How Hermanus Botanical Society Helped To Break The Drought Or What Is a Patch Of Fynbos Worth?

Over the Easter weekend the rain finally came. The rain came in real drops – not the heavy mist that had passed for rain over the previous months. On Easter Saturday the heavens finally opened and wave after wave of squalls dropped precious water on the Overstrand.
It was also the weekend that the Hermanus Botanical Society held their Easter Fun event at Fernkloof Nature Reserve. Teas and lunches under the trees in the garden, indigenous plant sales at the Nursery, fun in the gardens for the kids and fascinating exhibits in the hall were on the menu. Despite (or perhaps because of) the wet weather, the stalwarts came. Tables were carried into the hall where it was warm and cosy and interesting botanical displays could be seen. And the food was certainly delicious.  But it just goes to show – if you plan an outdoor event, it brings the rain. This is not a scientific fact, but ask anyone involved in such an event and they will agree.  So thanks BotSoc!
But seriously, the first rain of the season illustrated a very important aspect of fynbos ecology.
On Easter Monday morning when the clouds started to lift, about 60mm of rain had been measured in Fernkloof.  Yet the Fernkloof River remained curiously low – not even a trickle. The Fernkloof catchment area is huge – probably close to 1,000 hectares. A lot of rain fell on it, but hardly any ran off.  So where did all the water go?
This phenomenon is one of the most important eco-system services provided by fynbos. The fibrous roots of the many fynbos species act like a giant sponge soaking up the rain – an adaptation to drought that evolved over millions of years. This retention of water not only helps fynbos survive, but also prevents wasteful loss of rain water in the form of flash floods that cause soil erosion and other damage. Instead, the water is released gradually to provide a steady and controlled flow of water into rivers, wetlands and ground water.
This service provided by fynbos is seldom recognised and certainly not given a monetary value when land use decisions are taken. Do we really know what the cost is to us all when even a small patch of fynbos is irrevocably transformed by development?