Tick tock tick tock

We sometimes talk about “tree time” here at Ferncliffe (often when shaking our heads at the 2cm growth of a stubborn sapling). It’s gorgeously slow and utterly indifferent to the human need to rush and tick boxes and make spreadsheets and write reports. It’s a bit of a paradox within any restoration and rewilding project, actually: the need to wait and let things grow, versus the need to show results.

The last few months have seen us do lots of time travel. You will not believe how fast a new bamboo shoot, or culm, shoots skywards until you’re faced with a 3ha forest sprouting on your doorstep after rain!

Bamboo sprouts: they’ve been popping up and growing tens of centimetres a day since it rained in October!

We have been wielding all sorts of slashing tools to keep these under control in the growing areas, and are still resisting the urge to douse the whole plant with RoundUp.* Architect friends tend to suggest getting a bulldozer in as soon as possible… but some youngsters we met during the Amanzi ethu Nobuntu project have reaped the benefits of our more Luddite approach, returning to get in some decently paid work days before the festive season. That, and a stack of new trees planted – we’re up to 185 and climbing fast – makes us feel it’s worth sticking with the hard labour approach.

It would be GREAT to get a regular volunteer group together for the growing season though, as other invasive vegetation is as eager as the bamboo to take advantage of all the light and heat and water (contact us!). The usual suspects remain: Bugweed, Mauritius Thorn, Kahili Ginger, Inkberry. Still, all of these are losing ground in the Pilot Project areas.

But we’ve got a way to go before our restoration areas start to look like this:

Pristine forest beauty at Lemonwood Falls. Pic by David Gaylard

We’ve also been measuring saplings planted in 2021 to send annual feedback to donors. Here, time is a more sobering factor. The average tree absorbs 1 tonne of CO2 over 40 to 45 years, so the sooner they get in the ground the better. A couple of hands’ growth on a Tree Fuchsia (Halleria lucida) in 12 months is to be cheered. Some of the Cape Figs (Ficus sur) have casually doubled their height – whereas for Yellowwoods and White Stinkwoods (Celtis africana), every centimetre is a bonus. Still, summer has been a great gift, with every tree spouting new leaves like snazzy hairdos. Even some skeletal ones that we thought the bamboo had killed are being resurrected:

Just one of the trees we’d given up for dead, resprouting after the removal of bamboo. This Is a Searsia rehmanniana or Blunt-leaved Currant.

Project highlights since we last wrote include an Arbour Month planting day, where lovely locals and even the odd Durbanite came to help us get trees in the ground. Lots were donated by the friends and family of environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan for his 60th birthday, and they will grow adjacent to the property where he grew up and fell for nature in all its complexity. We were also featured in a comprehensive article in the Financial Mail (those without subscriptions can access it here, on the writer’s website), and went dashing about in the undergrowth to identify species for the Great Southern BioBlitz.

Lovely things we’ve seen? Well, Rocket is obsessed with Marsh Terrapins, who are dragging themselves ashore to lay eggs – not quite leatherback turtles, but quite epic nevertheless. And they sure run the gauntlet, what with Rocket’s urge to chew on them, and then having to try and dig through a mat of bamboo roots.

A horrified Marsh Terrapin, caught out of water, sunning itself on a boulder. Pic by Connor Cullinan

Juvenile birds are everywhere. Spotty Chorister Robin-chats, and desperate, vocal Dusky Flycatchers, haranguing their parents for snacks. And short-tailed Cape White-eyes skulking in bushes. The great prize was when a Lesser Swallow couple returned to complete their half-built home under our eaves. Last month, three babies popped from the nest like champagne corks, perfect copies of the parents in every way (except they did have to learn how to get back inside).

What we’re most proud of though, is our tree survival rate. All that work with bamboo guards and care is paying off, as is the decision to map and tag the trees from the get-go. Monitoring and evaluation is something one reads a lot about, and it isn’t all that easy to do on a shoestring budget. But here’s a recent map of our trees on the Treemapper App, each dot a labour of love:

Our page on Plant-for-the-Planet, with each tree mapped. (There are a few that still need capturing.)

Of those tiny dots, each unfurling new leaves and reaching for the sky?

An amazing 97.9% have survived to date. We don’t mind if they grow slowly, roots stretching into soil at their own pace. We just want them to be here in great green numbers once we’re long gone. Here’s to the survivors!

We hope you enjoy some slower tree time yourselves at some point this month. And to all who’ve (almost) survived 2022 and are looking for gifts and carbon offsets for their travels? We’ve taken 20% off some of our special trees and an artist’s print next week, 5 to 12 December! Happy shopping.

A damp day out! Pic by Jackie Chambers

Thank you so much to all of you who love and support this forest.

Connor & Janine

*  Thank you again to Husqvarna SA for the electric brushcutters, which help with our endless bamboo problem!