ReSpek Nature is an activation platform within the larger Giant Flag project in the Karoo. The Giant Flag is a PBO, a Section 18a Trust which means it’s a South African non-profit organisation. We launched ReSpek Nature in late 2020 as a dedicated spekboom-only carbon offset programme within the Giant Flag project.
The site for ReSpek Nature is the Giant Flag, which is on the outskirts of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape Karoo, South Africa. Our first project is to plant out the green of the Giant Flag, which is 22 hectares, as well as the 34 hectare buffer around the Flag. This means that we have some hundreds of thousands of spekboom that can be planted out on that land. Having said that, we have one atmosphere enveloping the planet, so capturing carbon can happen anywhere on Earth.
We’ve made things pretty simple by adding a universal counter that sits at the footer of the website, so that anyone can see moment by moment updates of our spekboom uptake.
ReSpek is working on the ground with the Giant Flag team who work from our 1 hectare pilot site that we call the Mother Flag. We also collaborate with the SANParks staff from Camdeboo National Park, our neighbour along the Giant Flag’s eastern boundary. We receive botanical guidance from the Rhodes Restoration Research Group out of Grahamstown, who are expertly advising us and SANParks on specific planting approaches.
We’re using two approaches to planting: harvesting large branches, called truncheons, from Camdeboo National Park with our colleagues from SANParks, which we plant directly into the land—or taking smaller truncheons from our own crop of mature spekboom in the Mother Flag, planting 4 of them in a mix of soil and river sand in specially made hessian ‘pockets’ (which are being sewn up by the New Horizons Women’s Co-op in the nearby Asherville township) and allowing them some weeks to root on the Mother before we take them to the Giant Flag to plant, hessian pocket and all. This holds the roots together while the hessian slowly decomposes.
The technical measurement is 0.004 g C per year per single spekboom, but we need to keep in mind that these saplings grow so they increase their carbon capturing capacity over time. In addition, we always plant hundreds together—potentially thousands as the project grows—so we consider them more like an expanding ecosystem rather than a single plant. Our ideal measurement is on a scale of between 4.2 and 8.5 carbon tonnes per hectare, per year. That’s something like driving between Jo’burg and Cape Town 25 times!
Good question! While spekboom is mostly recognised for its capacity as a carbon sponge, it also restores the indigenous thicket. This simultaneously combats erosion and grows out as a protective ground-cover. It reintroduces nutrients to the soil and locks water into its stems and leaves, and so combats drought. One of the most beautiful things about this miracle plant is that it encourages biodiversity by preparing the soil for other species, and when it’s large enough, giving shade too. It’s also considered a source of food for some animals, and what’s interesting about this is that when the spekboom is ‘disturbed’ by animals eating some of it, it grows back… and so sequesters more carbon.
We’re trying to get each GPS coordinate as close as possible to each linked plant, but for now you can be sure that it’s in the same area where the green ‘Y’ is in Giant Flag. If it’s green, it’s going to be spekboom!