UNDERBERG — As the 2014 N3TC Drak Challenge looms large and paddlers return to the Umzimkhulu River, the race organisers have resumed their ongoing battle to rid the river of wattle trees, as part of a unique programme to eradicate the alien invaders with the funding and support of the participants.
Wattle have proven to be a huge problem throughout the Underberg region and beyond, and being an invasive species, they spread quickly, which means that it is crucial that when they are destroyed they are destroyed fully, so they cannot regrow and wreak havoc along the Umzimkhulu water system where the annual Drak Challenge takes place.
It has been a long process for race committee head Barry Cole and his team, but they are making headway into clearing the wattle from the river and making sure that it never returns.
“We have been cutting down the wattle for about three years now,” Cole said. “It has been a long process but we are starting to see some big differences now that we have done a large stretch of the river.
“The top section was always the worst and after we cleared that up we kept moving down, and we have cleared to Black Murray and then from Black Murray down to Ekhutuleni,” Cole added.
The initiative is not funded by anyone else besides the paddlers themselves, who have the option to pay an added cost on their entry fee in order to support the wattle clearing and, for Cole, clearing the wattle is vitally important for the safety of the paddlers.
“The whole thing started as a way for us to make the river safer for the people paddling down, because the wattle become quite dangerous when the river levels rise, so getting rid of them was a preventative measure at first,” explained Cole.
“We then used the clearing as a way to rid the area of invader species and by doing that give back to the community, and being paddlers it is important that we give back to the people that let the race happen every year.”
It is important that the wattle do not grow back once they have been cut, so Cole and his team spray the trees three times a year to prevent the regrowth, and the results have been very encouraging for him and the other organisers of the race.
“The most crucial thing for us to make sure that we keep coming back is to make sure that we have destroyed the plant, because the roots can stay in the soil for around 50 years.
“When you cut it down, there is a real possibility that another 20 shoots will appear where you have just cut, so we have to make sure this remains clear otherwise it makes the job that much more difficult,” he said.
There are large sections of the river that Cole and his team have been able to clear and the effort that he puts in to ridding the Umzimkhulu of these invader species will not go unnoticed when the paddlers come into town for the N3TC Drak Challenge in January.
The N3TC Drak Challenge 2014 starts on January 18 at Castleburn outside Underberg and finishes on January 19 at Early Mist Farm close to Coleford. More information can be found at www.drak.co.za. — Gameplan Media.
“The most crucial thing for us to make sure that we keep coming back to make sure that we have destroyed the plant.”