Healing soils: Cheap and easy restoration tips

Jun 5, 2024 | Uncategorized

The Kogelberg Biosphere is not only made up of wonderful natural areas. This region is also home to a thriving agricultural and agri-processing sector. In fact, this makes up more than 85% of the local economy. Apples, pears and wine grapes form the bulk of this sector. 

But for these natural and agricultural areas to support life and industry, they need to be able to function properly. Erosion and degradation threaten landscapes around the country, and the biosphere is no exception.  

A study published in African Journals Online found that about half of South Africa’s surface is classified as having a moderate to severe potential risk of soil erosion. That equates to around 61 million hectares. Already 20% of land is severely degraded – around 26 million hectares. 

The effects on land and water

Erosion affects both land and water resources. That means access to clean water is impacted, while farming yields drop. And while some of the factors that cause erosion are quite natural, such as wind and water – our impact on the landscape, from overgrazing and trampling, to too-frequent fires and poorly constructed roads and footpaths – have made the situation considerably worse.

Corlie says, “The first step in the rehabilitation process is to eliminate the cause of the degradation.” These could include slowing down the speed of runoff water, or to keep rainwater on the soil surface for as long as possible, so that water can infiltrate the soil.

Erosion control: Hollows or pits

Simple and cheap to make, by creating hollows or pits, water can be captured, which can rehydrate soil. Windblown plant litter, animal droppings and plant seeds are also captured in these small holes. This in turn serves as ideal material for topsoil formation. These hollows develop their own microclimates, where seeds germinate. 

Don’ts: Do not create hollows or pits on slopes. Don’t remove rooted plants on the site. And don’t allow livestock into the restoration site. 

 

Erosion control: Fences

These low-wire netting fences should be placed on flat landscapes or moderate slopes. Here they help slow down the speed of runoff water – and while water can flow through the netting, plant litter stays behind, building up a new and fertile layer. The fences also act as a windbreak, trapping seeds. 

Don’ts: Don’t remove existing vegetation in order to place these fences. And also don’t allow livestock into the site. 

 

Erosion control: Mulching

Mulch can be placed along eroded footpaths to protect the soil, creating the right conditions for plants to germinate. This is vital given that footpaths are easily eroded due to channel runoff, and deepen over time into erosion gullies. 

Don’ts: Do not remove rooted plants in the paths, as they also help slow down water runoff. 

sites need to be maintained, in order to be effective.

Once your restoration activities have been undertaken, then the real work starts: These sites need to be maintained, in order to be effective. For example, if the mulch is washed away, then new mulch is needed, and fences can also be added to prevent mulch loss. Should fences be flattened by water flow, then these, too, need to be reconstructed, in order to be more robust. 

Corlie says, “The most important objective of rehabilitation is to establish a permanent and dense cover of soil protecting plants as quickly as possible. Ultimately the vegetation will play a key role in preventing more erosion. And we must be sure to use locally adapted plants only, in order to prevent new plant species setting seed in areas that they don’t belong.” 

Images: LoveGreen Communications and Grant Jeptthas, Department of Agriculture

Sources:
• Soil erosion presentation by Corlie Hugo

Water erosion prediction at a national scale for South Africa, JJ Le Roux, TL Morgenthal, J Malherbe, DJ Pretorius & PD Sumner in the African Journals Online.

Soil erosion in South Africa, by Kate Griffin in the Green Economy Journal

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