Dear Friends

Recent attempts at land invasion in the critically endangered grasslands on the Haenertsburg common have reanimated the local community’s consciousness of the urgent need for environmental conservation and put fresh wind in FroHG’s sails.  Since the successful battle to rebuff De Beers attempts to do extensive Diamond prospecting that concluded in 2010, activity has been low key but continuing.

On the matter of gaining formal protection for the Haenertsburg Townlands going pressure and agitation with various government structures has produced stuttering progress on a long journey.  In essence the scientific side of the Limpopo Dept of the Environment has recognised that this ancient environment with it’s uniquely rich bio-diversity must be protected and has some time back formally recommended that a state Nature Reserve be created.  There are many hurdles to overcome before this becomes a reality but an important one was that the land was vested in the National Dept of public works and it needed to be moved to Provincial Dept in order to proceed – Six years of pursuit has eventually brought dividends and this tiny incremental step on the road achieved.  Since then in 2011 there has been proper surveying of the land and other signs that this is proceeding.  We owe a debt to many people who have done their bit in this but in particular to Cathy Dzerefos who has been single minded in this pursuit.  She & her family have moved away from the mountain this year – we wish them well and trust it will be temporary. 

FroHG’s vision goes well beyond just the land immediately adjacent to the Village, expanding to all areas that in eons past constituted the Woodbush Granite Grasslands as well as surrounding areas on quartzite that harbour similar floral communities & biomes.  Long term preservation of this rare environment will require maintenance of a wide genetic pool, so to achieve conservation and rehabilitation of many small pieces of pristine environment – in combination hold a small hope that we might leave some of this bio-diversity for future generations.

One of the biggest threats is that of Aliens invading from commercial forestry operations.  Small groups of FroHG volunteers have made regular alien clearing hacks in relatively unspoiled areas and seem to make a noticeable impact. This continues in the coming year. We are setting dates in stone well in advance so people can plan:

Alien clearing weekends 2012:  18/19 Feb, 5/6 May, 1/2 September, 27/28 October.

Join us for a great experience of pristine nature and rewarding exertion.  Ace if you can bring along a chainsaw but there’s lots of work for many hands with whatever tools you can muster.  The first two weekends will continue the focus on the plateau below Serala peak and should co-inside with the magnificent flowering of Watsonias and Gladioli.    Come for the Saturday afternoon or the Sunday morning or both & then join us in the Mountain hut for the night.  RSVP to Nipper via cheese@haenertsburg.co.za or SMS on 082 8538754

To date FroHG has been entirely a matter of volunteers squeezing small efforts in between their busy lives. This means slow progress.  To accelerate the FroHG committee has agreed that we should raise funds for paid consultants to take matters forward more purposefully.  Our first step in this regard has been to engage Shelley Milstein to help with chasing the formal protection aspects and to assist us with proposals for fund raising.

Small groups of volunteers can make a difference in maintaining relatively pristine areas, however a future target would be to partner with government initiatives such as Working for Water and with the commercial forestry industry to initiate properly funded alien eradication operations with paid labour which are required for multi-year attacks on more heavily infested areas.  Longer term vision is to have sufficient equipment and to be able to engage a full time foreman who would supervise groups of temporary workers who would rotate through conservable areas each year.  This would compliment the inputs of Working for Water which are currently inadequate to hold back the tide.  Later we could potentially offer it as a subsidized but paid for service to Landowners who commit areas of their private land to conservation.

An ongoing project which has continued uninterrupted for many years now is the maintenance of the Changuion Hiking Trail; this is a most important initiative for promotion of our Grasslands and it is a common sight on weekends to see foreigners hiking our trail. Thanks to the small number of committed FrOHG members who have kept this going.

Rare Plants

Please see http://cathy-dzerefos.suite101.com/making-sure-tourism-benefits-local-wildlife-a395158  for an article by Cathy Dzerefos on conservation of the Grassland patch near Magoebaskloof Hotel. Besides a rare and newly-discovered ant species, Streblognathus peetersi, this Grassland also harbours a probable new species of Aspidoglossum photographed in 2011 by Sylvie Kremer-Köhne. This plant could not be identified by SANBI, which means it is likely to be a previously undescribed species. Formal description awaits.

Ebenezer Dam

As is apparent from what is said above, FROHG considers the “Haenertsburg Grasslands” to be those grasslands in the vicinity of Haenertsburg, sometimes in isolated patches, and not just the Haenertsburg Common. Most of these grasslands fall under “Woodbush Granite Grassland”. Some of the most pristine patches are on the “peninsula” at Ebenezer Dam as well as the perimeter strip surrounding Ebenezer Dam (between the dirt road and the Dam).   If you have not had a look at this strip, please do so as in summer with the Redgrass shimmering and the Watsonias and Gladioli waving, it rivals anything you could see in the Little Berg. Unfortunately the land around Ebenezer is getting very built up and landowners do not always know how important this grassland strip is – it is crucial as a biotic corridor. Boat launching pads, braai areas and other structures are going up in pristine grassland which most definitely does not belong to private individuals. The land is under the control of several layers of Government and parastatals, including Lepelle Northern Water and DWAF. These institutions do not have the right to grant permission for development here, as all virgin grassland is protected by law from development of ANY kind. (The relevant Act is the National Environment Management Act of 1996, wherein “virgin land” is defined as any land which has not been disturbed for the past 10 years.) If you own land near Ebenezer, or know someone who does, please pass this message on.  Ultimately success in conservation will depend on individuals accepting their responsibility to future generations and taking positive action to improve things – we cannot only rely on government or the law to solve it.