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Alien plant ‘auntie’ to the rescue

Jauhara Khan
A local woman is protecting the Cape Winelands ecosystem one alien plant at a time.

Linda Jansen is leading efforts to rid the scenic Cape Winelands of invasive alien plants.

Jansen, 50, is an alien plant clearing contractor from Tulbagh in the Western Cape, who is changing her community through her commitment to the environment.Linda Jansen is fondly referred to as “Aunty” and “Mother” by her employees and locals works closely with farmers in the area who understand the benefit of her programme

Jansen joined Cape Nature, a public institution responsible for biodiversity conservation in the Western Cape, as a general worker in 2002.

She was soon asked to join the Cape Nature office as a wage clerk.

But the banks of the Breede River had seen a widespread infestation of invasive plant species over the years. If left to flourish, invasive alien plants pose a threat to plant and animal biodiversity, using up vast amounts of water and compromising soil quality.

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture’s LandCare division turned to the community in search of solutions, and out of that search emerged Jansen, who was approached to register as an alien clearing contractor.

Jansen started her contracting business, Lyn’s Valley, which now oversees three alien plant clearing teams and employs 39 people. Her teams are currently deployed in projects in Wellington and Worcester. 

“When I started out I employed 12 people, and I hired a bakkie and three chainsaws. I employed people who had previously been in jail, housewives, youth… people who needed a job.” she said.

Jansen has an acute understanding of the ecology of the area, and explained the impact invasive plants had on resources needed by local vegetation.

“There are many kinds of alien plants growing here. Eucalyptus, pine, and poplar trees are all alien plants. The blue gum tree is one of the bigger trees that grows next to water. On a hot day, it can drink as much as 200 litres of water. The river turns into a stream; there is so little water left that you can’t even fill a bottle. When you cut the tree down, you can actually see water bubbling out of it,” she said.

Jansen, who is fondly referred to as “Aunty” and “Mother” by her employees and locals, said that her teams worked closely with farmers in the area who understand the benefit of their programme.