Riparian reforestation project: Berg and Breede River Systems, Western Cape, South Africa

Palmiet planting in the Kleinberg River, South Africa
Staff member planting trees on dripper lines on the river riparian, Berg River, South Africa.


The Reforest Action Project is located in the Western Cape, South Africa focusing on rehabilitation of riparian zones along the Berg and Breede Rivers. Reforest Action Project is privately funded with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) as a project partner . There are three main implementing partners involved in the project: Breedekloof Wine and Tourism (BWT), Intaba Environmental Services and Wolseley Water User’s Association.

The project has a three year time span (initiated in Jan 2021) and it aims to grow and plant 100 000 indigenous trees per year in a total of 40 sites per year (120 sites over 3 years). This is a total of 300 000 trees to be planted in approximately 60Ha of private land over 3 years (each site is an average of 0,5Ha in total).

The Berg and Breede River Systems flow through the Cape Floristic Kingdom (with a Mediterranean Climate), with the dominating vegetation type known as ‘Fynbos’. This vegetation type is fire driven/ adapted. However, the riparian zones surrounding the Berg and Breede Rivers have become fire refuges due to the surrounding agricultural land that excludes fire, due to land management practices. This means that a riparian scrub has developed with a larger constituent of trees and shrubs dominating.
Most of the riparian lands that are to be rehabilitated in this project are privately owned and the implementing teams will be working in partnership with them. Rehabilitation actions are namely: propagation and planting of small trees (approx. 47 plant species) along dripper lines in the riparian zone and seeding where there is bare ground. Minimal monitoring and maintenance is currently occurring due to budget constraints.

This project is still in its infancy and less than 10 sites have been planted by July 2021. The project is gaining momentum as interest and awareness is growing amongst landowners. Alternative funding is being sourced to supplement the project.

Quick Facts

Geographic Region:

Country or Territory:
South Africa

Temperate Forest

Freshwater Rivers & Streams

Area being restored:
Target 60Ha

Project Lead:
Intaba Environmental Services

Organization Type:
Private Company

Project Partners:
Breedekloof Wine & Tourism (NPO) Fund management Intaba Environmental Services (Private company) Primary implamenter Wolseley Water Users Association (NPO) Implementer LandCare - a division of Department of Agriculture - Auxillary support Department of Environmental Affairs & Development Planning - Auxillary support

Our funding budget is very restrictive in developing short term action plans.

STAPER categories:
  • A3: Involve all relevant stakeholders
  • B6: Review, improve or establish targets, policies and strategies for ecosystem restoration
  • C1: Identify appropriate measures for conducting ecosystem restoration
  • C2: Consider how restoration can support sustainability of agriculture/production
  • C4: Develop explicit implementation tasks, schedules, and budgets
  • C5: Implement the measures
  • D2: Adjust plans, expectations, procedures, and monitoring through adaptive management
  • D3: Share lessons learned from planning, financing, implementing and monitoring ecosystem restoration plans

Project Stage:

Start Date:

End Date:

Primary Causes of Degradation

Agriculture & Livestock, Dams & Hydrology, Fire & Weather Events, Invasive Species (native or non-native pests, pathogens or plants)

Degradation Description

Invasive alien trees are a major issue in the Berg and Breede Rivers, with dominance of Eucalyptus sp. and Acacia sp. from Australia. Many of these trees have been removed through the Working for Water Project. There is now a need to rehabilitate these lands with indigenous species and to prevent re-invasion of invasive plants. The invasive trees have outcompeted the indigenous plants due to out-shading and over competition of resources. Historically the indigenous trees were also harvested from the riparian zones with the initial settlers in the area. The river banks have also deepened and narrowed (channelized) over time due to the invasive trees, encroaching farming practices, bulldozing of river banks and change in hydrology. Soil erosion and river banks being washed away is a major issue together with lower water quality. Water quality and quantity is a major driver, as much of the river’s water is used for agriculture. The Klein Berg River (a tributary to the Berg River) is also a contributor to the City of Cape Town’s potable water supply. South Africa is a water-scarce region and there is increasing pressure for the supply of water in this area. Recently there was a severe drought (2018) and many city dwellers were severely restricted in their water use with the impending ‘Day Zero’, which fortunately did not happen. The City of Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa and the population is also increasing at a rapid rate (averaging at 2% from 2019-2021 StatsSA), putting pressure on resources, especially water.

Defining the Reference Ecosystem

The reference ecosystem is based on diverse sources of information (e.g. multiple extant reference sites, field indicators, historical records, predictive data).

Reference Ecosystem Description

Reference ecosystems in the mid-reaches of the Berg and Breede Rivers are nearly impossible to find. Most of the Systems have been highly modified. We are using historical, anecdotal and Vegetation Type References to construct a plant species list.
The Berg and Breede River Systems flow through the Cape FlouristicFloristic Kingdom (with a Mediterranean Climate), with the dominating vegetation type known as ‘Fynbos’. This vegetation type is fire driven/ adapted and there is a variety of Vegetation Types within ‘Fynbos’. The riparian zones surrounding the Berg and Breede Rivers have become fire refuges due to the surrounding agricultural land that excludes fire, due to land management practices. This means that a riparian scrub has developed with a larger constituent of trees and shrubs.
Even though there is a strong focus on trees and shrubs in this project, there is also some seeding of pioneer species that is to be used in highly disturbed ecosystems. The funders (FSC) are needing projects that focus on planting of trees in order to brand their paper and products as sustainable sources.
Restoration success measures will be evaluated by the Project Funders and they are mostly looking at plant survival rates. Due to the funding cycle of 3 years and highly limited budget for monitoring, we are not able to establish benchmarks for evaluating success.

Project Goals

Plant 100 000 trees per year (over a period of 3 years)
A total of 2500 trees planted per site
Each site is average of 5000m2 (0,5Ha) in size.
A total of +-40 sites are expected per year. Aiming for 120 sites over three years.


The project does not have a monitoring plan.


Landowners are the primary stakeholders. Although the Landowners were not consulted in the initial planning process (drawing up of budgets etc.). They are involved in the planning and implementation of the project on their land. We have produced a short video clip about the project and that has been sent to the Water User’s Associations in the area and also through word of mouth and social media.
When landowners come into contact with project managers, they have meeting(s) discussing the process and responsibilities. A landowner agreement is signed, the landowner contributes a small sum to the costs of the project (‘Landowner contribution’) and implementation begins.

How this project eliminated existing threats to the ecosystem:
1) Erect fences to keep cattle/ livestock out ot the site to prevent overgrazing and erosion 2) Remove alien invasive plants (minimal funds available through this budget - so alternative funding is needed) 3) Altered hydrology due to dams upstream and abstraction - not much can be done about this. 4) Altered geomorphology at some sites - appropriate planting to assist with slowing water speed and deposition in some cases. Alternative funding can be used for this, as these specialist plants are not classified as 'trees'.

How this project reinstated appropriate physical conditions (e.g. hydrology, substrate)",:
1) Add compost to the holes where plants are to be planted.

How this project achieved a desirable species composition:
1) Devise a plant list with appropriate plant species according to site vegetation type per site location. Use vegetation map data. 2) Determine what indigenous (native) plants are currently on the sites and what species are missing/required 3) Grow appropriate plants for planting out at specific sites that are genetically selected for specific river catchments 4) Plant plants in appropriate ecotones along river banks on dripper lines 5) Interplant plants that have dies 6) Undertake some maintenance on sites to reduce the non-desirable species

How this project reinstated structural diversity (e.g. strata, faunal food webs, spatial habitat diversity):
The project is at a primary building block level in reinstating structural diversity, as it focuses on introducing some missing plant species in the landscape. There are 42 tree and shrub species that are being propagated and planted on the sites.

How this project recovered ecosystem functionality (e.g. nutrient cycling, plant-animal interactions, normal stressors):
The project is a primary building block in recovering of ecosystems, as it focuses on introducing some plant species in the landscape. No further efforts yet have been made to recover ecosystems further due to funding limitations.

How this project reestablished external exchanges with the surrounding landscape (e.g. migration, gene flow, hydrology):
Riparian zones are potential corridors for migration of species. Ideally as sites are acquired, then there will be more connection from the source downstream and within the catchment.

