EDWARD SILBERBAUER is Betty’s Bay’s very own “Mr Hack”. He is the convenor of a group of intrepid volunteers who, once a month, do battle against the alien vegetation that threatens our pristine fynbos. Armed with chainsaws and sheer determination, this group chops down the invasive, non-indigenous trees that can swamp the local vegetation. These plants, if left to their own devices, spread at an alarming rate, swallowing up all the indigenous plants in their path. They are also a serious fire hazard. [One has only to think of the terrible fires in Australia to understand the threat that they pose.] Port Jackson willows, pines, myrtle, rooikrans, New Zealand Christmas trees and long-leaf wattles are the main culprits.
Ed has convened “The Hack” for the last 26 years and is the fifth person to do so. The Hack started 52 years ago, in 1963, and Ed has been part of the group from the beginning. At a meeting of the Betty’s Bay Ratepayers in that year, Denys Heesom, a wellrespected permanent resident, posed the question: “What are we going to do about all the alien vegetation in Betty’s Bay?” After some discussion, it was agreed that, with Denys as the convenor, they all would meet at 9 o’clock on the first Sunday of every month.They would hack out alien vegetation for a couple of hours and then enjoy a beer or two. More than a half-century later, a group of hackers still meet at 9 on the first Sunday of every month. They hack out aliens for a couple of hours and then enjoy a beer or two. What a tradition!
Hacking is generally more difficult now than it was then. In the early days of The Hack, regular fires made the job easier. Nowadays, with fires better controlled by a very efficient fire-fighting unit, the local vegetation has become thicker, taller and less easy to penetrate. And the hackers have to deal with fully-grown alien trees, as well as the saplings that they spawn. [After a fire, these would have been destroyed and it would be much easier to pull out the newly germinated seedlings as they appeared.]
But the hackers battle on, tackling the aliens, one area at a time. Fortunately, their job has, in recent years, been made a bit easier by the introduction of “biological control”, that is, bugs from Australia that reduce the seed load of the aliens.
It would appear that hacking is in the genes. Ed’s brother, Dickin, preceded him as convenor of The Hack. This is Ed’s son, James, lending some muscle to the Betty’s Bay cause. James is the convenor of the Somerset West hacking group.
But there is a problem that poses a constant threat to the integrity of the fynbos, and that is the attitude of private property owners. The Hack can operate freely in public open spaces but cannot go into privately-owned land. It is incumbent on property owners to keep their land clear of alien vegetation and there are regulations that demand this. Unfortunately however, there are not the financial resources to enforce these rules. Inevitably, I suppose, many Betty’s Bayers ignore the regulations. Some even go one step further: they actually plant invasive aliens on their properties, either out of ignorance or defiance.
The Hack’s most notable achievement was probably the work it did at Avril’s Dump. [“Avril” refers to Avril Nunn, the well-known local conservationist who died a couple of months ago.] Over a period of five years, the Betty’s Bay Hack cleared an area of about five hectares around the old dump site on the right-hand side of the road to Pringle Bay.
Please be aware of the need to rid Betty’s Bay of alien vegetation. Not only does it destroy our local fynbos, but it also constitutes a serious fire hazard. Try to clear your property of these plants and encourage others to do the same.
Should you wish to volunteer for The Hack, you can contact Edward Silberbauer on 028 272 9015.