The Fountainhill Estate Bush Telegraph – Vol.8

The management team at Fountainhill Estate would like to extend our best wishes to all of you for the New Year.

2019 proved to be a challenging year with most projects proceeding along the anticipated path, but not yet completed; progress has therefore been difficult to quantify and left a certain element of frustration in its wake. However, progress is being made and numerous projects should be completed in the year of perfect vision, 2020.

The Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, is a case in point. The application with the draft management plan has languished in the dusty in-trays of KZN Wildlife, without receiving consideration, for well in excess of three months. A process to bypass KZN Wildlife has now been initiated and the project is now being tabled directly with the MEC’s office.

The efforts of the Institute of Natural Resources & Conservation Outcomes are proving very promising with a positive response from the Gcumisa Tribal Authority, located on the northern bank of the uMgeni river, between Fountainhill Estate and Nagle Dam. At Nagle Dam the Stewardship Programme, our initiatives and the interest of the tribal authority has received equally positive pledges of support from Msinsi Holdings, the conservation body responsible for conserving Umgeni Water properties, surrounding water reservoirs. Currently consultation with the Maphumulo Tribal Authority, located on the southern bank, is in abeyance to prevent spreading efforts too thinly – it will however, not be neglected.

Renewed interest, from neighbouring farmers, for possible incorporation in the stewardship programme is also being expressed. It is therefore intended to host an information day, early this year, for interested landowners, within the catchment, and the downstream tribal authorities to create awareness of the efforts thus far, benefits and responsibilities of custodianship, and also endeavouring to instil a unified sense of belonging to a concerned fraternity of custodians.

The contribution of our biodiversity research projects toward the environmental species lists within the Central Umgeni Protected Area, continue to add valuable information on the biodiversity we will be protecting. The frog project has identified 20 species and contributed valuable DNA information to the meta-barcoding reference library of Southern African species, similarly the small mammal and reptile surveys are contributing to this library. Thus, local research is making a significant and lasting contribution to the National efforts to protect the environment.

A very successful 4th FHE Research Symposium, showcased some 27 research projects of interest within the uMgeni catchment, and was opened with a stimulating keynote address by Mr. Desighen Naidoo the CEO of the Water Research Commission.

All research and presentations at the four symposia to date has been reviewed to identify multi-disciplinary approaches, supplementary research requirements and management implications for promotion and adoption. This review is being discussed with research heads, to direct future research, and promote collaboration. Management implications are being considered in management strategies.

The soil survey, being conducted by Kurt Bariechievy, has been completed for the commercial and upper conservation areas, providing some valuable resource information to inform management decisions. Currently, detailed delineation of wetland and marginal production areas is taking place, based on this resource data, with the intention of restoring those areas to their natural state. The final phase of the soil survey, in the lower conservation area along the uMgeni will be completed during 2020.

Unfortunately, the Closed Water Balance Model, being put together by SRK Consulting, received a setback during January, with a torrential deluge, within the catchment, of 74 to 108 mm of rain falling within a two-hour period. This dislodged measuring flumes, that now require re-installation.

The project to investigate the Reintroduction of Cape Vulture, will be re-evaluated this year.

Alien plant clearing continues in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs and their affiliate organisations of Working on Water and Working on Fire. The project has now treated 5289 ha of land invaded by alien species, both as initial clearing and follow-up treatments. A total investment, over 25 months of R3.9m, has been funded on a 70:30 ratio by the State and the collaborating landowners. 51% of the budget provided employment, signifying the massive socio-economic benefit. The project is gradually encompassing neighbouring landowners, within the catchment and will include 6 additional landholdings outside the original pilot project, in 2020.

Interesting research findings on the socio-economic benefits of these restoration projects are emerging in the multi-disciplinary study SEBEI, being funded by Danida, the Danish Development Agency. A first article featured some preliminary findings in The Water Wheel, the Water Research Commission’s periodical. The final results should provide some positive insights into benefits, future funding models and promotional information for adoption, of these initiatives at restoration, within the uMgeni catchment.

Rangeland management continues to have positive results with large increases in game populations. However, it has presented some management challenges in terms of sustainable balancing of species, on available resources, within constricted / fenced conservation areas. This has necessitated the removal of excess game, in particular selective grazers, from the FHE property. The management of game was further complicated by a particularly dry 2019, which hampered grass regrowth, in the face of high game numbers and a high calving season.

As an illustration of the dire water situation, water storage on the farm had declined to 51% of storage capacity by the end of October, when relief with some decent rainfall finally arrived. It did, however, highlight vulnerabilities to the ever-increasing extreme weather patterns being experienced over recent seasons. These continue to pose management challenges and the need for adaptive strategies, to compensate or at least minimise the negative impact on commercial crops and conservation resource management.

The Greenhill Biodiversity Centre should be completed by end-February, at which stage the promotion of it as a facility can commence.

The active promotion of nature trails on social platforms and on our Web page will be a priority of this year, in an effort to finally add impetus to the sluggish Environmental Education & Awareness (EAE), programme.

The sugar industry remains under pressure, while the avocado market is showing positive growth potential. It is becoming increasingly clear from the investigation of alternative commercial enterprises, that adherence to a few areas of expertise would appear to bear more rewards than dabbling in too many ventures. This being said, however, does not mean new projects will not be investigated and pursued should they indicate profitability.

We continue to be amazed by the willingness of fellow landowners to participate jointly in projects aimed at the greater good, and because it is the right thing to do. As suggested above, we will continue to strive at facilitating community cohesion and participation.

Yours in Conservation & Farming,

Ed Gevers

General Manager: FHE

083 321 4100

(Previous copies of this newsletter are available on the Web page)