Natural breach of the Bot 2014

Report by Frans Theunissen

Friday 27 June. A stunning winter’s day … with bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds, I simply had to go for a walk on the beach. When I arrived at the mouth at about noon, there was a shallow overflow of water across the sand bar at the mouth area. It was probably a few centimetres deep, but across an area of about 100 metres. The sight reminded me of a rimless pool, with water flowing over the edge. The tide was out and it would have been quite easy to walk across this outflow, no more than ankle depth. My measurement at the foot bridge showed that the estuary was then at 2.11 metres above mean sea level (MSL).

The Bot River estuary catchment area had experienced heavy rains in June 2014 and I thought that this outflow would simply carry on until the level in the Bot settled at the level of the berm. I was unaware of the fact that the Bot river had breached at Kleinmond on 15 June 2014. After taking a few pictures of the area without a person in sight, I left and thought no more of it.
However, there was great excitement the next morning, Saturday 28 June, when I received a phone call from one of our members who lives at Sandown Bay. Pottie Potgieter told me that the Bot had breached during the night of and that there was a great outpouring of water! I rushed down to witness the sight of a massive breach and tons of brown water flowing out to sea. Unlike the previous planned breaches, there was hardly a soul on the beach and this one went almost unnoticed.
The previous breach (artificial) took place on 24 August 2013 and the mouth remained open for 41 weeks before closing on about 6 June 2014. According to the available information, this is a record period for an open state. It would also seem as if the closed state that followed (6 June to 28 June 2014) must also be the shortest period on record. We shall have to wait and see what the long-term effects of these events are on the ecology of the Bot system.

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Winter CWAC'ing 5 July 2014

The Winter 2014 CWAC (Coordinated Waterbird Count) at the Botriviervlei and Kleinmond Estuary is due on Saturday, 5 July 2014. Starting time will be at 08h30 at the various starting points. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes (prepare for all elements), hat and sunscreen and bring sufficient food and liquids (warm or cold) to keep you going.
There are 5 teams, each counting a different section. For the sake of those who have not participated before, the sections are as follows:
Section A1: Bridge over Bot River to the Benguela Cove office building. This section involves walking all the way (± 5km), and refreshments need to be carried with you.
Section A2: Fisherhaven to the Benguela Cove office building. (Partly easy walking, partly driving)
Section B: Fisherhaven to Meerensee (Partly easy walking, partly driving)
Section C: Arabella Golf estate to quarry towards Rooisand. (Good deal of walking, with driving from one section to another)
Section D: Rooisand Nature reserve (Mostly easy walking)
Section E: Kleinmond Estuary (Easy walking)
Anyone who is interested in joining this fun outing, can contact Mariana Delport on email:

Fynbos features at the 2014 Fynarts Festival

As part of the Hermanus Fynarts programme, there was a series of four illustrated talks on Fynbos: Fynbos Features and Creatures.

Conservation in a massively bio-diverse landscape - natural history, opportunities, challenges, and current approaches in the Western Cape

Dr Donovan Kirkwood
What are the issues and implications for conservation of a massively complex landscape, in a country where social and economic development is critical? What does sustainability mean in this context?
Dr Kirkwood will provide an overview of the natural history of the province, what it means for conservation and ecological goods and services to people. He will then showcase some modern approaches to identifying priority areas and strategies for implementation of conservation.
Dr Donovan Kirkwood works as an independent consultant providing conservation strategy and planning services to government, NGOs and the private sector.

The Overberg Renosterveld
Dr Odette Curtis
Dr Curtis is passionate about renosterveld conservation.
In her talk, Odette will explain the plight of the Overberg’s lowlands, present some interesting and exciting findings from Overberg renosterveld (including the discovery of six new species), discuss the threats to renosterveld and the urgency around addressing these issues. The presentation will be colourful and rich and will take you on a journey into one of world’s most threatened, yet richest and most under-appreciated habitats and will open your eyes to the incredible diversity right on our doorstep.
Dr Odette Curtis is the Director of the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust, which she started in 2012. The Trust is dedicated to the conservation of renosterveld and other threatened lowland habitats in the Overberg.

Biological control of invasive aliens
Professor John Hoffmann
Invasive alien plants are a serious problem in South Africa because they displace the fynbos vegetation, use large amounts of water and pose an increased fire hazard. The most viable and sustainable option to control these aliens is to use biological controls.
How are we doing since the introduction of biological controls 100 years ago?
Professor John Hoffmann leads a team of entomologists at the University of Cape Town working on the use of herbivorous insects for biological control of invasive alien plants.

Fynbos and Fire – Friend and Foe
Dr Pat Miller
Fire is usually seen as a disastrous event that destroys vegetation, buildings, crops and often life. This is true where landscapes have been subdued and managed for human benefit, but fire is not a disaster for fynbos. It is rather a keystone factor in its continued survival. Without fire, this wonderfully diverse vegetation would cease to exist.
Dr Pat Miller will explore the fynbos life cycle of destruction, regeneration, maturation and destruction again. Fynbos plants have various strategies of turning fire to their benefit; these will be explained and illustrated through the results of recent fires in the Hermanus area.
Dr Pat Miller is a director of Whale Coast Conservation and a keen botanist.

