Since Warren departed for a new life in the UK at the beginning of December, I have been acting chairman and it has made me appreciate his contribution even more than I did before. All those calls he handled about sewage on the trails, people dumping trash in the Community Garden, nappies in the fishing line bins, seals on the beach, etc etc etc – you only know about it when he’s not there any longer. Thank you Warren, for everything you did for the village, for the environment, and for the Enviro-Trust. We were lucky to have you in the driving seat for five years and we will miss you sorely.

Coastal Clean-Up

One of Warren’s favourite projects was coastal clean-ups, especially the International Coastal Clean-Up day every September. This initiative is co-ordinated by Plastics SA in partnership with the Oceans Conservancy and they supply us with a mountain of trash bags and gloves and reporting cards. Last year we had two issues to deal with: first, committee members went down with covid at the exact time of the clean up, and second, the weather turned terrible over the scheduled weekend.   We had to postpone it to mid-October but on the day we had a great turnout and collected over 100 bags of trash. The 2022 event is scheduled for 17 September but we will watch the weather again and advertise the final date much closer to the time.

Bruce’s Ocean Café

Another area where Warren is missed is the Heritage Centre and Bruce’s Ocean café. He fought an ongoing battle with the fish tanks that were such a wonderful feature but such a nightmare to curate, with leaks and discolouration of the water and so on and so on, all handled by Warren with patience and a joke and a laugh. We would love to re-install one of the tanks so if you or someone you know has some knowledge and experience please let us know!

Fish tanks aside, Bruce’s is a wonderful success story. Ever since we started our relationship with the operators, Nikki and Ernest Bendeman, with a temporary events licence in 2018, it has gone from strength to strength. You will see the bottom line when Sara presents the financials but that doesn’t tell the whole story so I would like to focus on that side of things for a minute. Our arrangement with the operators is that they fund any movable items, such as equipment and furnishings, and the Enviro-Trust funds any improvements to the building itself. There have been many improvements and alterations, from floor tiling to security gates to electrics and plumbing, and although we have received a very rewarding income flow from Bruce’s we have not yet broken even. However, the good news is that break-even should be achieved this month and – unless we jointly decide on more upgrades or alterations – we will have a good flow of funds every month from Bruce’s from now on.

Quite apart from the fund-raising aspect, Bruce’s has been a winner in so many ways. It provides a magnificent view of the ocean, it provides good food and the best coffee in St Francis, it provides warmth and comfort for cold wet swimmers, surfers and fishermen, and it provides a living for the people who work there. But you might ask, with reason, what does this have to do with the environment?

Firstly, the funds it raises will allow us to take on costly environmental projects. Secondly, having Bruce’s allows us to maintain our natural history museum and to give people daily access to it. The museum is the coffee shop and the coffee shop is the museum.

Our Ocean Museum

The museum being the coffee shop and the coffee shop being the museum has advantages and disadvantages.  A definite advantage is that having the coffee shop in the space means that the museum is open to visitors nearly every day of the year and visitors are enticed to spend some time at the location enjoying the coffee and all that goes with it. Also some people might not be tempted to visit at all if the space was only dedicated to displays.

But seeing that the space available is only 40 square meters, if that, sharing means that we obviously don’t have as much space as we would wish for and what we have is somewhat disjointed. However, looking around at Bruce’s you find that there are fixed displays on

  • Whales
  • Penguins
  • Otters
  • Rescue and rehabilitation of animals and birds and
  • Early men that lived on our shores

and for the youngsters of all ages there is

  • an interactive display on what can be found on our shores and in our rock pools

There are also models and replicas of locally seen dolphins and endangered fish.

Some of the displays and information boards have spilled onto the outside areas of the building and even when Bruce’s is closed there is information available about

  • Vulnerable species on our shores,
  • Line fish
  • Rocky Shores
  • Sandy Shores
  • Sea birds

Fortunately we live in the era of “digital display” and a lot of information and footage can be presented in a relatively small area by cycling different topics on the screen. We have one screen already which shows some great underwater footage and that gives our visitors information about i.a.

  • Marine Protected Areas
  • The Chokka Industry
  • The amazing world of storm birds
  • Life close in shore and rock pools

Moving forward into 2022 we hope to start by adding another screen on which we will display some of the information and photography we recently posted on the Kromme Enviro-Trust website https://stfranciskrommetrust.co.za  under the Coastal Treasure tab.

