme at some time in the year to come. If you feel you can be of help with this, please get in touch with us.
The Ocean Museum at Bruce’s Café has seen some upgrades this year. As envisaged at this meeting last year, some new displays have been added. As you may have noticed, we have also made the space a little more bold and attractive with a better visual division between the museum and the coffee shop. We acknowledge the help of Rob and Carmen Purdy, Inéz Rossouw and Kern Wilson.
In the coming year we hope to expand the presentations offered on the new big screen that was installed a few months ago. Any relevant ideas or contributions will be welcome. Creating a meeting place of thought and ideas with a focus on the ocean we find on our doorstep, underpins the museum.
Bruce’s Ocean Café
Our partnership with Nikki and Ernest Bendeman for the operation of Bruce’s Ocean Café continues to be a happy and fruitful one. The coffee shop is thriving and provides constant access to the museum as well as a welcome source of funds for the Enviro-Trust. Bruce’s has found a place in the affections of St Francis residents and visitors alike and this can be attributed to caring management and happy staff who work constantly to meet and exceed expectations. Bruce’s has made the Enviro-Trust’s home base something extra special.
Books and Reference Sources
Bruce’s is the main outlet for sales of the book The Monument Around Us. Robin Simpson compiled this history of St Francis and the Hulett family back in 2006, and the Enviro-Trust has curated the proceeds ever since. Once the cost of publication had been recouped, funds are to be used for projects which will benefit the community as a whole. Up to now, those funds have been used occasionally for Enviro-Trust projects such as alterations to the Heritage Centre, but those costs have been repaid into the fund. The largest drawdown on the funds has been the reprinting of the book at the end of 2022, at a cost of R75 000.
The Enviro-Trust’s own publication is Our Coastal Treasure, and as stocks were almost depleted in 2022, a decision had to be made about reprinting. We decided instead to take the publication online, and we are delighted to tell you that this resource is now available at the touch of a button. If, for example, you are looking at a flowering plant and wondering what it is, go onto our website https://stfranciskrommetrust.co.za/, open the Coastal Treasure section and click on Plant Life. If you want to know where to find birds, it’s there. Likewise with mammals, frogs and even shipwrecks. It’s a resource we are proud of, and we thank Alison Bosman for her huge contribution to compiling the material and Dom Gotte for capturing it and displaying it so effectively.
Nature Reserves and Protected Areas: The Greater Kromme Stewardship
The GKS was initiated in 2015 as a co-operative venture between the Enviro-Trust and the wind farms of the area. Our concerns for the impact of wind turbines on birdlife and bats initially brought us into conflict with the wind farm developers and this was resolved with an agreement to establish a joint venture dedicated to setting up protected areas for all threatened species in this district. In the seven years of its existence, the GKS has assessed dozens of sites and identified sixteen sites that qualify for formal protection. Four of those sites have been declared as nature reserves: Oubos-Grootrivier, Kromme-Geelhout, Krommensee and the Sand River Private Nature Reserve. An indication of the protracted and complex process involved is the five years it took from assessment to finalisation of these declarations.
And that process has become even more protracted. As is the case with so many government departments, unprecedented delays and obstructions have beset applications to the provincial environmental department and the MEC over the past four years. For example, we have been waiting for 3 years for the MEC to sign documents initiating the public participation process on the Thula Moya nature reserve and the Voerentoe nature reserve. But we have learned that patience and persistence eventually pay off, as has been the case with the Cape St Francis reserves, where Wentzel Coetzer’s tireless work finally broke a 25-year bureaucratic logjam. We have every confidence that his persistence will have its effect on the other declarations and we will continue to do everything we can to assist.
Black Harrier Update
Our goal for 2022 was to save the Black Harrier – or at least to direct our primary effort towards that end. We were able to raise a substantial sum through our golf day, sufficient to pay for two electronic trackers to be fitted to birds. Trackers were attached to a breeding male and female with a nest on the perimeter of the Jeffreys Bay wind farm and those birds are still being tracked, with some surprising findings. For example, the male hunted regularly within the wind farm and has so far avoided colliding with turbines: the female, once her breeding duties were over, has done some seriously long-distance trips, visiting Katberg and Adelaide among other destinations.