Honeybees Hanging On

Report by Dr Anina Lee (

The talk on bees by Mike Allsopp at Whalecoast Conservation’s Green House at the beginning of June was a real hit. The auditorium was packed and questions flowed. The consensus was that all who were there learnt something about bees we they didn’t know before.
Mike explained that there are many thousands of bee species of which only a small minority produce honey that can be harvested.
South Africa has one honey-producing species (Apis mellifera) which occurs in 2 different subspecies – the African or Savannah Honeybee occurring north of the Klein Karoo, and the Cape Honeybee occurring south of the Klein Karoo.  Both types are wild bees, but can be ‘domesticated’ and systematically managed by humans as pollinators of food crops and producers of honey.
Despite the bad reputation of the African “killer bees”, they are actually not aggressive, but will only defend their resources, namely food, brood or honey. They even warn you by bumping gently into your forehead before they attack. It is best to heed this warning and move away – fast, because the sting of one bee releases a pheromone that will trigger other bees to attack as well – and they can’t stop until they kill.
Mike Allsopp explained that the sting of a bee evolved to be used against other bees in defending their resources. Apparently robbing other bees’ resources is a common practice amongst bees. The barb on the sting is designed to inflict a gaping hole in the exoskeleton of the other bee when it is withdrawn, leading to its slow death. Unfortunately for bees, mammals have an elastic skin, causing the barb to get stuck, and so the bee eviscerates itself when the barb is withdrawn.
South Africa is not a bee-friendly country. Forage for bees is scarce, so they have to constantly migrate to find suitable food sources. Only after eucalyptus plantations were introduced in the 1920s did bee keeping become commercial. Now eucalypts provide 60-80% of bee forage in the Western Cape. There are 10 or 12 species of gums that provide most food for bees, many of them non-invasive. Mike suggests that these could be managed, rather than eradicated, to help maintain our bee population.
Although lowland fynbos is good bee country, little of this habitat now remains. Mountain fynbos is not bee-friendly.
The real importance of honeybees is because of their use in the pollination of crop plants. This accounts for more than 60% of income of many beekeepers, especially in the Cape. The producers of about 80 different crops use paid pollination. These crops include vegetable seeds, deciduous fruit, sub-tropical fruit, melons, berries, oilseed crops, nuts, cucumbers and, beans.
The value added to the country by honeybee pollination is approximately R10 billion per annum, and half of that is in the Western Cape.   It is crucial for thousands of jobs and food security.
It’s clear then that a decline in bee numbers would threaten food production and could lead to grave food shortages. This is why there is a lot of attention in the media on so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It is true that bee populations are declining all over the world, especially in Europe and North America, In which entire colonies die off for a combination of reasons, including parasites, pollution and pesticides.
How are our honeybees doing in South Africa? They are generally still healthy because they interchange with wild populations. Varroa mites, which infest adult bees and larvae, have been around since 1995 but our stronger bees are, so far, coping with these parasites. Badgers are a problem because badger numbers are increasing and they are very clever at working out how to defeat the best plans of beekeepers. American Foulbrood (a bacterial infection of hives) could become a problem, as could poor control of pesticides. Sadly, extreme levels of theft and vandalism by humans in parts of the country make beekeeping impossible there.
Mike cautioned that many of the reasons for bee decline in other parts of the world are increasingly also found in South Africa.
Bees are being over-worked as beekeepers move them rapidly from site to site. Demand for bee pollinated crops is increasing very rapidly as our population grows and gets wealthier. Demand for bee-pollinated foods is far greater than supply. Bee numbers have increased 45% in 50 years, but demand for pollination has increased more than 300%. Bees are now forced to work all year around pollinating crops, or producing honey to make beekeeping a viable enterprise. Despite their image as industrious and busy insects, bees, like all of us, need their rest to remain robust. A big problem is that mono-cultures found on large farms do not provide a balanced diet for them, compromising their immune systems and ability to detoxify pesticides and fight diseases.
Basically honey bees are being stressed by us – by the changes we have made to the planet, and by the demands we are placing on them. Their only real problem is the human population and its food demands. To a lesser or greater extent this will apply to all the other pollinators as well – with honey bees a good indicator species of global pollinator health.
What can we do to help bees? We can increase the forage ‘cake’ by planting bee-friendly plants on farms, parks, street verges and private gardens. We can be very careful with our use of pesticides; consumers can insist on ‘pollinator-friendly produce & practices’.
Incidentally, Mike pointed out that the neonicotinoid pesticides widely condemned in the social media are probably the lesser evil of many other pesticides. The available alternatives would probably be worse. We can also insist on proper regulation by the State. We can avoid killing honeybee colonies unnecessarily and rather have them removed where possible and, importantly, support local beekeepers and honey.
Mike Allsopp is senior researcher at the Plant Protection Research Institute of the Agricultural Research Council, working in Stellenbosch, where he has headed the honey bee research section for the past 24 years – and presently the only researcher in South Africa dealing with agricultural aspects of honey bees. He is seen above (right) chatting to Michael Raimondo of Green Renaissance.

AGM 2014

The 2014 AGM of The Friends of the Bot River Estuary and Environs (Botfriends) took place at the Lake Marine Yacht and Boat Club in Fisherhaven on Saturday 24 May at 10.30 am.

Notice of meeting and agenda for the Botfriends AGM 24 May 2014
Minutes of AGM May 2013
Newsletter May 2014
Renewal form (membership)

More relevant documentation can be accessed
here. The Chairman’s report etc will be uploaded when available.