This is the submission to the MOUNTAIN PROTECTION AWARD 2021 awarded by the UIAA. Please read it as such.

1. Applicant

a) Organisation: The Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA)
b) Address of organisation: 97 Hatfield St, Cape Town, 8001
c) Official name of project: Helihack Alien Clearing in the Western Cape Mountains, South Africa
d) The MCSA is a federation member of the UIAA
e) Not relevant.
g) Facebook: Nonprofit Organization > The Mountain Club of South Africa – Cape Town Section
h) Instagram: mcsacapetown
i) Contact Person: Aleck McKirdy
j) Email:
k) Phone number: + 27 834585410

2. Project Type: Ongoing

3. Has this project been submitted for the MPA before: No

4. Project details

a) Country where the project is implemented: South Africa, Western Cape Province.

b) Time period of implementation: The project started in 2014. For the first two and a half years the project focus was on shooting biocontrol (Hackattack) from a helicopter to eradicate Silky hakea (Hakea sericea). Since 2017 the focus shifted to felling Pines (Pinus pinaster) using a helicopter to provide access for operators (volunteer rock climbers cum chainsaw operators) to inaccessible, rugged mountain areas. The project is ongoing.

c) UIAA MPA category: Conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, including flora and fauna.

d) Vision, goals and objectives of project:

The vision of the Helihack project is to restore biodiversity by eradicating invasive alien vegetation in inaccessible mountain catchments in the Western Cape. Two strategies, both involving helicopters, are implemented to kill invasive alien plants that both threaten biodiversity in the Cape Floristic Kingdom and reduce water yields. Experienced rock climbers who are also chain saw operators are transported to remote catchments to fell Pines (Pinus pinaster) and biocontrol is shot at Silky hakea (Hakea sericea). Safety is of prime importance for this challenging and unique undertaking.

The Western Cape Mountains is one of the Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs) for surface water in South Africa. SWSAs covers 8% of South Africa and supplies 50% of the mean annual runoff. The biggest threats to SWSAs are invasive alien vegetation and climate change.

The overarching goal of the Helihack project is to upscale operations in this niche field so as to have a higher impact on biodiversity conservation in mountain catchments and to improve the water yields in SWSAs in the Western Cape and beyond.

In late 2017 Cape Town was the first major city in the world to announce “Day Zero” – a shorthand reference for the day when the water level of the major dams supplying the City fell below 13.5 percent and municipal water supplies would largely be switched off. These dams all benefit when alien vegetation with high water usage is eradicated in their mountain catchments. It follows that in an arid country like South Africa, a project such as the Helihack project is of the utmost importance and of national significance.

Specific objectives of the Helihack project are to:

− Control and eliminate invasive alien vegetation in mountain catchments where access is difficult or not possible on foot, to facilitate the re-establishment of natural biodiversity and to improve water yield. Target species are Silky Hakea (Hakea sericea) and Pines (Pinus pinaster).
− Upscale operations to do Helihacks in a greater area of the SWSA in the Western Cape and in other SWSAs in South Africa.
− Maintain existing partnerships and form new partnerships with potential funders and NGOs to expand operations in SWSAs.
− Ensure the safety of the operators (rock climbers) and pilots while implementing the project.
− Research opportunities for university students specialising in better understanding how to control the spread of alien vegetation species and better methods to eradicate it.
− Create awareness about the threats of invasive alien vegetation in catchment areas.
− Train more highly-skilled volunteer operators (rock climbing chain saw operators)

e. Implementation and expected outcomes (project plan, key tasks, activities, milestones).

For the first two-and-a-half-years the project focus was biocontrol shoots on Hakea using Hackattack (a biocontrol agent) from a helicopter. Hackattack contains an indigenous spore of a fungus that attacks Silky hakea (Hakea sericea) specifically and is a product from the Agricultural Research Council (see video in Attachments).

In August 2020 a special Hackattack operation took place. Three sites were shot with 1800 rounds at Stettyn (funding from Botha family and local Water Board), Minara (between Waaihoek and Mostertshoek Twins in the Hex River Mountains) and finally Steenboksberg. Steel shot treated with Colletotrichum acutatum spores by the Department of Agriculture was used to target Silky Hakea.

The second project focus of the Helihack project has implemented 14 tree felling operations over the past 4 years. Helihacks typically extend from Friday to Sunday. The equipment and personnel are transported by helicopter on Fridays. A safety briefing takes place and the tree felling work starts. Work continues on the Saturday and the teams are extracted on the Sunday. For the first Helihack the crew flew in using skid landing technique. This was soon discontinued as it was not effective. The next approach was to use a strop with rock climbers and equipment hanging on it. The advantage was that climbers could be delivered to steeper ground where the pines are commonly situated.

