While I warned, at the outset, that these newsletters would not become a regular feature, it is embarrassing to note that ten months have passed since the last volume was penned. It is sad, however, that our chairman, Craig Troeberg has passed away during this period and is no longer with us. Craig was always very enthusiastic about the developments and projects undertaken on Fountainhill Estate (FHE) and had a long relationship with the Taeuber family – He will be missed.
Our support for research is continuing and will be showcased at our second research symposium arranged for 11 & 12 October. It was decided to spread the symposium over two days to provide an opportunity for all current research, relevant to our section of the uMgeni catchment, the platform to address two themes that define the purpose of the Taeuber Management Trust (TMT), viz. “Farming in Harmony with Nature.”
Day 1 will focus on “The uMgeni River – Economic Lifeblood of KZN. What are we doing to conserve it?” and day 2 is directed at “The inter-relationship between the bio-diversity of our catchment ecology, and the importance of preserving it for sustainability.” Our programme includes 27 presentations and will allow for meaningful panel discussions aimed at providing guidance for future research and actions required to address the underlying questions within the themes. We are honoured that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, will be opening proceedings for us with a keynote address.
The line-up of speakers emphasises the role FHE is playing in supporting, and hopefully guiding relevant research in our area of operation. The more outcomes based approach bears testimony to the fact that we would like to be viewed as active role-players in improving the state and the sustainability of the resources vital to our area, the province and the economy of our country for present and future generations.
Much of the time between this and my last missive has been devoted to promoting and actively developing the Environmental Awareness & Education (EAE) component of our objectives. We remain committed to doing this in collaboration with existing and well established specialists, in their respective fields of nature, as opposed to FHE developing its own product. This approach has presented some interesting challenges; amongst which are that FHE is not an existing or well-known destination of choice, at present; specialist contractors have not fallen over themselves to avail themselves of our facilities; determining what themes attract interest and target groups that are interested are further issues to address.
This has not prevented us from hosting some pilot projects, such as Fly-fishing Trails on the uMgeni River, hosted by Dave Hadlow & Matt Weedman; three Nature Trails, hosted by Pat McKrill, Sally and David Johnson – which focused on the diversity of nature, encompassing birds, indigenous flora as well as insects and astronomy; a Raptor Identification course is planned for September (Tammy Caine) and a further two Nature Trails in Oct/Nov. Birders continue to visit FHE and we have hosted a further Snake Awareness course for our staff and neighbouring farmers and contractors engaged on FHE.
Thus far we have had limited success in promoting FHE and our EAE programme to schools, but are persevering in our efforts to establish a collaborative approach with Local Government and Business in attracting children from disadvantaged backgrounds and instilling a passion for the environment and nature in them.
In support of attracting more diverse sectors of the population to experience and develop a passion for the environment, the TMT Board approved the re-furbishment of the Rangers Hut and the Dairy Dormitory. This task is nearing completion and will contribute to greater success in achieving this objective.
FHE now forms part of the Central Umgeni Conservancy (CUC), driven by the three founding members FHE, Cumberland Nature Reserve and The Donovale Farming Company. Our objectives are primarily to sustain and conserve our natural bio-diversity and resources for the benefit of present and future generations, thereby creating a unique “protected” conservation cell within the Umgeni Catchment.
CUC does not see itself as a privileged club but rather as the nucleus to which landowners, subscribing to the same environmental ethos, can join thereby expanding the conserved property to create a corridor in which the endemic species can prosper.
Due to the collective efforts of CUC we have been able to launch a “Public-Private Partnership” with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), to combat alien invasive species within the Conservancy, before rolling the model out to surrounding landowners. This project is conservatively estimated at R1,5 million with the parties contributing approximately equal proportions. It involves Working on Fire’s – High Altitude Teams, to target inaccessible terrain, Working for Water’s – EPWP (Extended Public Works Project) Teams and a Herbicide Assistance component, to the landowners, to jointly target the alien invasives on a holistic basis. Apart from the obvious benefits to protecting the natural biodiversity, the programme is providing employment opportunities to some 52 people over a period of up to 5 years, and probably beyond if it is successfully rolled out to the remainder of the uMgeni Catchment, as envisaged. It is also estimated that the improved water harvesting due to reduced stream-flow retention could benefit some 2000 downstream households with the basic water consumption requirements of 6000l per household per month.
As the benefits derived from CUC membership grow, so too will our Conservancy thus enabling greater freedom of movement for game, collective improvements to natural flora and the affordability of protective measures for its members.
Improved management of our conservation areas has resulted in a slowly increasing trend in our game numbers and a wider distribution of that game over the conservation area as the palatability of grass species is improved, woody indigenous encroachment is stemmed and alien invasives are controlled. This management programme is supported by rotational burning, introduction of new blood-lines, mowing and in limited areas mechanical clearing.
A foundation is being laid for the management of our water resources, in a study being undertaken to catalogue our water resource capacity, its recharge rate and sustainability. This provides for some fundamental information that will provide the basis for modelling backward in time the improvements resulting from the early work in catchment planning and watercourse conservation undertaken by Mr Ernst Taeuber in reclaiming eroded and abused agricultural land.
To showcase the jewel that is FHE it has been decided to use our annual calendar, and possibly more technological approaches in the future, to reinforce the message of sustainable use of the resources and future editions hereof will continue this theme.
While the climatic conditions have improved over the period between volumes and dams have been replenished, the dry conditions persisting in the last three months again emphasise that the three year drought, that has gripped the area, is by no means over and stable growing conditions will take some time to be reached again. Nonetheless FHE is blessed with what appears to be a good cane season and a bumper avocado crop.
New challenges in agriculture continually replace solutions to previously identified problems. We have not been exempt from this with recent outbreaks of pests such as eldana on ours and neighbouring properties, but they are being proactively addressed in conjunction with our fellow farmers and technical staff within the industry. To this end we would like to thank our supporters, collaborators and neighbours for joining in the efforts of protecting and conserving our precious biodiversity in a sustainable manner.
General Manager: FHE
083 321 4100
(Previous copies of this newsletter are available upon request)