Topics include:

  • Birds of the greater St Francis area
  • Plants of the St Francis area as seen in different times of the year
  • Rocky shores and rock pools
  • The Sand River and dune fields
  • The Kromme River system
  • The Chokka life cycle showing some stunning underwater photography
  • History of St Francis Bay including some shipwreck info

Once again the community is invited to share some of their photos, video and knowledge to contribute to the museum.

In Dutch there is an expression Klein maar fijn which roughly translates into ‘small but exquisite or excellent’.  Our museum is very small but with the plans we have for 2022, we are sure it will become a place where everyone, whatever the reason for their visit, can find something of interest and find out more about it.

Response to Development Threats

While we really prefer projects such as the museum that make a positive contribution to the environment, we also have to make our voice heard when proposed developments pose threats to that environment. There were two such proposals in 2021: Eskom applied to the National Nuclear Regulator for a site licence for Thyspunt, and Indlovu Sand applied for prospecting rights in the Oyster Bay dunefield.

In August the National Nuclear Regulator held public hearings about the Thyspunt site licence application and we attended at Cape St Francis and presented an objection based on the outdated and misleading data contained in Eskom’s application. Eskom substantially under-represented the population numbers of the St Francis area at just over 3 000 people, when we estimate it to be more like 10 000 at normal times and well over 20 000 in the holiday season. The impossibility of evacuating these numbers in the event of nuclear accident, over the Sand River bridge, with many residents having no personal transport, leads to only one conclusion – Thyspunt is unsuitable as a site for a nuclear facility.

The Indlovu Sand application targets 41 prospecting sites in the Oyster Bay and Thysbaai mobile dunefields, to prospect for sand, building sand, gravel and stone aggregate. Some of the sites were subsequently removed from the application as they lay within protected areas (mostly protected as a result of Greater Kromme Stewardship endeavours). However the threat was not removed, simply reduced, and we have registered as I&APs and lodged an objection. This is based on the fact that the Oyster Bay dunefield is the last functioning headland bypass dune field in South Africa and a unique national asset. A dune geomorphology report for a previous EIA describes these dunefields as unique on a local, regional and probably global scale. Any activity, let alone activity on this scale, affects the ecological integrity of highly sensitive environments such as these. We are awaiting the draft Basic Assessment Report, after which there will be 30 days for public review and comment.

Nature Reserves and Protected Areas: the Greater Kromme Stewardship

The Greater Kromme Stewardship (GKS) project is one of the most important initiatives that we are involved in. It is a joint initiative with the local wind farms, who fund it. It is a conservation programme, or more correctly, a biodiversity stewardship programme, which seeks out pristine or threatened natural assets in the area and arranges formal protection for them. It may come as a surprise to know that there are 60 different types of vegetation in this district, and 24 of them are vulnerable or endangered. As farming intensifies and development spreads, these species are disappearing at an alarming rate. The declaration of protected areas safeguards the remaining specimens for the future, and this is the mission the GKS has undertaken. At this stage there are 17 different sites on the GKS action sheet: eight of them have been finalised as protected areas and nine more are at various stages in the process. The work is carried out by Wentzel Coetzer and Anele Khumalo, under the direction of the Conservation Outcomes organisation, and we are proud to be a player in this initiative.

Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm BAC

The Enviro-Trust also has a representative, along with Wentzel, on the Biodiversity Advisory Committee of the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm. This wind farm is owned by an international company, Globeleq, and they have a strong environmental ethic. They adhere to the International Finance Corporation’s performance standards, one of which requires that corporate activity results in no net loss to the environment and aims at achieving a net gain. The threatened species in the wind farm’s footprint are Humansdorp Shale Renosterveld, only found right here in our area and nowhere else on the planet, and the Black Harrier, of which there are only an estimated 1300 individuals left on earth. The J Bay BAC is working on a number of initiatives to safeguard these species, from new protected areas to painting stripes on turbine blades to hiring spotters who can call for turbines to be shut down when need be. Each of these has its own challenges, but we are proud to be part of this effort and strongly support Globeleq and the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm in taking the lead in environmentally-responsible production of green energy.