14 Helihacks have taken place to date as follows:

2017 March and September at Zuurberg
2018 March and September at Zuurberg
2019 March at Springstygbeugel
2020 August at Zuurberg
2020 October at Springstygbeugel
2020 March at Springstygbeugel
2020 May at Zuurberg
2020 October at Zuurberg
2021 March at Milner Peak (two weekends).
2021 April at Milner Peak
2021 May at Zuurberg

Areas cleared to date are:

University of Cape Town (UCT) property, MCSA property at Springstyg-beugel, the Milner Peak area owned by the Conradie family and the CapeNature Ceres Mountain Fynbos Reserve.

Generally an estimate of between 4000 and 5000 Pines (Pinus pinaster) are cut down during a weekend dependent on the density. If the Pines are very scattered the total is lower.

(See 2 map: Helihack sites in context of Strategic Water Source Areas)

f. Please describe how the project has a climbing, mountaineering or outdoor sport focus.

Highly skilled rock climbers that are also chainsaw operators do the tree felling. They are transported by helicopter to remote areas. The Helihack operations showcase the benefits of skilled rock climbers for conservation in remote mountain areas and encourage people to respect the mountains. Many of the team members are also involved in mountain rescue which in South Africa is a volunteer service ( Refer to the videos in the attachments for more details.

(See photograph: of highly skilled climbers and chainsaw operators being lowered from helicopter).

g. Describe how your project goes “beyond business as usual”, as an example of best practice in mountaineering and mountain-based sports for mountain protection.

In South Africa the clearing of invasive alien plants is not a new concept. The Working for Water (WfW) programme, launched in 1995, has cleared more than one million hectares of invasive alien plants providing jobs and training to approximately 20 000 people from among the most marginalized sectors of society per annum. WfW currently runs over 300 projects in all nine of South Africa’s provinces. Various private landowners, NGOs, including the Mountain Club of South Arica and other institutions undertake alien clearing operations with good success. However, what makes the Helihack project unique is that the highly skilled teams do what others can’t do at high altitude, in locations where access is complex and dangerous and using specialist skills (rock climbers that are chain saw operators). The Helihack operations are more expensive, dangerous and challenging than other approaches to eradicate invasive alien vegetation but it is more efficient. Locations that are remote in the high catchments can be cleared to prevent spread downstream. Generally an estimate of between 4000 and 5000 Pines (Pinus pinaster) are cut down during a weekend dependent on the density.

h. Describe how your project supports stewardship in mountain regions, such as the promotion of volunteer participation opportunities.

The Helihack project has a strong stewardship focus as the operators (highly skilled rock climbers that are also chainsaw operators) are volunteers. These committed people invest their own money and time over weekends into the project. Many of the team members are also involved in mountain rescue.

The pilots, who are very competent to fly in mountain areas close to the ground, are paid. A chopper is expensive to run and maintain. Typically a weekend costs R350 000 (approx. 25 310 USD).

Drakenstein Trust has paid for the promotional videos which are important to secure further funding. Nic Good (Fresh Air Crew and Sean O’Sullivan (SOS productions; have put in a lot of time and effort, mostly free of charge.

i. How does your project benefit the local communities where it is implemented and how do you collaborate with them?

The Helihack project benefits the people of Cape Town and surrounding areas as it contributes to biodiversity conservation and an increased water yield in the Boland and Groot Winterhoek Strategic Water Source Areas. The highly skilled teams complement other alien clearing projects that focus on rivers and low altitude areas. Helihackers do a unique and dangerous job in difficult to access mountain catchments. The Agricultural Research Council, Water Boards from Villiersdorp and Hexvalley, the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning and South African National Parks support the project.

Individuals from local communities are not directly involved in the project as the work is challenging and not suitable for individuals that are not highly skilled in rock climbing. However, local communities do benefit tremendously as biodiversity is restored and water yield increased on a landscape sale.

j. For the implementation of your project, do you collaborate with local, regional, or national authorities? If so, how? (Please keep your answer to 350-500 words.)

The Helihack project is based on collaboration and partnerships between several agencies and supported by the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning and South African National Parks. Refer to attached letters.

Current partners are:

Drakenstein Trust (see attached support letter in the Annexures)
The Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA)
The Fynbos Trust
Water Boards from Villiersdorp and Hexvalley
Agricultural Research Council
Nic Good (Fresh Air Crew) and Sean o’Sullivan (SOS Productions)
University of Cape Town (UCT)
Karl Leinberger
Botha family
South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)
Rapula Trusts Funds

k. Describe the human and financial resources, including sourcing and allocation (budget, human and financial resources and allocations). (Please keep your answer to 350-500 words. Supporting documents can be included in part 5)

Drakenstein Trust coordinates the funding of the project (Contact details: Jay Cowen email: Drakenstein Trust was formed in 1995 and is a registered NPO. Its initial primary purpose was to assist with financing the development and deployment of biological control agents which combat alien vegetation types prevalent in the Western Cape. Although this remains an important function, the Trust’s mandate has been broadened to support organisations that are actively involved in the physical clearing of these alien vegetation types, such as the Helihack project and others, and in providing bursary support to student scientists in relevant fields.

