One year after ground broke on the R1.7bn Baywest Mall in the western suburbs of Port Elizabeth, threatened indigenous plant species and a relocated natural rocky outcrop on the 330ha Baywest City site are thriving thanks to careful environmental interventions.
According to environmental control officer on site Marcel Basson, appointed to ensure rare and indigenous flora and fauna are not affected by the mall’s development, threatened plant species are now thriving. This, said Basson, was thanks to the consistent monitoring of the indigenous species and removal of alien vegetation, which had not occurred until developers moved onto site.
Yet another success, said Basson, was the thriving cyclopia pubescens – an extremely rare plant found mostly in the Nelson Mandela Bay area – which had nearly been eradicated because no one had cared for the site until developers moved in.
Before development began, the site – which falls within the urban edge of the city – was prone to regular bush fires and had been overrun with herds of grazing cattle, illegal quad-bikers and alien plant species such the Port Jackson and Bluegum which had been left to grow unabated. This had seen threatened indigenous plant species such as the cyclopia pubescens almost eradicated.
To ensure that sensitive flora and fauna were preserved, the Baywest developers Abacus Asset Management and Billion Group have cordoned off almost 30% of the 330ha Baywest City site as protected areas which will never be developed.
Another environmental milestone being celebrated, which is a first for a large-scale development in South Africa, is the successful relocation of a natural rocky outcrop and hundreds of indigenous plant species.
Independent conservation officer Mark Marshall and a team, including Basson, undertook the mammoth task of relocating an entire natural rocky outcrop and replanting 3,500 individual plants at site of the relocation within a cordoned-off protected area.
“I had to do a lot of research before undertaking this project and found out that no one [in South Africa] had relocated a natural rocky outcrop like this before,” said Marshall. “This is a perfect example of how development can meet environmental needs.”
The rocky outcrop had to be positioned exactly as it had been before, meaning 3-ton rocks were individually hauled to the new outcrop site out of the way of development and carefully placed back in the ground, in a similar position as they had been before.
This was in addition to handpicking and preserving more than 4,500 plants, noted as “species of special concern”, from the footprint of the Baywest Mall, preserved in off-site nursery and returned earlier
this year to Baywest City’s conserved areas.
One year later, after careful monitoring, the relocated rocky outcrop’s plants have taken to the outcrop’s new location and have even begun seeding.
Referring to the thriving cyclopia, Basson said: “I’ve surveyed the site and in some cases the cyclopia pubescens population has tripled.” Water detention ponds had even been redesigned to accommodate the increasing cyclopia population, he added.
According to independent consultant Sherry Moorhouse of Moorhouse Consulting, there was a need for responsible development.
“If the Baywest land had been left in its natural [undeveloped] state, it would have been badly degraded over time,” she said.
The consultancy has been appointed to ensure that all the conditions of the development’s environmental authorisation, issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs, are adhered to. Monthly audits of the site are conducted and sent to the department to ensure compliance, said Moorhouse.
“You cannot preserve open pieces of land by leaving it to overgrazing by livestock, uncontrolled bush fires, illegal recreational use of the land by the likes of quad bikers, and the uncontrolled spread of alien vegetation, which destroys the fauna and flora,” said Moorhouse.
“If development is done responsibly, then the environment can be conserved properly.”
Baywest MD Gavin Blows said the developers believed there was an important balance to be found between building and conserving the environment.
“Environmental conservation is important, and as developers of malls throughout South Africa we believe it’s important to ensure that the sensitive natural environment is preserved,” said Blows. “We believe it’s possible to balance the environment and development, and that’s what we are striving for at Baywest.”