As part of the Longyuan Mulilo joint partnership's Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) and Environmental Authorisation (EA) it was stipulated that professional faunal and floral search and rescue be done on all areas marked for development including roads, site camps, laydown areas and turbine positions. During this activity Boophone disticha, a poisonous bulbous plant that requires a licence for removal and relocation, was discovered.
BOTANICAL SEARCH AND RESCUE ON THE LONGYUAN MULILO DE AAR 1 & 2 WINDFARMS
OUR CLIENT’S NEED
As the energy crisis becomes more apparent in South Africa alternative forms of harnessing clean sustainable energy are being proposed and acted on. Longyuan Mulilo is a foreign owned joint partnership which has been granted permission to construct two multi turbine wind farms on the Maanhaarberg (Lions Mane Mountain) mountain range and at Philips Town near De Aar in the Northern Cape Province.
As part of the sites EMP it was stipulated that professional faunal and floral search and rescue be done on all areas marked for development including roads, site camps, laydown areas and turbine positions. Only once this was completed and the listed species, those that are seen to be endangered and/or declining, have been carefully removed and relocated to a safe area nearby would site clearing and construction activities be allowed to take place. This is all monitored by the site ECO making sure that all work is done in is accordance with this plan which in turn ensures that the negative environmental impact of construction and the development is minimised.
Figure 1: Graders plough through the recently searched and rescued hillside making roads to the new turbine positions.
DESIGNING A CUSTOMISED SOLUTION
Regulations require a license to perform this type of work and as such NCC applied for and was granted a time bound licence to remove and relocate the listed floral species found on the site. NCC are experienced in this type of work through conducting similar projects in the Karoo and have developed and efficient and effective search and rescue procedure.
Figure 2: Boophone disticha, a poisonous bulbous plant that requires a licence for removal and relocation.
Desktop research of the particular area as well as the species of importance is conducted in order to prepare a plan of action tailored to the particular project and its variables. Vehicles and equipment are prepared according to this and the team is then thoroughly briefed on the project before setting off to tackle the many kilometres that lie ahead. Working in consultation with developers the project would be conducted through a phased approach of multiple trips to the site over the course of a few months.
At the start of the project the team would meet with project managers for a brief introduction and orientation along with the standard health and safety induction before heading out into the mountains and starting to clear ground. Once on site the standard procedure would be to drive as close to the pegged out routes as possible before disembarking the vehicles and hiking the marked out course, a walk anywhere between 2 - 20kms a day depending on terrain and number of species encountered requiring relocation.
Figure 3: Site access is often along rough farm roads where 4x4 vehicles come in handy.
The roads and areas earmarked for clearing and construction would be marked out by surveyors using labelled wooden pegs and within these markers the team would then systematically traverse the entire length and section whilst scanning the ground for any listed species. Once located these would be photographed, GPS marked, carefully removed and transplanted off course, photographed and GPS marked again. At the end of the project all this data would be compiled into a close out report and follow up checks done on the relocated plants to gauge their survival.
Figure 4: Rows of white tipped pegs mark out the position of the roads and areas to be cleared.
Figure 5: A WTG peg would indicate a turbine position which requiring a 25x25m square area around it cleared.
Our understanding of the terrain and growth habits of the plants, mostly deep rooted bulbs in rocky areas, provided the insight to not to even bother bringing spades. The extra weight and wide head would prove to be a useless in the terrain. Rather mattock picks and brick chisels were the tools of choice as digging would be very hard due to the rocky sun baked Northern Cape soil.
Figure 6: The Boophone or 'Gifbal' as it is commonly known has fleshy roots which store water reserves. The bulb grows from a basal plate and it is vital that this comes out intact when removing the bulb otherwise it will die. Safe removal thus involves slow excavation rather than pulling or popping.
Extreme heat and dust coupled with a very rugged topography were all part of the daily challenges the team would face on this project. Fortunately NCC goes to great lengths in order to ensure that all their staff are fully trained for their particular task with team members being proficient in first aid, have a formal training in horticulture and conservation as well being physically fit enough for the requirements of the job.
Figure 7: At times the quickest way to an area was by heading straight up the mountain side.
Figure 8: Luca and Carlos, proud to have made it to the top and ready to get to work.
At the end of each day admin would involve going over the site maps, marking off which roads and work areas were cleared and identifying the next day’s target areas and best routes in. This information would be recorded and reported to the project managers daily so that they were up to date on progress and could plan their activities around this.
Figure 9: The end of each day would involve marking off cleared routes, planning for the next day and reporting.
Proper planning and preparation is crucial on projects such as this as if this step is not done properly the job, along with the safety of field technicians, can be jeopardised due to the harsh environment in which the work is conducted. Working with experience team leaders along with conducting valuable desktop research at the start of these projects allows for better understanding of what to expect and this can therefore be better prepared and planned for.
Figure 10: Access to site via a dry waterfall. The white spot in the distance is the bakkie.
Figure 11: Barbed wire fences, just another obstacle to overcome.
Managing expectations is also vitality important on this type of project. Whilst striving to achieve the best for the environment and adhering to strict conservation practices it is also important to be mindful of the needs of project managers who are often following tight schedules. Whilst there might be great pressure to have areas cleared so that the machinery can move in it is not always possible to move as quickly as hoped for as the number of plants found and other aspects such as terrain, accessibility and even adverse weather often dictate how much can be cleared each day.
Figure 12: Terrain littered with boulders and Boophones at times make progress slow and often tiresome.
Certain plants are best relocated in particular seasons. Some of the bulbous plants die off in summer making finding them extremely challenging. During the rainy season soils are softer making excavations much easier and chances of survival for certain plants higher although site access then becomes more tricky.
Figure 13: Two large Boophones before being replanted safely of course.
ACHIEVING REAL GROWTH
Search and rescue operations are sometimes seen as a ‘waste of time’ and the team seen as problem ‘greenies’ on site by causing delays. NCC emphasises that we are actually there to solve the contractor’s problem. Legislation and the site EMP will state what needs to be done in reference to listed plant species in construction areas. Our task is helping to remove and relocate these ‘problem plants’ thereby allowing their work to proceed. When they are able to see what we do as helping clear the way for them the perception often changes. The end result is that the project can continue knowing that the environmental impact has been reduced as much as possible and all necessary environmental regulations and mitigation measures have been adhered to.
Figure 14: Looking down at the site laydown area after a 45minutes climb.
Figure 15: Project lead and Botanical Specialist Robin Jangle and field assistant Sean Altern.
NCC SEARCH AND RESCUE PROJECT TEAM:
Robin Jangle - Project Lead - Sean Altern - Primary Assistant - Nick Gates - Assistant
Azitu Carlos Fernando - Assistant - Luca Afonso – Assistant - Raymond Collett – Assistant
Du Toit Malherbe – Site ECO - Nandi Gumede – Site ECO