Flora and vegetation

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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 




3.1 General 



This chapter examines impacts on the plants and vegetation of the proposed route of the N2 

Wild Coast Toll Road.  The study of plants concerns both the flora and the vegetation, and 

these terms need to be defined.   


3.1.1  The flora of the region  


Flora refers to the particular plants that occur in an area, with reference to species which it 

contains, but also the genera or families.  Plants are not evenly distributed, as they are 

confined to defined geographical ranges, and botanists classify the different ranges of species 

into regions, referred to as phytogeographic regions, where phyto means plants.  These are 

very often associated with other features such as geology, climate, etc.  In this way the world 

has been divided into phytogeographical regions, each with its own distinct compliment of 

species (Good, 1974).  Thus, the Cape Flora is referred to, due to the species (or more 

specifically the taxa, i.e. families, genera, species etc.) that are typically found in that region 

of the Cape.   


Plants endemic


 to the Cape region are thus those that form the natural characteristics of the 

Cape flora and are confined to this region.  Endemism is relative to scale, and it usually refers 

to the distributional range of these species, with the distribution being affected by historical, 

ecological or physiological reasons.  Consequently, plants are referred to as being endemic to 

a particular region, e.g. the Cape, Transkei, Pondoland, etc.  Plants occurring within that 

region are the endemics, and those which occur in the region and perhaps in a few isolated 

cases outside the region, are referred to as “near-endemics” (van Wyk and Smith, 2001). 


White, (1983) defined regional centres of endemism as geographical regions with a particular 

combination of endemic plant species.  He divided Africa into different phytogeographical 

regions (called phytochoria), and in this way identified regional centres of endemism, where 

each phytogeographical region (or phytochorion) had more than 50% of its species confined 

to that centre, and a total of more than 1 000 endemic species.  He also identified regional 

transitional zones and regional moziacs, and floristically assigned the whole of Africa into 

phytogeographical regions or phytochoria.  Centres of Endemism are, therefore, determined 



  Endemic means restricted to a particular geographic region. 

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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 

by the high concentration of plant species with a very restricted distribution (endemics).  The 

regions of White (1983) of particular concern in this study are the Cape region, which extends 

from south-western Cape up the Cape coast, the Karoo-Namib, extending from the dry 

interior towards the coast, the Maputuland-Pondoland region stretching down the coast of 

south-east Africa and the Afromontane region which extends down the mountainous areas of 

Africa into Southern Africa. 


In addition to this regional classification of floras, a focus on the main centres of endemism 

has been introduced by Myers, (1988, 1990) who identified 18 major endemic centres on a 

global scale.  Each of these is referred to as a “biodiversity hot spot”, but they must have at 

least 1 500 endemic plant species and have lost 75% or more of their original vegetation.  In 

other words, these diverse areas are under threat of destruction.  Cowling and Hilton-Taylor 

(1994) carried this approach further for southern Africa, and identified various hot spots 

throughout our region.  The Pondoland hot spot was one such area, and is therefore of 

particular concern for this EIA.   


Although this alternative way of examining floras is noteworthy, in this case the approach of 

van Wyk and Smith (2001) is followed, and the Cape floristic region and the Maputuland-

Pondoland region are referred to, and within the latter the Pondoland Centre of Endemism 

(PC).   The Pondoland Centre is sharply defined by the geological features and the derived 

soils, as explained below (see section 3.2). 


3.1.2  The vegetation of the region 


Vegetation can also be discussed on a global scale, as it can be divided into various 

formations (e.g. forests, savanna, etc.) or more locally into plant communities or associations. 

These are defined by their dominant and diagnostic species.  In this study, the recent 

classification by Low and Rebelo (1996), who with the help of experts throughout southern 

African defined various vegetation types in a distinct hierarchy, is followed. Many of these 

studies drew on other works, such as that of Acocks (1988), or Lubke et al. (1988) for the 

eastern Cape region.  In the earlier biophysical scoping report for the N2 toll road (CES, 

2001), broad vegetation types were defined according to Low and Rebelo (1996) for the 

different sectors of the route (Table 3.1). 

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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 

Table 3.1:  Vegetation types of Low and Rebelo (1996) along sectors of the route, their conservation status and equivalent vegetation types of other authors. 








