Home and away

Hello everyone. Ferncliffe forest wilding is suddenly seven months old. Just like that! Once again, rain is plopping on the iron roof, a sound that is high on our personal Best Soundtrack list. And – whoa – a Long-crested Eagle (Lophaetus Occipitalis) just swooped across the lawn.

So: It’s been high summer, November to February, and it has been as wet as a tropical rainforest, never mind mistbelt. Word is that there hasn’t been this much rain since the 1960s. Preferable to drought of course, but with its own challenges for the creatures that live here. Still, the 100 trees we’ve planted have been spoiled, with our survival rate at a pleasing 99%. Just one youngster has succumbed thus far and I take full responsibility; having personally dug a hole too deep in bamboo shadows. (Don’t worry tree donors – it’s not one of yours, we plant extra to account for the inevitable.)

The tree shadehouse, looking splendidly lush. Pic: Photojournalist Melanie van Zyl, who came to visit.

The other 99 are putting down roots, some slow and steady, others like firecrackers. There’s one Cape fig (Ficus sur) that’s double the size of most other trees – some combination of luck, position and genetic advantage.

We’ve settled in. Rocket, our rescue German Shepherd, is less surprised to find Raucous Toads (Sclerophrys capensis) hiding in the vicinity of his dinner bowl. We devised a way to get trapped Collared Sunbirds (Hedydipna collaris) out of the laundry, and keep ants out of the sugar bowl (well, usually). We’ve found the best places in town to buy such items as gumboots and bush-clearing tools that look like medieval weaponry. And wow, it feels like we’ve worked! Some days we just look at each other before bed and go, “what was that?” It’s as if there’s been such a need for restoration action that the project has taken on its own momentum, with us puffing along trying to keep up.

Rocket, who thankfully ignores toads, if not bushpigs.

It’s been so great though. Highlights we just have to share include:

·         Building our own shade house and filling it with trees – and then nearly emptying it again as they went into the ground. We’ve planted 100 trees. How we love that first century.

·         A mail from the UNEP inviting us to apply to be a partner of the UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration in the “Actor” category (yes, we’ve applied!).

·         Signing up with Berlin-based Plant-for-the-Planet which connects more than 200 projects worldwide with donors. They check credentials, too. And they featured us on their blog in February. Bliss. We’re also part of the founding network of global restoration community site Restor.eco thanks to early sign-up. Think global, act local: it’s as true as it ever was.

·         Teaming up with locals A Rocha SA and the Treasure Cove Trust to employ a team of 10 young workers. The Amanzi Ethu Nobuntu project (it means roughly “Our water, our people/humanity” in isiZulu) is a presidential job employment programme and it’s been amazing to have some extra hands-on site. They’ll be with us on and off until June, clearing invasives and planting trees. Most come from Imbali, and all are under 35. Brave souls, taking on walls of thorn.

·         Being featured in the press, about 10 times so far, a strange and unsettling honour.

·         Seeing new life forms (to us anyway), which is what makes this all worthwhile. A stick insect as long as our forearms. Promise. And eight species of frogs, going ballistic at dusk in the local dam. Also, the first Pearl charaxes (Charaxes varanes) of the summer, drifting by like dreams on the wing.

The largest stick insect in Ferncliffe stopped by unexpectedly one day this summer. Pic: Connor Cullinan

So: such pleasures, such pressures. Send us good thoughts, and any funders you bump into unexpectedly! Seriously, thank you for supporting this gorgeous patch of forest.

Connor and Janine