Sugarbird Team tackles alien vegetation

Sugarbird Team manager Gehardt Muller, right, and team leader Given Ngadya, second from left, with SANPark rangers Galvin Klein, and Susan Muroa, on Chapman’s Peak.

An organisation is clearing alien vegetation in Hout Bay and elsewhere in the city, giving indigenous flora and fauna room to thrive.

The Sugarbird Team started in April 2010, and this year, the Sugarbird Trust was established as a public benefit organisation to act as its fund-raising arm.

Teams of three to six workers are contracted to do the clearing, according to one of the Sugarbird Trust’s three trustees, Maya Naumann.

“Once we have cleared an area, we keep on managing it, doing follow-ups to control and remove any regrowth,” she said.

Gehardt Müller, of Hout Bay, is a civil engineer, but over most weekends, he volunteers to manage the alien-clearing operation on the slopes of Chapman’s Peak.

“I’m passionate about conserving the natural environment,” he said, praising his four co-workers from Imizamo Yethu, whom he said worked tirelessly to control the invasive alien vegetation.

Mr Müller said the Sugarbird Team needed more volunteers to help with logistics and supervising, motivating and supporting the hack teams.

“Our model works fantastically, and if we had enough sponsors, we could roll it out all over the Western Cape, providing employment, protecting biodiversity, preventing fires and conserving precious water at the same time,“ he said.

Ms Naumann said the trust helped to tackle one of the project’s main challenges: funding. However, the trustees also have several other responsibilities.

“They are responsible for making decisions about where the teams will work, liaising with authorities, as we have received excellent support from SANParks, raising funds, paying our teams, providing training and making sure they have everything they need to execute their job.”

There are two Sugarbird teams in the City Bowl, responsible for an area that includes Lion’s Head, The Glen, Signal Hill, Devil’s Peak and the slopes above Camps Bay. They are currently working in Deer Park. The Hout Bay team works on Chapman’s Peak and other areas of Hout Bay.

Ms Naumann said a walk on the mountain these days only produced “proud moments” for the team.

“We see how the natural vegetation is growing and responding when their competition is taken away. Given space and light, the fynbos literally sings in response to the work these men are doing, and we get to hear this every time we walk on the mountain. Seeing the love that the team members have developed for their work and for conservation is another great source of pride. This really is a win-win project.“