Proportion Conserved % 

Vegetation Types 



to Kei 









Tombo to 






to Isipingo 

E. Cape 


Alternative Names 











1. Coastal Forest 





Coastal Belt Forest or Dune Forest (Acocks, 1975 - A1) 

2. Afromontane 














Highland and Dohne Sourveld (Acocks, 1995 - A44) Scarp 

forest (Scott-Shaw 1999) 











4. Dune Thicket 



Dune Forest (Acocks,1975 - A1) 

5. Valley Thicket 





Valley Bushveld (Acocks, 1975 – A23) 











16. Eastern Thorn 
















Eastern Province Thornveld (A7), False Thornveld of E. 

Cape (Acocks, 1975 – A21, Acacia savanna (Lubke et al. 

1988); Savanna (Scott-Shaw, 1999). 

23. Coastal 

















& Thornveld  (Acocks, 1975 - A1) 











42. Moist Upland 















Highland Sourveld or Dohne Sourveld (Acocks, 1975 - 

A44), Montane Grassland (Scott-Shaw 1999), Dohne 

Sourveld (Lubke et al. 1988). 

48. Coastal 













Eastern Province Thornveld (Acocks, 1975 - A7), Coastal 

Sour Grassveld or Coastal Mixed Grassveld (Lubke et al. 

1988).  Pondoland Coastal Grassland (Scott-Shaw 1999). 

Number of 

vegetation types 











Code: - absent; + present; ++ abundant; +++ very abundant. 


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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 

3.1.3  The specific aims of studying flora and vegetation 


The flora and the different vegetation types need to be examined in detail in order to examine 

the impact of the proposed road.  The different components of the flora (the species and 

various families which are found in the area) may occur in very specific sites and be in danger 

of extinction, and thus are of special concern.  Likewise, vegetation types may be specific to 

particular sites within the road corridor and also be of conservation value, both for the specific 

species, which they contain as well as other important factors such as habitats for animals, the 

presence of plants of economic importance to local people, or, simply by being structurally 

unique to the area.  Thus, in addition to the general aims stated above, the plants and the 

vegetation types in which they occur were specifically investigated. 


In the context of this EIA, the specific deliverables from this specialist study include: 



An assessment of the potential impact on vegetation (i.e. plant species, plant 

communities and associated habitats/systems) associated with the proposed project.  As 

far as possible, the status of key species or families were quantified to assist in 



The identification of the conservation status of Red Data and endemic plant species. 


The identification of potentially sensitive areas along the proposed route in terms of 

vegetation which would be required to be avoided where possible, or would require 

stringent mitigation. 


Production of a vegetation sensitivity map. 


Recommendations regarding appropriate mitigation measures for each phase of the 

project, where required. 


3.1.4  Conservation and tourism of the region 


The most important site for conservation along the route is the Pondoland Centre of 

Endemism - PC (Frey, 1988).  For the past five years, the Wildlife and Environmental Society 

of South Africa has been lobbying for the establishment of a large conservation area along the 

Pondoland coast (WESSA, Cooper, pers com). The proposed Park extends from the north 

banks of the Mzimvubu River at Port St Johns to the south bank of the Mtamvuna River 

adjacent to the Wild Coast Sun near Port Edward.  This is a distance of about 80 km.  Within 

the proposed area are a provincial nature reserve, numerous state forests, extensive grazing 

areas and agricultural lands and villages. The total area of the proposed Pondoland Park is 

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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 

approximately 50 000ha. The proposed Park is a unique situation, since it incorporates 

formally protected areas as well as traditional communal land which is mostly still in a natural 

state but used by the local people.  


The proposed N2 Toll Road passes through extremely attractive natural areas and in many 

cases undeveloped rural landscapes.  It would also bisect a major part of the Pondoland 

Centre of Endemism (see Section 3.4) and would pass through sections of the proposed 

Pondoland Park.  However, the road largely forms the boundary of the Park, and only crosses 

the areas proposed for schedule 2 (contract conservation areas).  The road therefore stays 

outside the core conservation area.  Through discussions with the relevant role-players in 

developing the Pondoland Park it is believed that the two projects can at the very least 

accommodate one another and are in likelihood complimentary. This area has been 

considered in terms of its conservation and tourism potential in addition to the present land 

use of urban and agricultural development, similar to the strategic assessment of CES (2000) 

on the resource use options in the Centane District of the Eastern Cape.  The conservation and 

tourism potential can be divided into different categories: 



“Pristine” wilderness regions where there is no development or harvesting of natural 

resources, e.g. Mkambati and Mnyameni Gorge region. 


Sections along the route which could be regarded as gateways to the tourist areas along 

the coast or other tourist attractions such as the waterfalls, agricultural centres, etc. 


Intensive and subsistence agriculture that occurs in various parts of the region. 


Urban and rural village-type development with small homestead gardens, or small scale 

livestock farming. 


Where the route traverses an area of great conservation or tourist potential cognisance should 

be taken of this fact and road developed in sympathy with the natural environment, in such as 

way as to make it attractive and inviting to the traveller to explore these areas (Lubke, 1988).  

One of the major aims of this road development should therefore be to enhance the area’s 

attractiveness to tourists, and to develop it in such a way so that it is in harmony with the 

principles of sustainable development.  Therefore, in addition to identifying areas sensitive to 

development further aims of the report in the greenfields section are to identify: 


•  Conservation areas of great potential that can be utilised for eco-tourism, 

conservation or further scientific study. 

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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 

•  Ways in which the toll road can mitigate against impacting upon these 

conservation areas, and in fact enhance the area for future sustainable use. 

•   Synthesise the information and identify advantages of the toll road in opening 

up this area to further sustainable development. 


3.2  Geology and land form 


The route just north of East London, across the Kei River to Port Edward is particularly 

diverse and varied, mainly due to the range of geological formations and complex topography 

it traverses. It is this complex landform that gives it the characteristic name of “the Wild 

Coast”.  The flora of the route is closely related to the geology and landform, and therefore 

these aspects need to be considered in detail in order to explain the distribution of the flora of 

the Pondoland region in particular. 


A general account of the landform (Geomorphology) is given by King (1951), and the 

geology by du Toit (1939).  South of Lusikisiki and Waterfall Bluff on the coast, the terrain is 

extremely broken in the coastal region, and made up of Karoo supergroup rocks.  The route of 

the road, therefore, passes inland from East London along this more gently undulating plateau 

to Umtata.  The route then traverses the dissected landform from Umtata to Ndwalane 

(approximately 15 km north of Port St Johns on the coast), and then again inland to 

Lusikisiki.  The route from East London to Umtata (N2) and to Ndwalane (R61) follows 

existing routes and is not of particular concern. However, the section from Ndwalane 

northward along the Pondoland coast, where the greenfields route is under consideration, 

received more attention in this EIA.   


Along the Pondoland coast a regional uplift from Waterfall Bluff, south of the Msikaba River 

to the Mtamvuna River in the north influenced the landform.  A number of coastal terraces 

descend in steps towards the sea.  Thus, there is a plateau that shows not quite uniform uplift, 

with terraces with slight undulations down to the sea level.  This whole region is dominated 

by a smooth coastal-plain surface, and most of the rivers run straight in their lower courses 

through land that emerged from the sea (King, 1951).  Rivers in this region have cut 

impressive gorges straight through the sandstone region to the sea, for example the Msikaba 

and Mtentu Rivers. 


The coastal terrace of the Pondoland is about 150-160 m above sea-level in tough sandstone.  

The rivers that cross it have eroded narrow ravines or gorges, and the whole platform is said 

to be in a youthful stage of dissection (King ,1951).  In this regard ,the Pondoland coast 

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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 

differs from that further south in the former-Transkei, and the more maturely dissected coastal 

plain of KwaZulu-Natal.  The general smoothness of the outline of the coast is typical where 

the coast has been uplifted.  There was subsequent drowning of the coast of up to 50 m above 

sea-level, and the rivers during this time dissected the young canyons or gorges, but did not 

open up valleys to an appreciable extent, hence the absence of tributaries along this area 

(King, 1951).  Consequently, the steep walls of the gorges rise from the drowned river gorges, 

e.g. Msikaba River (Plate 3.1).   




















Plate 3.1:  Msikaba Gorge, showing the steep walls of the gorge, the forest below and the 

rocky outcrops on the margin of the gorge. 


