SA indigenous forest treasure in running for European funding
Words Nadia Krige, pics Guillaume Marais
Hidden among the farmlands and fynbos-rich folded mountains of the Southern Cape, lies one of South Africa’s best kept natural secrets: a 15 000ha stretch of land set aside for the conservation of indigenous flora and fauna, of which about 760ha consists of towering, lush Afromontane forest.
Known as the Grootvadersbosch forests, this treasure of indigenous vegetation is home to an astounding diversity of species – from rare birds to endemic frogs and butterflies, and all sorts of creatures in between – making it a conservation hot spot.
What makes this area quite unique, however, is the fact that conservation is driven by private landowners, under the banner of the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy. The conservancy was established in 1992 by committed local landowners, the GVB Conservancy’s main role is to promote the protection of indigenous plants and animals on private land. The Conservancy forms an important natural buffer area to the Wilderness area of Boosmanbos, managed by Cape Nature.
Nature conservation activities have been greatly supported by the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy Trust that was set up in 1997 and provides a formal institutional arrangement for the raising of funds.
Conservation was of course not always the main focus of those living in the area, as large parts of the forest were all but denuded by woodcutters during the mid-1800s. In an effort to reverse the damage, replacement trees were planted on a large scale in the early 1900s, but sadly indigenous species were not given preference, allowing an intrusion of alien trees. These days you will still find the likes of exotic blackwood and black wattle among indigenous species such as the dominant iron wood, red alder, stinkwood and yellow wood.
Re-establishing natural forest in areas invaded by exotic species is now one of GVB Conservancy’s main conservation objectives and one that they have employed with gusto. So much so that the conservancy has recently been elected as one of a handful of international conservation projects in the running to receive funding from the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA).
The project GVB Conservancy is in the running for will see them restore fragmented pockets of Southern Afrotemperate forest, using an innovative selective clearing approach developed by Prof Coert Geldenhuys and successfully implemented in many parts of the country and the world. What it entails is using large invasive trees as shelter for the establishment of indigenous trees. The exotic blackwood and black wattle species are then removed in stages as the shade-loving indigenous species become more dominant and create a canopy of their own.
The project will be implemented in two sections of the conservancy – one on the Buffeljags River near Suurbraak and the other near the GVB Conservancy head office just outside Heidelberg – exclusively in areas that were originally forested, meaning that no fynbos will be compromised.
However, all of this is subject to receiving funding from EOCA, and GVB Conservancy needs your help in the form of a vote.
The winner of the funding will be elected according to the number of votes received on the EOCA website, which is open to the public up until Monday 19 October. Be sure to head on over the project voting page and cast your vote.
The GVB Conservancy will also be having a public vote to assist those who do not have access to a laptop at Spar in Heidelberg on Friday 16 October from 14:00 to 19:00.
“Your simple contribution of a vote can assist our organization to expand forests, create jobs and build trails. This will make a real difference in our rural community. We will plant a tree for every 10 votes that we receive so even if we don’t win, the forest will,” says Aileen Anderson, General Manager, Grootvadersbosch Conservancy.
You can also assist in further conservation efforts by visiting the GVB Conservancy, staying over, buying a permit to do one of the spectacular MTB trails, supporting the local farmers through the purchase of their products and donating toward the building of trails and planting of trees.
For more information visit the GVB Conservancy website or give them a call on 071 691 6463