Thursday, March 21

Uproar over invasive species

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Landscapers and gardeners are opposing new government draft proposals that would see waterwise and indigenous couch, or kweek, grass lawn become a listed 'predator'

Three big changes have been proposed for invasive species in the garden. First, the National List of Invasive Species is being updated with a host of new species. Second, the Declaration of Invasive Species form required by property sellers will fall away. Third, the Prohibited Invasive List will be removed from the legislation.

On February 16, the Department of Environmental Affairs proposed draft amendments and updates to the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act’s Alien and Invasive Species (AIS) regulations and lists. Updates were published in the Government Gazette. While the deadline for public comment (March 16) has passed, horticulturists, landscapers and trout fishing enthusiasts have been vocal about the proposed changes.

The AIS regulations of the Nemba act of 2004 came into effect in October 2014. The AIS lists were updated on July 29 2016. The list comprises 556 species: 383 plants, 15 freshwater fish, 30 reptiles, 41 mammals, 24 birds, 23 terrestrial invertebrates, seven amphibians, 17 marine invertebrates, nine fresh-water invertebrates and seven microbial species.

Proposed amendments

The most significant proposed change is the dropping of a requirement that all sellers of a property notify the buyer of any invasive species on their property. Commonly known as the Declaration of Invasive Species, the requirement was deftly skirted by estate agents who placed exclusionary clauses into the small print of their offer to purchase template.

The Prohibited Alien Species List will also be removed. This list refers to those species that may not enter South Africa and are not currently in the country. It should not be confused with the National List of Invasive Species.

The prohibited list includes 563 species: 238 plants; two marine plants; 18 mammals, 20 birds, 12 reptiles, nine amphibians, 110 freshwater fish, one marine fish, eight freshwater invertebrates, 131 terrestrial invertebrates, seven marine invertebrates and seven microbial species.

“Having a prohibited list is very useful,” says Dr Nicola van Wilgen, a research associate at the Centre for Invasion Biology.

“In the absence of such lists, any application needs to go through risk assessment.

“My major concern is that species that were formerly on the prohibited list may be permitted into the country on the basis of poor or data-deficient risk assessments. The species formerly on the prohibited lists were listed because of known invasive tendencies or because they have close relatives with known invasive tendencies.”

A host of new invasive species has been proposed for listing, under plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and freshwater fish, including rainbow trout, brown trout and the king salmon.

Leptospermum scoparium, native to New Zealand and Australia, is proposed for inclusion as a Category 3 AIS. Picture: Lukas Otto

Indigenous lawn

A surprise proposal to include a waterwise, indigenous lawn species on the AIS list has caused an outcry among gardeners and landscapers. Cynodon dactylon, commonly known as couch, bermuda grass or kweek grass, has been cited for inclusion as a Category 2 species. This means that it can only be propagated, owned, transported or planted with a permit. 

The South African Landscapers’ Institute opposes the proposed listing of Cynodon dactylon as an invader. “Should the proposals become law, all government ministries, national parks, national botanical gardens, municipalities, landowners, sports administrators, landscapers and gardeners across the country will have to buy a R100 permit, with a six-week wait, to make their indigenous lawns legal,” says Norah de Wet, the institute’s national chairperson.

The institute says Cynodon dactylon is a valuable, drought-resistant, waterwise grass critical to South Africa’s biodiversity. Its listing may encourage an unprecedented increase in the planting of alien and “waterholic” kikuyu grass. 

Starke Ayres Garden Centre manager Richard Morris says the drought has devastated much of the coastal buffalo and kikuyu grass where it wasn’t irrigated, as neither is drought-resistant.

However, he says Cynodon dactylon has done superbly well with only a little irrigation or grey water.

“We have used Cynodon dactylon to control dust and erosion and as a turf for school sports grounds. Cynodon dactylon has proved to be a superb waterwise alternative to kikuyu and buffalo.”

Other plant species proposed for listing include the Cabomba species, category 1a; tree tomato (Cyphomandra betacea), category 3; New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium), category 3; Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), category 2; perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), category 2; Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), category 3; black mulberry (Morus nigra), category 3; evening primrose (Oenothera indecora), category 3; pink evening primrose (Oenothera rosea), category 3; sweet sundrop (Oenothera stricta), category 3.


The South African Green Industries Council is offering four modules for anyone interested in learning more about invasives. The training will take place in Cape Town (May 15-18), Joburg (June 19-22) and Durban (May 22-25). Times: 9am to 4pm (Module 1, 2, 3); 9am to 2pm (Module 4).

Cost: R935 per module. Booking is vital. See or download forms at Contact Khuli at or call 0117239000.

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