The Jeffreys Bay wind farm is committed to the protection of Black Harrier from future collisions and has established a committee of advisors to assist. We are represented on the committee and are working closely with the wind farm on programmes such as observer-led shut-down on demand, blade painting, and the establishment of refuge areas for Black Harriers.
Response to Development Threats
The importance of ensuring formal protection for threatened areas was highlighted during 2022 when a proposal was made for mining sand in the Sand River (more accurately known as the Oyster Bay Dunefield). A section of the dunefield is protected by having been declared as the Sand River Nature Reserve, and this was automatically excluded from the proposed prospecting and mining application. We, along with the Thyspunt Alliance, opposed the mining application, as did many other residents and organisations, and the application was withdrawn after many formal objections and a well-attended and vociferous public meeting.
However, this does not preclude future applications from being made, and the Thyspunt Alliance has put forward a formal nomination of the entire Thyspunt area, including the dunefields, as a Heritage Site. We have determined, as a committee, to support this initiative and to add weight to it by prioritising the protection of the dunefields through the formal conservation process. Our membership of the Greater Kromme Stewardship should be helpful in facilitating this.
Other environmental issues raised during 2022 included the proposed re-alignment of the Grasmere Road, amended specifications for the turbines on the proposed Banna ba Pifhu wind farm, and a proposal to drill gas exploration wells off the Cape St Francis coast.
The location of the proposed Banna ba Pifhu wind farm is on the Grasmere road, just south of the dip in the main road between Humansdorp and St Francis. New developers have taken over this application and they propose to reduce the turbine numbers from 13 to 7, but to increase the size of the turbines. The hub height will be 150 metres and the blade length 95 metres, so these turbines will be almost twice the size of those we see around us at present. We have lodged an appeal against the environmental authorisation, on the grounds that the conditions attached are not stringent enough to offer sufficient protection to the Blue Cranes which roost nearby nor to the bats which forage on site. We have not opposed the re-alignment of the Grasmere road, provided it remains a public road.
A proposal which arose towards the end of 2022 is to drill exploratory wells for gas and condensate off the Cape St Francis coastline. Total has rights to explore for oil, gas and condensate in a large offshore block stretching from Mossel Bay to Cape St Francis. Finds have been made close to Mossel Bay and Total is now applying for their exploration rights to be converted to production rights, with production wells being drilled near Mossel Bay and the extracted fossil fuels being processed by PetroSA at the plant outside Mossel Bay. Simultaneously, Total proposes to drill four exploration wells in the area closer to Cape St Francis. This is a process that can have severe environmental consequences, and we are engaging in the public participation process in a push to ensure that the company undertakes every possible mitigation measure, some of which have major cost implications for the company. Without public pressure, there is little incentive for Total to implement those measures.
There are costs involved in our projects and we try, as far as possible, not to depend on members’ subs to cover those costs. We want Enviro-Trust membership to be affordable to all, so that everybody can join our ranks and be part of “preserving, protecting and promoting“ the amazing environment we live in. So we have a number of fund raising activities, starting with the monthly contribution from Bruce’s coffee shop, which makes a meaningful difference to our resources. In addition, we host a golf day around World Environment Day in June every year, an event which raises around R70 000, and finally, we have a Christmas tree drive every December. We help landowners by removing alien pine trees from their properties and make real Christmas trees available to the community. We were assisted by the Farmyard Nursery in 2022, which was enormously helpful, and we thank Clint Carstens for going above and beyond to help us with this project.
Lead Project for 2023
Our goal for the coming year is directed at protecting the Sand River and the Oyster Bay Dunefield from any future devastation. We will be supporting the Thyspunt Alliance’s bid to have the St Francis headland declared a Heritage Site, but we will simultaneously undertake our own drive to have the dunefields formally declared protected areas on environmental grounds. A significant amount of work has already been done by Wentzel Coetzer and the GKS in this regard, and we will be meeting with him to explore how we might work together to best effect. Our objective is to make sure that nobody can, in future, set out to damage the dunefield or its resources, whether by mining sand or any other form of exploitation.