The project is planned, organised, and has the hands-on management of the highly skilled Aleck and Chris McKirdy, and they have brought together and trained enthusiastic working teams. The team participants are all volunteers, and they work under tough and often hazardous conditions. Many are already highly experienced in working with chainsaws, rope-access and other high-angle techniques, and others are gaining invaluable hands-on training.
Typically a tree felling Helihack weekend costs approximately R350 000 (25 310 USD). Over R4.4 million has been spent since project inception 6 years ago.

2014 – R 50 241
2015 – R 173 664
2016 – R 122 739
2017 – R 136 276
2018 – R 71 666
2019 – R 425 892
2020 – R 1 088 985
2021 – R 1 273 846
2022 – R 1 108 202 (2022 financial year to date)

Total – R 4 451 511 (approximately 318 898.53 USD)

Funding sources are:

Drakenstein Trust via donor funding (Parker Family, Conradie Family).
The Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA). The MCSA bought six Husqvarna 346 and six Stihl 250 chainsaws and pays for spares and maintenance of the saws.

The Fynbos Trust.

To date the helicopters used were Bell 407, EC Squirrel, Augusta Koala and a Huey (once only). Pilots that participated to date are Gert Uys, Bronte Heinrich and Warren van der Weide.

l. Describe how your project, the implementation and financing has been impacted by COVID-19? (Please keep your answer to 350-500 words.)

Helihacks could not take place during hard lock-down from 26 March to 30 April 2020, but the project was not otherwise significantly affected by COVID-19.

m. Describe your communication strategy and dissemination of your project’s activities and results to the general public. You can also mention how the UIAA could support these efforts, as part of the UIAA MPA platform. (Please keep your answer to 350-500 words.)

Fund-raising videos on Helihacking have been produced. The videos are available on the MCSA website and the links are provided in the Attachments.

The MSCA would appreciate it if the video on the Helihack project can be made available on the UIAA MPA platform.

5. Attachments

a. Please add the logo of your organisation here (if available)
b. Please add the logo of your project here (if available) n/a
c. Please attach any letter of support here (if available) YES
d. Please attach any additional documents here (if available) N/A
(docs may include annual report, business plan, promotional flyers, letters of support, etc)
e. Please attach any additional documents here (if available) N/A
f. Please add a high resolution picture here

Helihack sites in context of Strategic Water Source Areas.

g. Please add a high resolution picture here

Helihack sites worked in Boland and Groot Winterhoek Strategic Water Source Areas

h. More pictures? Sent over FTP site
i. More pictures? No.

If you cannot upload all your documents/pictures here, please send them via email to before the deadline of 31 May 2021.

6. Link to Flickr or aanother online gallery (if available) N/A

7. Video content as a share link or embed code (if available)

a. Fund-raising videos on Helihacking:
b. Hakea Plant Control Research (Hackattack) video:

If you have video as source files please send by WeTransfer to before the deadline of 31 May 2021) No More.

8. Please note that, by submitting video, photographs, logo and other material, you confirm that you agree to grant to the UIAA and BALLY – UIAA’s exclusive MPA partner – a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, create derivative works from, distribute, make available to the public, with respect to your photograph worldwide and/or to incorporate your photograph in other works and publications in any media now known or later developed for the full term of any rights that may exist in your photographs or video.
i. I accept

9. Your application will be assessed as defined in the UIAA MPA Application Guidelines. By filing your application, do you agree to have met all the criteria and prerequisites? i. I accept If you have questions regarding the application process, please do not hesitate to contact the MPA team under Thank you for applying for the 2020-21 UIAA Mountain Protection Award! Our team will be in touch with you shortly regarding the completeness of your application. The announcement of assessment outcomes and selected projects, will be communicated at the beginning of August 2020-21. The winner of the Mountain Protection Award will be contacted in midAugust for exclusive project video production in collaboration with BALLY and invited to the UIAA General Assembly on 23 October 2021 in Trabzon, Turkey*. *Owing to Covid-19, the format/location of the 2021 UIAA General Assembly may be subject to change.


Support letters:

1. Drakenstein Trust
2. Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP)
3. South African National Parks (SANParks)
4. The Mountain Club of South Africa


Helihack sites in context of Strategic Water Source Areas
Helihack sites worked in Boland and Groot Winterhoek Strategic Water Source Areas

Photographs sent via FTP site: