Tuesday, 23 October 2012

CREWsing in search of rare and endangered wildflowers of the Fynbos

Last week Blue Hill Nature Reserve was honoured by a visit by the Outramps CREW group. CREW (Custodians of rare and endangered wildflowers) is a SANBI volunteer initiative where anyone can go and monitor plant species of conservation concern in their area – for more information visit:

The Outramps are legendary, with outings or expeditions every week to the natural gems of the Western Cape. They have brought species of conservation concern to the attention of developers, discovered a host of new plant species, rediscovered species thought lost to science, and generally pumped loads of energy into documenting the state of the flora in the greater George area, focusing mainly on the Langeberge, Outeniqua, Swartberg, Kammanassie and Rooiberg mountain ranges. While that is a large number of sites to visit, the group was up for something new – and I'd been tantalizing Di Turner, the groups unstoppable leader, with images from the Kouga mountains for months. So finally a date was arranged and the team of interesting and inspired ladies – Jean, Russel, Gail and Anne – journeyed to Blue Hill. Photos of identified flowers are loaded on Ispot: http://www.ispot.org.za/node/155219?nav=search

This is the trip report compiled by Di Turner. 

A Blue Hill in the Kouga

We’ve had some memorable trips this year, but Blue Hill in the Kouga, must rate as one of the best.  Time was limited and we were only able to spend 1 night and 2 days there.  We have promised ourselves a speedy return.

Blue Hill Nature Reserve is owned by Chris and Elaine Lee.  It is very isolated, vast and bordering on the Baviaanskloof.  For them, it was a toss-up between this and a cottage on the southern coast ofEngland.  We debated the choice, because they couldn’t be more different.  Blue Hill is in a savage part of Africa and is prone to periodic flooding, which cuts them off from civilisation.  Maintaining access roads is a major problem.  The senior Lees bought the property on condition that Alan their son and his wife Anya, would be able to live there and help them. Alan is an ornithologist and is busy doing a survey of the movement of birds in the Fynbos. Occasional volunteers give some additional assistance, but it remains a major undertaking.  It is a daunting task.

Anya and Alan made us very welcome.  The guest house is super and very tastefully decorated.  The entry road was interesting, but the old girl (Buchu Bus) made it without any problems.  We climbed into the Landcruiser bakkie and travelled towards the far north-eastern boundary.  A fire in early February burnt up huge tracts of land in the Kouga and Kammanassie and we were interested to see the veld.  Botanising was cut short by torrential rain.  Some of the party braved the elements, while some returned to the guest house for a very interesting id session.  Doing site sheets and taking photographs in that kind of weather, remains a challenge.

Despite the weather, we managed a braai.  Elaine, who has a Phd in History was both interesting and entertaining.  We spent a lovely evening in front of a big log fire.  Drenched clothes were dried in preparation for the next day.

By morning, the rain had abated and we took off on the Bloukop track which is a circular trail.  There was lots to interest us, with a number of species that were new to us.  Leucadendron pubibracteolatum (Near Threatened) was a survivor from the fire.  We saw Pegolettia retrofracta for the first time.  The dwarf shrub Crassula perforata subsp. kougaensis was an exciting find on a steep rock cliff.  It is Redlisted as Critically rare, but I suspect that this status will change rapidly, now that we are aware of the plant.  Erica flocciflora (Near threatened) was growing close to the stunning Erica passerinae.  We also saw Psoralea sp. nova (forbesii} growing on the banks of a stream.  The Vlok Boekie was invaluable for helping us id plants that we’d never seen before.  Alan’s copy was looking a little dog-eared, by the time we got back to the homestead at about 2pm.

The weather was looking threatening and we hurried to make it out over the exit road.  We were out of food and commitments at home were pressing.  The water hadn’t risen significantly, but we probably made it just in time.  As we approached George the weather got steadily worse.  By yesterday afternoon, we’d had 110 mms and it’s been raining all night.  The rivers are in full spate.  You can hear them from the top of Strawberry Hill, as they roar down the ravines.  It is still too dark to see if there’s been any damage.  Robert McKenzie has dire tales from Grahamstown, which is about to be cut off from the rest of the world.  There’s been a huge cave-in on the N2.  I have included the photograph, which Robert sent.

Hopefully all this extreme weather will have disappeared by Wednesday.  We are planning to explore a valley off the Langkloof Road. After the exciting finds at Perdepoort, we are sure that there will be something interesting there. A Garden Route Initiative meeting on Friday, means that there will not be our usual field trip this week.

What an exciting year it has been.
Groete en dankie
Di Turner
Outramps CREW Group
Southern Cape

Di and Jean

L pubibracteolatum

Psoralea sp nov

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