A distinctive change in the Pondoland coast occurs at Waterfall Bluff, where the Egosa Fault 

results in weak Karroo beds on its southern side, and resistant sandstones meeting the sea to 

the north.  The contrast on the coastal plain on either side of this fault is striking, where the 

rivers to the north have cut trenches directly into the sea, whereas those to the south dissect a 

belt of rugged country (King, 1951).  The interesting Port St Johns scenery is dominated by 

the two heads or ‘horst’ that stand on either side of the valley of the Mzimvubu River, and 

rise to a height of 380 m (Plate 3.2).  The sandstones of the ‘horst’ are similar to those of the 

beds on the northern side of Waterfall Bluff, the ‘horst’ remaining steadfast while the adjacent 

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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 

region have subsided.  This provides the interesting “Gates of Port St Johns” (King, 1951).   

The section between the Egosa fault and the Msikaba Formation north of Waterfall Bluff is an 

important phytogeographical discontinuity referred to by van Wyk (1990a) as the Egosa gap 

(see Section 3.4.3). 


















Plate 3.2:  Port St Johns region, showing the two heads (horst) and the Mzimvubu River 

with forest on either side. 


The geology of the Pondoland region is characterised by the Cape Super Group rocks that 

consist of sandstones, shales and quartzite’s of Paleozoic age.  These rest unconformable 

upon older formations and are followed by the Karoo Super Group rocks (du Toit, 1939).  

Within the Cape rocks, the oldest recognised fossils have been discovered (Anderson and 

Anderson, 1985).  The succession of the Cape Super Group rocks (originally determined by 

Bain in 1845) allows the identification of three groups (du Toit, 1939): 



The Witterberg series (Group) – quartzites and subordinate shales with plants of the 

Devonian and carboniferous eras. 


The Bokkeveld series (Group) – shales, flagstones and sandstones with marine fossils 

of the Devonian era. 

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Table Mountain series (Group) - thick unfossilised grits and sandstones with scattered 



The sandstones of the Pondoland region (Plate 3.3) were originally considered to be allied to 

those of the eastern region of KwaZulu-Natal, being defined as generally white but sometimes 

reddish sandstones stretching north-east from Port St Johns though Natal into Zululand and 

correlated with the Table Mountain Sandstone of the Cape (du Toit 1939).  These sandstones 

appear first at Port St Johns in a ‘horst’ or fault block some 18 km in length with an east-west 

axis.  Further north, a wide terrace belt occurs along the Pondoland coast, stretching into 

KwaZulu Natal.  The inland section of beds form a plateau lying nearly flat, while in the 

coastal section the sandstones dip seawards beneath the Karoo beds and sometimes form the 

actual shore.   


Du Toit (1931) points out that the formation in Pondoland is identical in detail with the 

formations of the Cape, i.e., the sandstones are white, quartzitic, moderately coarse, poor in 

felspar and are often false-bedded with scattered small pebbles. More recent studies have been 

undertaken on the marine origin of these sandstones, identifying more fossils, the patterns of 

the sediments and characterising three lithogenetic units (Hobday and Mathew, 1974). 


In an historical review of the Natal Group sandstone, Loock et al. (1980) noted that the 

sandstones of Natal and Pondoland were originally thought to be correlated with the Table 

Mountain succession in the south-western Cape.  As more evidence unfolded on the marine 

origin and age of these sandstones (e.g. Hobday and Mathew, 1974; Visser, 1974) it was 

thought that these Natal Sandstones consisted of a number of Formations, the Msikaba 

Formation being the most southerly, stretching from Port St Johns to just north of Port 

Shepstone (Figure 3.1).  The discovery of fossil lycopsid stems in sediments near Port St 

Johns (Loock, 1973) shows that this formation may be correlated with the Witteberg Group.  

Thus, the Natal group rocks are all likely to be the lateral equivalents of the Witteberg Group 

of the Cape (Loock, et a. 1980).  However, Thomas et al. (1992a) feel that the Msikaba 

Formation should be equated with the Witteberg Group of the Cape supergroup and the 

“Natal Group” restricted to these formations further north.  Thomas et al. (1992b) made 

detailed studies on the dating of these formations, which substantiate this view. 


The significance of the geology is the distribution of plants in this region, as the endemic 

plants characteristic of the Pondoland Centre are confined to the Msikaba Formation.  They 

grow in soils, which are sandy, highly leached, acidic and relatively shallow.  Rocky outcrops 

are common and the soils are mostly of low agricultural potential (see Chapter 2). 

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N2 Wild Coast Toll Road between East London and Durban: Environmental Impact Assessment Report 


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