Activities were undertaken to address any socio-economic aspects of the project:
This project will help with job creation for disadvantaged people. More alien clearing teams (contractors) will be upskilled in restoration work in the catchments.

Ecological Outcomes Achieved

Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
The project is still in it's infancy, therefore it is difficult to determine.

Reinstate appropriate physical conditions",:
The project is still in it's infancy, therefore it is difficult to assess.

Achieve a desirable species composition:
We have planted 17 plant species so far ( by July 2021) and are aiming at planting out 40 plant species in total. We are at 42,5% at achieving this target.

Reinstate structural diversity:
Focus is primarily on introducing shrubs and trees, therefore the structural diversity is very low.

Recover ecosystem functionality:
Ecosystem function recovery is expected to be very low currently, as more structural and species diversity is needed.

Reestablish external exchanges with the surrounding landscape:
We are unaware of the extent and effectiveness of the external exchanges yet, due to the project being in it's infancy.

Factors limiting recovery of the ecosystem:
Low species diversity, secondary invasions, lack of connectivity within the agricultural landscape.

Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved

Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
Job opportunities created. We are unaware of any other economic benefits to the community as of yet.

Provision of basic necessities such as food, water, timber, fiber, fuel, etc.:
Improvement in basic necessities is not measurable yet, due to infancy of project.

Cultural dimensions such as recreational, aesthetic and/or spiritual:
Potential aesthetics improved through planting of indigenous tree and shrubs Potential camping sites along river Potential expansion of walking trails

Regulation of climate, floods, disease, erosion, water quality, etc.:
Project is in it's infancy, so this is difficult to assess as the plants are still small.

Has the project had any negative consequences for surrounding communities or given rise to new socio-economic or political challenges?:
None that we are aware of.

Key Lessons Learned

1. Budget is based on a cost per plant planted. The funder is withholding 30% of the budget until they inspect the sites and are satisfied with the plant survival rates on the sites. This is very risky and restrictive for the project implementers. Alternative funding is being used to cover some of the costs and the landowner contributions will assist with the 30% gap.
2. Landowners are weary of signing agreements and there is resistance to paying their contribution to help with cover costs. We are trying to make plans for the landowners to pay off the amount over a longer time frame. Some landowners would prefer to purchase the irrigation and compost instead.
3. Plants propagated in the nursery requires a good stocktaking system. This assists with production planning in order for the correct number of seedlings and cuttings to be made for the approx. 40 plant species that also needs to come from separate river catchments. Workshopping and clear communication with the staff is assisting with making the stocktaking system to work better. Accurate record keeping is needed for research, invoicing and accountability to partner organizations.
4. Capacity building is key. Sharing of knowledge is important between organizations and with the teams that are implementing the work.
5. In order to implement a large projectproject, you need to work in team. Positive thinking, contentiousness, setting out roles/functions and clear communication in a team context is important, otherwise the team cannot function properly in its mandate/ vision. A work agreement was drawn up between the service provider(Intaba) and the organization that received the funding (BWT) to assist with this.

Long-Term Management

There is no requirement set out by the funder to undertake post -implementation monitoring and long term maintenance. We hope that the landowners will become active in the maintenance of their sites – undertaking invasive alien clearing and irrigation etc. We may seek alternative funding to assist with the long term maintenance and monitoring of the sites.

Sources and Amounts of Funding

Reforest Action Partnership: primary funder
DEADP -Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (South African Government): auxilliary support
Landcare – Department of Agriculture, Western Cape (South African Government): auxilliary support

Reforest Action funding:
Average cost per plant: 30ZAR/tree = 2,01US Dollar/ Tree
Average cost per Ha: 150 000ZAR = 10 114US Dollar/Ha
Total project budget (3years): 9 million ZAR = 606 830 US Dollar
Hectares in total (3 years): +- 60Ha
Hectares planted so far: +-5Ha (July 2021)

Other Resources

Video clip introducing the project:

Intaba Environmental Services:

Primary Contact

Johann van Biljon

Project implementer


Western Cape

Organizational Contact