Put two & two together…

We’re happy to tell you as we celebrate our second birthday: There is no such thing as the terrible twos.

Forest restoration at Ferncliffe is as invigorating, challenging, terrifying, and astonishing as you could imagine forest growth to be – but terrible? Nope.

Connor, Rocket and I – plus visiting volunteer Joseph – planted two trees to mark this toddler of an anniversary. One is a tree we’ve come to know well, a staple of the primary forest canopy: Lemonwood #25 (Xymalos monospora). The other is a new species in the ground for us, one that’s fairly newly described and that can still leave botanists scratching their chins: A Southern Swordleaf, #1 (Casearia austroafricana). They are both sleek and glossy as well-fed cats, and will hopefully stay that way. They represent trees number 273 and 274, and while we try not to obsess about numbers – it’s the results that count – it’s starting to feel like things are adding up. By the time Arbour month is over, we are confident we’ll have hit the 300-tree mark.

It’s hard to imagine how just two years ago, we were about to hit the “publish” button on the website, and make our dreams public.

Since then, we’ve unearthed rain frogs and velvet worms, gained the Best Dog Ever, learned remarkable facts such as how trees can sacrifice a limb in order to survive, weeded literally tens of thousands of invasive Kahili Ginger seedlings, found rare mushrooms, chased swallowtail butterflies and hacked trails.

For balance, we’ve panga-ed a knee (six stitches), found too many poacher snares (some not empty), lost trees to storms or caterpillars (both mighty forces) and stared down a dodgy bank balance.

Life is indeed beautiful, if complex.

We have finished our second Annual Report if you’re interested in a more official list of achievements and challenges. It’s difficult to pull out the moments that have meant the most to us. Two great ones include, firstly, being featured in a small film being made by Swiss-based restoration platform Restor. We got to tell the filmmakers all about Ferncliffe’s misty marvels and we hope the visuals will help introduce a whole new audience to the idea of restoration. As things on the climate front heat up, action, even on a small scale, counts.

The second day that comes to mind was the day before Ferncliffe’s second birthday. We were lucky enough to be spending some time on trails in the primary forest. We’d already walked up from the pilot site areas, pausing at two other sites of intervention. One that we call the Cussonia Stream Block was in hot sunshine, but a Real Yellowwood we’d planted (Podocarpus latifolius) was looking perky and definitely taller. Further up the bank, a Wild Peach (Kiggelaria africana) that had been utterly defoliated by caterpillars had undergone its own metamorphosis, and resprouted.

At the Waterfall Trail, all seven trees planted were without doubt taller, stronger.

But the big moment came just after passing a grove still rich in indigenous species, giving off that magical deep forest scent. There, suddenly, in trees not far overhead, was a pair of Bush Blackcaps (Sylvia nigricapillus). We’d never seen these birds before at Ferncliffe, although we knew they could be found. They have distinctive coral beaks, and they are endemic to South Africa and Swaziland. There are estimated to be just 1,000 to 3,300 mature birds in SA, and 40 resident in Swaziland.  They have crept from a Red List status of Least Concern in 1988, to Lower Risk, then Near Threatened in 2004, to Vulnerable in 2017.  

A Bush Blackcap, singing Happy Birthday as bird expert Ingrid Weiersbye says! Photo by Hugh Chittenden

Seeing them in their plump perfection was quite so wonderful, not only because it satisfied that very human urge to catalogue, list and collect. But to see something fairly rare still surviving at Ferncliffe, despite the degradation caused by the invasive species, is like being given an injection of hope. Planting more trees and clearing invasive plants isn’t just about numbers and statistics. It adds up to the survival of a complex biodiverse system. It’s about the interplay between all living things. If we can make life a little bit easier for the species that are meant to be here, we’ll have achieved our aims.

Thank you so much for the support. We can’t do it without you!

Connor & Janine

* Please mail us if you’re a local and would like to join a Whatsapp group to be alerted as to Ferncliffe news and events (all volunteers so welcome).

* Thank you again to Husqvarna South Africa for our trusty Silent Nature electric brushcutters and chainsaw, and Industrial & Chainsaw for looking after them so well for us!