Preservation of Botanical Value, Erf 554

Moving a bit closer to home but continuing with the thread of protected areas, let’s look at Erf 554 St Francis Bay. This is a case of multiple personality, with several different parts. It includes the municipal offices’ parking lot, the open area used by the Saturday market, Spar’s parking, and a grassy area next to the bowls club, part of which is used for overflow parking. The municipality has engaged a consultant to assist them with subdividing and rezoning the various parts of this erf, and the Enviro-Trust has been involved in the public participation process, lobbying for the grassy area to be protected as a mini-community garden. We, along with the botanical society and other interested and affected parties, want to protect the last remnants of what was once an extensive area of unique and threatened biodiversity. The vegetation in this patch is made up of plants from the Cape Floral Kingdom, which has World Heritage status. 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. This is a unique local asset and we have been urging its preservation for many years. We envisage a demarcated area, closed to traffic but with pedestrian paths through it, that can be mowed according to nature’s requirements and not those of motorists, where people can see and appreciate the full beauty of our extraordinary flowering plants. We are hopeful that this will be finalised during the course of 2022.

Community Garden

The original community garden in Harbour Road is well established and its care is in good hands. In spite of the drought, the efforts of the Potts family and the Elton family have kept the garden looking good and staying healthy. We cannot thank these dedicated caretakers enough. We are also grateful to the Links, who continue to quietly and dependably do the cutting, trimming and mowing. During 2021 we re-tagged the trees (thanks Dusty) so that our visitors can know what they are.

Two Harbours Walk

Another wonderful natural asset is our coastline, and the Two Harbours walk is the perfect way to enjoy and appreciate it. The walk is maintained by the Enviro-Trust and it is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge – a task that never comes to an end. Ken McGregor and Alex Gotte are the co-ordinators of the team who carry out this task. Frank Dabrowski is a volunteer who quietly gets on with the job and we are extremely indebted to him, as we are to Dave Meek who invested a considerable amount in repairing storm water damage to the face behind the stairs in front of his house. This repair was a major undertaking and we thank Dave on behalf of St Francis residents and on behalf of the municipality.

Another resident, Hein Blignaut, has invested time and his own funds in the walk by removing a leaning wall of walkway from above the gabions in front of his house and replaced the gabions as well. We are most thankful to him and appreciate his initiative. If there are other residents who live along the Two Harbours walk who would be prepared to assist, there is always a need for pruning and cutting back the vegetation encroaching on the path so please make contact with us?

Our plans for the walk in 2022 are to upgrade the high point section. This will involve rebuilding the upper and lower retaining walls, as well as the approach bridge on the northern side. Work has already been undertaken on the southern side, the Romazini valley side, by another resident, Anton von Wielech and we are most grateful to him.

Bush/Plot Clearing

Some serious damage has been inflicted on protected species in the name of plot clearing in St Francis. Whether this stems from ignorance or irresponsibility, the result is the illegal removal of protected trees such as Milkwoods and Candlewoods when plots are stripped from peg to peg. While plot clearing is necessary both for construction and for fire control, it needs to be done without destroying our natural heritage and in terms of of current legislation as explained the National Forests Act. Alex manages this portfolio, and he reports that irresponsible plot clearing with bobcats and chippers is either leaving desert areas of sand or shredded vegetation which does not reduce the fire load. Alex has met with the relevant authorities and arranged site visits and workshops to discuss the issue with all relevant parties. Plot clearing however is still proceeding illegally resulting in the DFFE issuing fines to the private individuals and contractors. All enquiries or requests to clear plots within the greater Kouga area are to be addressed to either BLayini@dffe.gov.za or NMbananga@dffe.gov.za

Eco Kids

Sadly, our Eco Kids programme could not operate during the pandemic, and there is nothing to report for 2021. However, we are very happy to hear that record numbers of children have been enrolled at St Francis College for 2022 and the Eco Kids programme will start up again with renewed energy. We can’t wait to get a whole new group of children excited about their environment.

Fishing Line Bins

Around the St Francis coastline we, along with FOSTER, have installed bins for fishing line, hooks and any other fishing litter that can cause harm to birds and animals. The bins are donated by Plastics SA, the same people who provide the litter bags for the coastal clean-ups. In 2021 we asked for volunteers from the community to empty these bins from time to time, and a number of people came forward. We thank Brian Saunders, Jani Ellis, Janine Prins, Lorrin Jarvis, Melville Fish, Derek Cook and Neville Medley. And we thank Ken McGregor for reducing the theft appeal of the bins and attaching them so they can’t be removed – as so many have been in the past.

