GROWING BACK TO INDIGENOUS TREES
Strawberryhill Farm is fortunate to be situated in the midst of an indigenous forest. The farm is around 200 hectares in size, with a mixed tree habitat that includes pine, eucalyptus, blackwood and indigenous trees such as yellow wood, false olive, stinkwood, silky bark and many more. Indigenous shrubs include Tecoma capensis (Cape Honeysuckle), which blooms with glossy, deep orange, red or yellow flowers and is much loved by birds. This blog will discuss the value of indigenous forests, as well as the management efforts to maintain a healthy indigenous stand and return the area back to indigenous forest over time.
In South Africa, forest pockets occur in niche habitats, such as the base of south- and east-facing slopes, narrow gullies, and stream banks of perennial watercourses in open kloofs or on screes slopes. South African forests have the highest biodiversity of any temperate forested region in the world (Berliner, 2005). They are three to seven times richer in tree species than any other forests in the Southern Hemisphere (Cowling 2002; Silander 2001). Relative to the total area covered by each of the six biomes in South Africa, the forest biome contains the highest density of species (3 000 species in approximately 5 052 km2, as opposed to the next highest, fynbos with 7 500 species on 76 744 km2).
Indigenous forests are important in maintaining a diverse range of fauna species, especially birds. From the charming cape white eye (Kaapse glasogie) to the mysterious all-black fork-tailed drongo (mikstertbyvange) leaping from one tree to the other. Many species are heavily adapted to indigenous trees, according to our observations, thus by converting our lovely farm into an indigenous forest, we are preserving our natural ecosystem.
Forests in the Western Cape are restricted to high rainfall areas, in pockets of habitat, out of reach from historical timber usage. These forest pockets are threatened by invasion from exotic timber species that were, ironically, brought in as a replacement for the use of indigenous trees as a timber product.
Forest species become dominant in areas that are sheltered or protected from fire. The prevalence of fire in the fynbos biome has restricted forests to areas that are sheltered from fire. In some areas, incredibly old fynbos vegetation that has been protected from fire will start to resemble shrubby forest habitat. This would not be the case if the fynbos burnt in the usually 12-20 year fire regime.
We are gradually returning non plantation areas into indigenous forest. One of the benefits of indigenous plants is that you don't have to fertilize them. They don't require the extra care, pruning and nutrition that exotic plantations need because they're better adapted to the local environment and surroundings. This makes our conservation effort at Strawberry Hill Farm a lot easier. Indigenous forests are also naturally more resistant to fire which assist in protecting infrastructure.
In contrast to invasive tree species utilized for commercial reasons like Pinus Patula, indigenous species are well adapted to the environment, which implies that some maintenance operations are not required such as intensive thinning. In essence, growing indigenous tree species is less costly as they grow without interference.
The farm is gradually transforming the region into an indigenous forests in partnership with the Grootvardersbosch conservancy. Sites that are inhabited by harvestable invasive trees, such as blackwood, are gently harvested, enabling indigenous trees to thrive. The wood that is removed is used to graft a variety of wood products, including tables, book shelves, poles and firewood.
We've also helped some of the local landowner’s plant indigenous trees and have transported them from the Conservancy nursery to their designated locations. Cape Nature was a recent project in which we aided the conservancy crew in planting over 30 indigenous trees around the nature reserve.
Over the last ten years, we have made great strides in removing invasive trees and restoring indigenous forest vegetation. The process is slow and we still have a long way to go but we are excited at the progress that we have made! Come and see for yourselves.
Life in a forest in the mountains