Few Limpopo Province residents are aware of a rare jewel in their midst: the highly biodiverse, Woodbush Granite Grasslands (WGG). As Limpopo Province’s only critically endangered vegetation type, with fewer than 6% of its original extent remaining, the conservation of WGG lies at the heart of Friends of the Haenertsburg Grasslands (FroHG). This past year, FroHG engaged in various activities in its quest to advocate for the conservation, study and sustainable use of these threatened grasslands.
On the 27th of April, international Arbor Day, volunteers carried out rehabilitation work at an erosion site in the Haenertsburg commonage-grassland. Dr. Stefan Köhne and Dr. Ali Halajian, together with other FroHG members, recruited several volunteers from the University of Limpopo to put erosion control methods into place. The day’s activities included the planting of indigenous plants at strategic locations within the erosion site. Later on, everybody enjoyed an educational hike through the beautiful grassland and the day was concluded with a sponsored lunch at the Red Plate restaurant in Haenertsburg.
Then on the 1st of June, FroHG hosted a hike through the Haenertsburg Nature Reserve (HNR) with staff members of LEDET (Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism department) and a group of interested youths. Many fruitful discussions were held about the importance and value of WGG, not only to the creatures that inhabit it, but also to people. Sylvie Kremer-Kӧhne, Quentin Hagens and Dr. Ali Halajian each presented short talks on the biodiversity of the grassland and raised some of the challenges that are currently being faced regarding the newly proclaimed HNR.
In August, the wildfires that raged in Magoebaskloof clearly demonstrated the devastating power of fire. Interestingly, the very survival of some ecosystems, such as WGG, depends on veld fires occurring from time to time. Other than the Magoebaskloof-fires, grassland fires are swift and much cooler and play a critical role in curbing bush encroachment. This year, FroHG commissioned a contractor (Kingsland Farming) to maintain the fire breaks around Haenertsburg Village and to carry out controlled burns in sectors of the HNR. The current fire management plan serves to not only maintain the biodiversity value of the site, but also to protect adjacent residential infrastructure and timber operations. FroHG is grateful to those residents of the village periphery who made financial contributions for fire-break maintenance; thanks are particularly due to Keith Teubes & Clement Scott.
Furthermore, enthusiastic FroHG members and helpers worked for many days to clear bush encroachment along Commissioner Street, revealing large amounts of old waste and necessitating a major clean-up. Therefore, on World Clean-up Day, 21 September, FroHG organised an event to tackle this specific site. Dr. Ali Halajian coordinated the day and made sure to raise awareness not only concerning our special grassland, but also about the environment in general. Participants included members of FroHG, students from the University of Limpopo, members of Theuwedi and some staff from Tzaneen Municipality. This year, the rubbish was sorted directly into various skips in order to ease recycling at a later stage. Skips were kindly provided by Eugene Schutte, from Greater Tzaneen municipality. Many thanks to Patricia Baragwanath and her Garden Service team, Phil and Tig Warne for lending their bakkie, to Sandy Moore for the signage, and to Rotary Haenertsburg for their support and sponsoring of drinks. FroHG plans on making this an annual event and is hoping to see increased environmental responsibility among residents. Dumping of any waste is illegal and adds dramatically to the fire risk around the village!
While some people were searching for trash on the one side of the grassland, others were searching for wildflowers in other areas of the grassland. This year’s Spring flower-walk, led by botanist Sylvie Kremer-Kӧhne (FroHG’s chairperson), was as usual a success. As there are more than 630 different plant species occurring in WGG, it comes as no surprise that the spring blossoming of a large range of species is a sight to behold. If you are enthusiastic and curious about wildflowers, be sure to attend next year’s flower-walk.
To wrap up the year, FroHG held its AGM on the 1st of November. More than 50 people attended the event. The following committee members were re-elected: Sylvie Kremer-Kӧhne, Laurie Railton, Sylvia Thompson, Quentin Hagens, Peter Moreroa, Wiam Haddad, Nipper Thompson, Johannes Ragophala, Dr Ali Halajian and Dr Ingrid van der Merwe. After concluding the official part of the AGM, herpetologist Ryan van Huyssteen of the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, presented a most intriguing talk on the special reptiles and amphibians of the Wolkberg region.
Finally, FroHG would like to welcome its new members, many of whom are initially made aware of FroHG when walking on the very popular Louis Changuion Hiking Trail within the HNR, which FroHG maintains.