In March 2015 the Peninsula burnt. The biggest veld fire since 2000 raged across Table Mountain National Park. People lost homes and businesses. Bees Marais, one of the country’s top helicopter rescue pilots, tragically lost his life in the line of duty while fighting fire at Cape Point. The blaze and the acrid smoke cloyed the air all over Cape Town, turning the sky scarlet and orange as the sun went down each day.
The City of Cape Town is one of South Africa’s largest urban areas. It is also one of the country’s greatest conservation challenges. The Cape Peninsula, at the south-western tip of the African continent, on which Cape Town has been built happens to be one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Peninsula is home to a total of 2285 plant species, of which 7% are endemic and therefore occur nowhere else on earth.
Renosterveld is also part of South Africa’s Fynbos Biome and the CFR. However, it is notably different from Fynbos vegetation in several ways. Firstly in contrast to fynbos it occurs on relatively fertile soils, predominantly derived from shales although can also occur on silcretes and other lithologies. Members of the three dominant plant families in fynbos: the Restionaceae, Proteaceae and Ericaceae are mainly absent and instead renosterveld is dominated by shrubs predominantly from the Asteraceae family as well as various C3 grasses and C4 grasses.
In the Mother City the mountains are ablaze. It is late summer. Four days ago the fire started in Farmer Peck’s Valley adjacent to the seaside suburb of Muizenberg, known for its surf and sharks. Sitting here at home it is 42°C and the sound of helicopters are a constant background alongside the low hum of the city of Cape Town going about its daily business. The fire spread quickly and gained strength owing to strong southeaster winds typical of Cape summer weather grounding helicopter crews and leaving ground-based fire teams to fight the blaze.
Sometimes living life on a student budget drives one to do things a little out of the ordinary in the name of travel and exploration. One of the university societies that has inspired and challenged me the most is the University of Cape Town’s Mountain and Ski Club. It is one of the largest mountain clubs in Africa, second only to the Cape Town branch of the MCSA. One of its core philosophies is to encourage and support its members in exploration of the diverse and exquisitely beautiful mountain ranges of the Southern African subcontinent.
This week I’m going back to basics to tell you a little more about fynbos: that brown-looking scratchy vegetation that clothes the mountains and lowlands of the Cape, aiming to address several burning questions: What is it? Where can I find it and why is it important? Why should we care?