NOORDHOEK – A SLEEPY HOLLOW

Tucked away among the oak trees of Noordhoek one can find a rural track called Sleepy Hollow Lane. For some this name epitomizes what Noordhoek has become – a sleepy hollow in an ever busy metropolis that is Cape Town.

For centuries Noordhoek was just a rural backwater, known for its abundant vegetable and fruit production which supplied fresh produce to the Royal Navy in Simon’s Town and all the way to Wynberg. The rich black soils and abundant rain falling in the micro climate created by the majestic amphitheatre ensured plentiful water for the crops, farmed mainly by the extended De Villiers family, some of whom still live in the Valley.

Even after the magnificent Chapman’s Peak drive was completed in the early 1920’s, allowing the first through traffic, did Noordhoek remain a quiet agricultural area best visited on Sunday afternoon drives.

Some recognized Noordhoek’s latent potential as a place to live but several early developers came unstuck and at least three entrepreneurs in the 1960’s either went under or saw years of stagnant sales as the perception that going over the Silvermine mountain was a ‘hill too far’ for a city commuter.

However, as urbanization took hold elsewhere on the Cape Peninsula and cars became faster and more efficient, the Noordhoek greenery became an attractive option for those wanting to experience rural life, especially those in the ‘horsey set’. The lure of a gallop or walk along an endless beach was simply too good to be true.

Prices remained low and the ‘draft’ structure plan drawn up by the residents guaranteed a relaxed atmosphere with large erven and open areas. Limited ‘themed’ commercial activity was allowed that added to the ambience. Agricultural activity, specifically vineyards, was reintroduced after a break of several decades. The first ‘gated estate’ in South Africa, located down a secluded village lane, added to the mystique that many imagined the area embraced.

These far sighted measures have seen Noordhoek become one of the most sought after suburbs in South Africa – both as an address or simply to enjoy award winning wines and meals. Tens of thousands pass along its tree lined streets in annual cycle and road marathons.

But for many residents it still remains a jealously defended sleepy hollow.

Written by Mark Wiley

Overlooking Noordhoek beach with Kommetjie in the background, from Chappies
Overlooking Noordhoek beach with Kommetjie in the background, from Chapman’s Peak

The rehabilitation of Noordhoek Common

NEAG, together with the the Noordhoek Conservancy embarked on a phased clearing and rehabilitation of the Noordhoek Common during 2006.

More than 100 indigenous tress have been planted since 2008, local indigenous trees that can and do thrive on and around the common such as the Wild Peach, Cape Ash, Cape Beech, Red Alder and Real Yellowood. The end result will be far more attractive than a monoculture of legally proscribed invasive Poplars which have spread rapidly over the past two decades, extensively infesting large areas of the common, particularly around watercourses.

However, change does not come without controversy. Recent articles in the local press have highlighted differing attitudes towards the rehabilitation of the common so we asked Glenn Ashton of NEAG to clarify issues.

Glenn

: I think that the primary thing that the public seems to not grasp is that the process around these proposals is part of a democratic dialogue and it was devised for exactly these reasons – to invite and receive input from the public on the proposals. There are various vested interests – nature lovers, horse riders, dog walkers, ball players, families, picnickers, etc. who use the common and all have the right to enjoy it without unduly compromising the rights of others. Thus dog walkers have a duty to clean up their dog poo, something that creates completely unnecessary friction when raised with dog walkers.
But we equally have a responsibility to manage the common for the long term good of the community, while bearing all the heritage and environmental management issues in mind.
Therefore the gradual phasing in of indigenous forest instead of a dual species regime (oaks and poplars) as has become the case, is essential if we are to revive the bird species and other faunal aspects of the common.
The management plan is an honest, transparent attempt to involve all locals in participating in the management of this natural resource. It is our collective resource and as such the views of all will be taken into account, against the larger issues of legal requirements for stewardship, ecological integrity and so on. We need a balanced approach and this is what we aim to get out of this dialogue that is being undertaken. While there are a minority who are resistant to any sort of change, the proposals have been broadly supported by the wider community. It is also notable that those moaning the loudest have contributed the least to the ongoing management of the common over time!
Those who have bothered to get involved, plant trees, clean up and manage the area seem fairly content with the way things are going……
And so it goes…….
Glenn Ashton

 Noordhoek

Notes from a previous communication from Glenn:

There has never been a plan to clear non-invasive plants such as oak trees from the common. The oaks on the common are not that old, probably around 50 to 70 years old at most. They are a feature to this generation and are not worth obsessing about given their poor health. They will probably remain for another generation or so, until shaded out by interplanted indigenous trees.

Our short, warm (!) winters are unsuitable for oaks, which thrive in colder climates than here. A planned replacement programme is a better option than trying to recreate a foreign field of England or some such, and given our massive biodiversity it would be silly not to.

The planting of local yellowwoods and other long-lived and low maintenance trees is far preferable. I remember the small yellowwoods being planted in the centre traffic island near the bottom of Paradise Road in Newlands, which are now beautiful, mature trees. We must take a long term perspective when maintaining and planning natural areas.

Managing our human impacts requires ongoing active intervention to not simply maintain the status quo, but to enhance what we have, by increasing planting, by allowing the re-establishment of areas that have become overgrown by invasive species such as grey poplar and to ensure that the watercourses do not further deteriorate, flood or erode the common. Zones require protection as natural havens to promote biodiversity, birdlife, insects, etc..

Collective responsibility is the name of the game and the more involvement we have from caring residents the better. We can collectively improve the common. We must manage change so that future generations as well as ours will benefit from our working together.

The work undertaken to date by the Noordhoek Conservancy, NEAG and the community has already done wonders in improving the common. I recall the outcry when the dead, burned, invasive pines were felled around the dam in Silvermine. Today we have an area that is not only better managed but has far better shade, shelter and facilities than ever before, all in less than a decade! We need to pursue this sort of progressive and collective vision for our common.

For more information about NEAG and the Noordhoek Conservancy see http://scenicsouth.co.za//environment/enviro-ngos/noordhoek-valley/

See it: Noordhoek ( http://capepointroute.co.za/seeit-noordhoek.php )