Each year, Bushmans Kloof in association with The TreadRight foundation, brings the local community together with the Cedar Tree Planting event. The event, which marked 15 years in 2017, is hosted by the local Heuningvlei community, Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat and CapeNature and has become one of the most highly anticipated conservation events in the Western Cape.
The crowd first gathered at the Backpackers Lodge in the rural hamlet of Heuningvlei where dozens of school children eagerly got involved by sowing 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-Smith, Conservation Manager Rika du Plessis and field ranger Jonatha Zimri met the volunteers, explained the process, and handed out 200 saplings, planted by the group in previous years, to almost 300 eco enthusiasts of all ages.
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 contraption holds water for extended periods, capturing 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, a multi award winning eco lodge in the heart of the Cederberg, has always been proactive regarding matters of ethical tourism, sustainability and education. Each year, Grade 7 learners from Elizabethfontein Primary, a farm school, participate in a sponsored leadership camp. “The potential impact on the learners is a motivating factor for the ongoing support of this worthy project,” commented Rory du Plessis, General Manager of Bushmans Kloof. “By empowering young people, we are contributing to creating a future that is hopeful and able to fulfill the dreams of our children”. Additionally, Bushman Kloof, with the TreadRight Foundation, 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. With so many treasured paintings on the property, the reserve now holds a prestigious South African Natural Heritage Site status.
Also playing a major role in cedar tree regeneration efforts and other major initiatives both in Southern Africa and worldwide, is the afore-mentioned not-for-profit TreadRight Foundation. Established by The Travel Corporation, with documentary filmmaker Céline S. Cousteau (granddaughter of the legendary Jacques Cousteau) as Ambassador, TreadRight financially boosts up to forty sustainability programmes in total and locally, the Amy Biehl Foundation, Pack for a Purpose and Wild Aid, to name but a few.
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.
Said Michael Tollman, a Director of Bushmans Kloof who welcomed the Heuningvlei guests, “On behalf of TreadRight and Bushmans Kloof 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”.
Image Credits: All images © The Incednental Tourist: Dawn Jorgensen Video: Eden Weiss Photography