This article first appeared in The Cape Times South Africa on 24 May 2017
Last weekend, I was privileged to be able to attend the annual cedar tree planting event at Heuningvlei in the Cederberg Mountains. The event, hosted by the local community, Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat and CapeNature, is one of the most highly anticipated conservation events in the Western Cape.
Meeting at Heuningvlei and planting cedar seeds
The crowd first gathered at the Backpackers Lodge in the rural hamlet of Heuningvlei where Michael Tollman, a Director of Bushmans Kloof welcomed guests, saying “we are proud and honoured to be part of this event, to be able to witness its impact on children and to make an indelible mark on conservation in the Cederberg”. Dozens of children sowed cedar tree seeds into rows of punnets before taking up their spades and jumping into the waiting convoy of 4×4’s transporting people through the Pakhuis Pass to the designated planting grove, a carefully selected rocky area and natural fire exclusion zone. CapeNature’s Executive Director Gail Cleaver-Christie and her team met the volunteers, explained the process, and handed out 200 saplings to almost 300 eco enthusiasts of all ages.
The endangered cedar tree
The Clanwilliam Cedar Tree (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis) is an endangered conifer that is endemic to the Cederberg region. Decades of unsustainable exploitation, climate change and increased mountain fires have resulted in the decimation of the species that is now under threat of extinction. Since the first planting event in 2003, approximately 1800 young trees have been put into the ground. The cedar tree is on the Red Data List and the juvenile tree is particularly vulnerable under the continuing harsh drought conditions. TreadRight’s introduction of the Groasis Waterboxx, placed protectively around the fragile saplings, has however increased its chance of survival in the arid terrain. The small round plastic contraption captures dew and rainwater, preventing evaporation and slowly releasing it onto the root, giving the plant its best chance of survival in the long-term.
Bushmans Kloof’s sustainability endeavours
Bushmans Kloof, an award winning eco lodge in the heart of the Cederberg, has always been proactive regarding ethical tourism, sustainability and education. Each year, Grade 7 learners from Elizabethfontein Primary, a farm school, participate in a sponsored leadership camp. Bushmans Kloof financially supports numerous conservation efforts that include the collaring of the Cape Leopard, conserving the rare Clanwilliam Yellowfish, managing the proliferation of the threatened Cape Mountain Zebra, and are custodians of 130 rock art sites, some up to 10,000 years old and curated by local expert Londi Ndzima. With so many treasured paintings on the property, the reserve now holds a prestigious South African Natural Heritage Site status.
TreadRight, treading lightly
Also playing a major role in cedar tree regeneration efforts and other initiatives both in Southern Africa and worldwide, is the not-for-profit TreadRight Foundation. Established by The Travel Corporation, with documentary film maker Céline S. Cousteau (grand daughter of the legendary Jacques Cousteau) as Ambassador, TreadRight financially boosts up to 40 sustainability programmes globally and locally, includes the Amy Biehl Foundation, Pack for a Purpose and Wild Aid.
CapeNature and education
CapeNature, a public entity and the conservation authority of the Western Cape, plays a major role as it generates critical awareness among learners at schools like Elizabethfontein, Elandsfontein and Grootkloof Primary and further afield in Cape Town. Through innovative educational presentations and activities, a future generation is continually exposed to various eco issues and is developing a passion and appreciation for nature and heritage.
After the successful planting session on the mountain, a festive celebration took place back in the Heunigvlei valley below. 350 people ate together and watched a riveting Riel dance performance by Die Nuwe GrasKoue Trappers from Wupperthal. Founded in 2012 by former Bushmans Kloof executive chef Floris Smith, the talented troupe, now also known as the Face of Rooibos, went on to win gold at the World Championships of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles in 2015, showcasing a near-extinct Khoi and San traditional ceremonial dance form – South Africa’s oldest – on the global stage.
The cedar tree planting project clearly inspires conservation efforts in nature, heritage and culture, building a legacy for generations to come.