The feasibility of using remote sensing and field-based checks to monitor the impact caused by collection of wood in the Eastern Cape/Ciskei forest and thicket formations

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

A variety of studies have shown the problems of energy supply faced by low-income communities in southern Africa. Most of these communities are dependent upon indigenous fuelwood supplies. In addition, many of these communities use indigenous wood for construction. This largely uncontrolled utilisation imposes severe threats on woody vegetation communities. The Eastern Cape/Ciskei region is an area where energy supply problems are particularly severe and impacts on woody vegetation correspondingly severe. This study aimed to investigate the feasibility of using remote sensing techniques to monitor the the impact caused by collection of wood in the Eastern Cape/Ciskei forest and thicket communities. A variety of remote sensing techniques for landcover analysis were investigated. In all cases, visual interpretation was used because it is considerably cheaper and demands less technical expertise than would computer processing. In addition, many studies have shown visual interpretation to be superior. Maps were drawn from multitemporal aerial photograph sequences and from Landsat and SPOT satellite images. These maps showed that there has been relatively little change in area of woody vegetation in the study area since 1956. However, field studies showed that vegetation community structure had been degraded as a result of intense and sustained human impact. This qualitative decline also reflected a decline in usefulness of the woody vegetation of the area to local communities. This substantial degradation was not visible on any of the remote sensing imageries. This emphasises that field-based checks to monitor human impacts on forest and thicket formations are essential. Strategies for reducing the dependence of low-income communities on indigenous vegetation for energy supplies and constructional timber have been reviewed from the literature and these are descibed in Appendix 1. Most successful strategies in other parts of the world have been the result of a national commitment to tree planting, recognition of a multiplicity of constraints and the voluntary involvement of the communities the strategies are intended to assist.

Bibliography: pages 71-83.