How to rejuvenate Baakens River Valley

I WAS chatting to permaculture activist and leading member of Transition Network PE Naomi Suzane the other day, and she came with a great idea of how to secure, rejuvenate and celebrate the Baakens Valley. We kicked her idea around, and this is how it turned out.

The premise is if we get people down into the valley in numbers, and couple that with plenty of positive and industrious activity, connected to Nature, the muggers will simply fade away.

We need to start with an over-arching plan, which would be drawn up by a team of valley experts and environmental consultants.  There are a number of strong local names in this regard and they could be joined by indigenous plant guru Ernst van Jaarsveld, who helped establish Kirstenbosch.

The plan would be built around the division of the 22km valley into sections. Each section would become the responsibility of the residents who live alongside it, supported by any residents further back into the metro that want to be involved.

Besides a basic agreed work-hour quota, a cornerstone of the plan would be the possibility for households to build up “bonus hours”. Once a certain number of these bonus hours is accumulated, these households would be rewarded with a water tank, say, or a reduced water or electricity bill, or free entrance for a year to any of the country’s botanical gardens, or a free permaculture course or free entrance to one of the nature reserves in the metro or the province.

The valley work would include clearing alien vegetation, as a basic, to encourage biodiversity, and better flow in the Baakens River.

Each section would also have an adventure tourism brief. This could include maintaining an existing walking or mountain bike trail, or cutting a new one – maybe for  triathlons, celebrating the greater flow in the Baakens with a canoe, swim or wading leg.

Or what about installing a zipline across the river?  Once again, it would need to be strictly overseen by the experts and in line with the overall plan. But it would be great for the kids.

There would also be a conservation brief. Besides removal of snares, each team could do something extra like introducing raptor or bat boxes to encourage the return of these species.

Part of this brief would also be to identify a particular plant, bird or mammal prevalent in that section of the valley and to create information signage to teach people about it.

One of the things the valley needs is more places for folk to sit and enjoy the tranquility. So each team would have a brief to create a picnic site. Besides basic benches and tables, this spot could include that species’ signage, plus maps of that section and the way it fits into the greater valley.

In keeping with the growing concern about food security and food miles each team would also establish a permaculture food garden, probably on the edge of the valley, in each case.

This garden would include elements like bee hives, veges and herbs  and a “forest garden”, a multi-storied self-sustaining system of nut and fruit trees. Indigenous species would get preference and exotics would be screened first to exclude invasives.

The residents of each section would meet regularly for market festivals in their section of the valley to sell or exchange the produce from their food garden plus seedlings and the furniture, carvings, charcoal, firewood or compost that could be generated by the removal of the aliens. 

It would be a chance to show-off their picnic  spots and to activate their adventure sport development. It would be an opportunity for music, and a time to come together.

This “community valley initiative” could become a unique PE ritual. But it could also become a blueprint for the integration of communities in other cities and towns into the protection and celebration of their public open space.

In this world of ours in which families and communities are becoming increasingly separated from one another, it could be a great tool to bring us together again.

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