The Friends of the Liesbeek is a nonprofit organisation that has been operational since 1991. Initially a community organisation focused on weekly river litter clean-ups, from 2004 Friends of the Liesbeek brought in sponsorship, creating meaningful jobs for eight people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds under the Liesbeek Maintenance Project (LMP). This team has carried out tasks such as alien and invasive plant control, ecological restoration and rehabilitation projects, trail and pathway maintenance, litter collection, school field days and more. This year, the organisation embarked on a project to rehabilitate a floodplain in Observatory and reconnect it to the river to create a wetland and a more resilient city. The organisation asked the City of Cape Town for help in creating an inlet into the floodplain during peak flow. It was cleared of invasive species by the LMP team and more than 50 unique fynbos species, including several red list species, were reintroduced to the wetland. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation is taking place at the site, with the Cape Bird Club and a PhD candidate from the University of Cape Town conducting bird surveys. The wetland supports species such as the African black duck, malachite kingfisher, red-billed teal, black-headed heron, water mongoose and the endangered Western leopard toad. Critical to the success of the project is the ongoing maintenance work by the LMP team. A second phase of the project is planned for 2024, which will expand the rehabilitated area and introduce more plants, educational signage and benches for recreation.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
The Liesbeek Maintenance Project (LMP), which has been running since 2004, provides dignified, meaningful employment opportunities for women and men from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their work is varied, with a range of tasks including ecological restoration projects, litter collection, alien and invasive species clearing pathways and public infrastructure maintenance and indigenous planting.
Please provide specific examples of how your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
Our most recent strategic project, the restoration of a degraded wetland in Observatory, has seen us reintroduce more than 50 locally endemic indigenous wetland plant species. Additionally, we have created two large retention ponds that fill with overflow water during the wet season, creating seasonal habitat for water birds and other animals. The site serves as an ecological fynbos stepping stone, a place for flood mitigation and groundwater recharge — helping to create a more resilient and climate-sensitive city.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
Climate change, biodiversity loss, habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade and poaching and social inequality
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
We have a rich natural heritage in Africa — a heritage that deserves and needs our protection. It is not just the morally correct thing to do, but we rely upon and derive significant benefits from the ecosystems we have on this continent. It is imperative for the health and safety of our civilization that we have an ecologically robust planet. In addition, it is the poor who will feel the disproportionate brunt of our broken system if we do not take steps to turn things around.