Groot Brak Dune Strandveld is just one of the many vegetation types that can be found within the diversity of the Garden Route. Originally covering an estimated 26 342 hectares, it stretches from the Gourits River to as far east as Victoria Bay with coverage extending up to 17 km from the coast. Areas with the largest representation of this vegetation type could be found on the flats north of Mossel Bay, along the lower reaches of the Groot Brak, Klein Brak and Hartenbos rivers.
It is tall (up to 3 m), dense, spiny sclerophyllous thicket and opens up in places revealing low, fine-leaved shrubland. These shrublands consist of, amongst others, Eriocephalus africanus (wild rosemary), Clutia daphnoides (vaalbliksembos)and Phylica axillaris (hardebos). Dwarf shrubs and mat-forming succulents are also present, including plants like Chironia baccifera (Christmas bush) and Carpobrotus deliciosus (sourfig).
Southern Cape Valley Thicket (SCVT) and Groot Brak Dune Strandveld (GBDS) occur together in our area. At times it can be difficult to discern between the two as they grade almost seamlessly together. The obvious difference is the soil, where GBDS occurs on white sand and SCVT on reddish-brown substrates, occasionally sand but generally fine grained loam or soils derived from conglomerate. A second tell-tale difference is that GBDS contains Aloe arborescens (krantz aloe) but not Aloe ferox (bitter aloe).
But what has become of a vegetation type so prominent in an area that it took its name from it?
In the 2004 South African Spatial Diversity Assessment it was recorded that only 49%, 12 976 hectares, remained of Groot Brak Dune Strandveld, with 0% being protected. It was given the status of Endangered. In the Government Notice No. 1002 Groot Brak Dune Strandveld has been listed as an ecosystem under threat.
Great Brak River as a town and the Mossel Bay municipal area as an entirety have lost a large percentage of its namesake vegetation. This is mainly due to agricultural land use and urban development. Loss is understandable due to population growth and urban/rural expansion, but loss has to be quantified and kept in check.
Bulldozing your house, ceasing agricultural activity and replanting national vegetation are options but I fear there will be very few willing participants. An easier, more approachable, option we have is to simply acknowledge that the conservation of indigenous vegetation types is just as important as saving individual rare species. Seldomly will an individual rare species survive solely by itself and without its surrounding ecosystem. Among the plants that make up Groot Brak Dune Strandveld there are 13 red data list species, which only illustrates the importance of preserving vegetation types and biomes as a whole.
Learning how to identify indigenous vegetation species and types, and acknowledging the value that they hold, is something that we all can do. It is never too late to learn and never too late to implement conservation measures, even if it is within our own garden or neighbourhood.