Leliefontein Wetland Restoration Project
 
 
 
© CI/Photo by Alex Marsh
 
A SKEPPIES Project

Sometimes small investments reap the greatest of benefits. An investment of R140,000 to restore the back yard of the Leliefontein Methodist Church has created employment and training opportunities for 15 unemployed people, rehabilitated a wetland and an old dry spring which now produces 26,000 litres of water per day and serves 224 households all year round, with plenty to spare.

As a result of this investment in environmental restoration, the community now saves R91 000 a year on potable water.

In an arid landscape like the Succulent Karoo the value of wetlands are almost incalculable. Scientists predict that this area will be hard hit by climate change and an estimated 3 percent increase in temperatures could see summer temperatures rise higher than 43 degrees Celcius. In South Africa, it is estimated that in the next 3 years demand for water will have outstripped supply — so securing these natural resources is an urgent priority for everyone.

Wetlands supply water to people and their animals, provide traditional building supplies and natural pharmaceutical products used for treating ailments. The ploughing of wetlands was introduced to the area in the 1800’s by incoming European Missionaries. They also planted Canadian Poplar trees for shade. Unfortunately, these trees consume up to 900 litres of groundwater a day. As wetlands were the ideal places to plant them, the poplars soon invaded any remaining unploughed wetlands and destroyed their ability to act as natures natural water storage facilities and its ability to house a great diversity of flora and fauna. Eventually the once productive church fountain stopped bubbling and the indigenous lilies called Aaron’s Chalice, from which the town derived its name, disappeared.

It is estimated that invasive alien plants such as these take up more than 10 million hectares of land and consume more than 7 percent of South Africa’s water with the problem set to double within the next 15 years.

The long forgotten fountain was recently discovered hidden underneath a mound of plants by a local church worker.  His interest piqued, he asked the elders of the town if they remembered this structure and soon learned that it was once a valuable and vibrant water source to Leliefontein.

This discovery resulted in investments by Conservation South Africa, the Agricultural Resource Center, and Disney’s Friends for Change Project Green, in a large restoration operation that included an alien removal and wetland restoration training programme for the local people, who are now certified to undertake this type of restoration work in other parts of the country.

52 alien poplars were removed, the beautiful old stone fountain was cleaned up and a communal picnic area was created. The wood from the trees was used to lay meandering pathways, build picnic areas and construct new pews and a lectern that serve as an outside church during the hot summer season. Nine wetland species have since re-established themselves in the wetland. The community now saves R91 000 a year on potable water.



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