Animal Sanctuary

The last gift Warren gave to the animal community of St Francis was the sanctuary he built in a quiet corner of our environment. It is a short-term holding area for sick or injured wildlife and birds, where they can recover from trauma before release once they are stable. The area includes a spacious aviary, donated by Liz Horne, to whom we are very grateful. Charl Blaauw has agreed to step into Warren’s shoes and assist Dr Nerine Botha when sanctuary protection is needed.

Fund Raising

We raise funds for projects such as the animal sanctuary and the Two Harbours Walk through three main channels: our annual golf day, sales of books, and proceeds from the coffee shop. Please, everyone, support these activities? Drink lots of coffee at Bruce’s, give people copies of The Monument Around Us, and sign up for our golf day!

Our 2021 golf day was held on World Environment Day, 5th June, on the Links. The format was more orthodox than previous years, a better-ball with a scramble drive on every hole. We did, of course, include an environmental quiz but this was optional. It was extremely well supported and we had a full field with a few extra four-balls squeezed in. We made R80 000 from the event, thanks to some generous sponsorships and great donations, and thanks to the great support we received, as always, from the Links.

The books we sell include The Monument Around Us, Our Coastal Treasure and A Taste of St Francis. We made nearly R10 000 from book sales in 2021, and our stocks of Our Coastal Treasure are almost gone. We decided that, rather than re-print it, we would digitalise it and you can now access the Coastal Treasure on our website, https://stfranciskrommetrust.co.za. We are very grateful to Alison Bosman, John Suckling, Margie Middleton, Yvonne Bosman and Truus Hedding for the many hours of work in updating, creating, interviewing, photo-searching and photographing that went into this 2021 edition.

A new endeavour for us in 2021 was the sale of Christmas trees. This was a Warren legacy, and we really missed his presence as we worked through the logistics. It is a winning initiative, removing alien vegetation from the environment and raising funds simultaneously. The Enviro-Trust elves included John Hay, Ken McGregor and Ag Morris, with Geanné Darke co-ordinating orders and deliveries. We will be doing it again this year but please don’t place your orders just yet…

 

2022 Plans

We have already touched on a number of the plans for this year:

  • Opposing sand mining in the dunefields
  • Re-establishing Eco Kids
  • Getting approval for a mini-community garden on Erf 554
  • Hosting the coastal clean up at the end of September
  • Hosting our annual golf day on World Environment Day in June

But these are minor activities. Our BHAG – big, hairy, audacious goal – is the Black Harrier project.

Save the Black Harrier

We are fortunate indeed to have Black Harrier in our area. It is the most endangered of the raptor species: it is estimated that there are only 1300 remaining individuals globally. Compare this to a rhino population of around five and a half thousand and you immediately realise the danger this bird is in. It is the world’s most range-restricted raptor, endemic to South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia, mainly concentrated in the Western and Eastern Cape.

The experts estimate a reduction of 2.3% in Black Harrier population numbers every year. In the Overberg, for example, only about 60 pairs remain from a population estimated at 1500 pairs in the 1800s.

These birds rely on pristine, unfragmented patches of vegetation of the Cape Floral Kingdom, so conservation of this vegetation type is critical. The biggest threat to the harrier is habitat loss, as a result of agriculture, urbanisation and invasion of its habitat by alien vegetation. Other threats are wind turbine collisions and poisoning through rodenticides. The Black Harrier is a specialist predator of mice and birds, so use of rat poison is a serious threat to it.

I have already referred to the initiatives being undertaken by the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm to (a) prevent raptor collisions, especially Black Harrier collisions, on the wind farm and (b) conserve existing habitat to maintain the current population numbers and reverse the decline. Our role, as the Enviro-Trust and as a member of the Greater Kromme Stewardship, is to assist the wind farm in achieving these goals.

But more than this, we need to mobilise our members, to raise awareness of the plight of the Black Harrier, to raise funds towards tracking and monitoring the local population, to educate our kids about this amazing and charismatic bird that we are so lucky to have sharing our corner of the country. And that is our goal for 2022.

Maggie Langlands
Acting Chairman