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Be mindful of our nature

16 January 2013 - 02:07 By Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver

By now you are probably back at work, thinking wistfully of the holidays. While you may not be mindful of it, the environment around you almost certainly played a big part in making your holiday so relaxing.

South Africans love being in nature - it creates a sense of freedom, it relaxes and it challenges us. It gives us something almost spiritual, and talks to the history of where we come from - from the lush grasslands where our forefathers grazed their cattle to remote wilderness areas that early prospectors explored. It is part of what defines us as South Africans. The open sky, the distant mountains, the rolling hills, the rivers, the fresh air are crucial elements of our collective heritage.

But our nature is under threat from several sources. Development along our coastline, while bringing much-needed tourism and jobs, is threatening sensitive coastal ecosystems. Poaching and overfishing have collapsed line fish and abalone stocks. Alien invasive plants have choked up our watercourses, pushing out natural inhabitants and sucking out precious water. Our grasslands are under systematic threat from mining, agriculture and forestry. Poverty and overgrazing in former homeland areas have led to degraded and eroded lands that no longer support subsistence farming. Climate change is rapidly changing the environment to which many sensitive plants and animals are uniquely adapted. As their habitats change, they face extinction.

Some of these things will appear too big to do anything about, and need national or even global scale interventions.

But as the climate talks have shown, the solutions from this level come too slowly and are not enough.

There are a whole lot of small things that we can do as individuals that make a difference. Think twice about buying those illegal crayfish as they are stripping a scarce marine resource. When ordering fish at a restaurant, avoid endangered line fish. Don't litter the environment as your waste ruins the experience for others and chokes up ecosystems.

Don't pick wild flowers. Follow the old dictum "take only memories, leave only footprints". Even climate change has a practical local application - switch off your geyser and fridge when you go away, walk or cycle rather than drive around unnecessarily, and watch the speed limit.

Next time you are enjoying this idyll we call South Africa, spare a thought for the threats that it faces, and live consciously within it.