Wilderness Stewardship

The mountainous wilderness and can be experienced from our hiking routes, where the predominant plants are the iconic Protea species (Leucadendrons and Protea nitida and P. laurifolia, to name a few). The cliffs are home to a large troop of baboons and a breeding pair of rare and majestic Verreaux’s eagles. At night, the kloof is frequented by cape leopard, aardvark, porcupine, genets and the Cape Eagle Owls. Spending time in the wilderness lowers our stress, and it houses the beneficial birds and insects that flock from there to the newly rehabilitated zones. I find home within myself when I am in the wilderness’ deep, peaceful and complex ecosystem. Here I hear the voices of nature, and walk until the silence of your mind matches the silence of the environment. Not that it is ever truly silent; the call of the eagles travels far. In the fynbos the movement of the heavy seedpods of the restios are percussive as they brush against each other; the sweeping wind a song that never stops.

On morning walks, I can read the nocturnal activities of the leopards and aardvarks, and I see their scuffles and chases, digs and feeds. However, not all of the wilderness areas are undisturbed. Previous owners built and bulldozed and left the remnants of workers houses amongst the rocky outcroppings. We have removed 20 tons of rubble from these areas as well as kilometres of razor wire that inhibited the free movement of animals.

The more immediate, and unfortunately more complex threat, is that of the invasion of agricultural weeds, parasites and other alien vegetation. In the winter, we devoted a full team for two months to remove aliens from the streambed and mountain tops. Our toughest challenges were the strangler fig vines in the grove next to the streambed, but once we removed the vine, stands of willows previously obscured were exposed. And what a find that was! We also removed stands of slangbos that choked out the fynbos and posed an additional fire hazard, the same with grazing grasses and dodder (an orange hairy parasite) threatening areas of pristine mountain fynbos. Some days the threat of biodiversity and soil loss from these aliens are overwhelming to the point of non-action, but a journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step.

Continuum of Human Habitation

The last 150 years of human habitation had a dramatic visual and environmental impact on the Citrusdal valley,vhowever, continual human habitation for hundreds of thousands of years evident. Archaeologists have found stone tools, rock paintings, and pottery shards in most areas in the greater Cederberg region. This area is known to have the highest number of rock paintings in the world with a recorded number around 4000 drawing sites. I have found that when I take the work crews to these ancient sites, it gives everybody perspective on why we need to preserve the wilderness. We can lean on the connection to an ancient past to project into a long term future. The environmental destruction of recent decades is dominant in our spatial perception, leading us to only think of a short-term future.

At Cederkloof, we are envisioning a future where we can continue this sacred, abundant and fertile co-existence between landscape and human.

Restoring the Wilderness
It is essential that we not only protect but also turn around the pervasive signs of degradation in areas that, although in private ownership, are vital habitats in our natural wonders. Restorative agriculture and permaculture market gardens are relevant and popular current subjects. The wild areas are also demanding our attention. I grew up in South Africa with access to wild places, and I want to leave wild spaces for future generations; to treasure something precious. It has been proven that plants create rain, that where large areas of biomass are removed, rainfall is reduced and the areas turn to deserts. Natural processes are far more effective than our management systems can ever be, but our actions have inhibited the functioning of natural systems over vast areas. We can, however, reduce the pressures that are on these systems so that they can function well again and bring with them the prosperity of a healthy environment.

Practically, our processes on the farm include small interventions, and the permaculture principles help to streamline our methods. For instance, to prevent sand in our streams, we re-plant the hillsides with indigenous species, we use all the botanical debris from alien removal where we need to curb erosion and keep the farm roads covered to prevent dust on the crops.

Slangbos is an invasive pest in many parts of the country, but I find it to be handy around the farm. The plant has finely dendritic branches that hold sand in place and is tough enough to withstand vehicle traffic for a while. We, therefore, place the plant in erosion ditches and road tops. When we plan restoration, we do it as holistically as possible, and well-placed within a management plan for the entire farm. Correctly, we place our attention on the following aspects:

  1. increase biodiversity above and below ground
  2. increase biomass (volume of plant and animal mass above ground but also the root mass and micro soil organisms below)
  3. add organic material in the soil, our most important carbon sink and water retention device
  4. look at whole system processes, especially the intricate hydrological processes in arid environments.

Cederkloof is extending our wilderness stewardship to other places in the valley where we support restoration projects and advice on species selection and give workshops. It will take a great many people to turn around the degradation of the environment. Still, it takes one person to change their lifestyle, participate in supporting life-full projects and in inspiring others. At Cederkloof we want
to be that person and inspire others towards healthy environmental stewardship. We hope you do too.