Conserving the beauty and ecosystems of this Natural Heritage Site
About 40 years ago, when the first farm (Little Leigh) of Morning Sun nature Reserve was bought by the present owners, some large areas were severely degraded by a few decades of subsistence farming resulting in abandoned lands, exhausted soil, overgrazing, erosion and bush encroachment. 16 years of severe drought had intensified the environmental damage and caused habitat depletion.
Other areas, including wetlands, had become invaded and overgrown by alien trees. Abandoned settlements and cattle kraals were infested with noxious weeds.
Initially the owners concentrated their efforts on exploring and getting to know the terrain (see "Research"), making it more accessible and habitable (see "Environment (1) Minimising ecological footprint") and wait if nature on its own could repair some of the damage done to the fragile habitat of Morning Sun Nature Reserve.
Natural recovery has indeed happened to a considerable extent. However, more recently also more active intervention and conservation measures have been or are about to be implemented:
(1) Eradication of alien vegetation (exotics)
Costly continuous efforts are made to eradicate and destroy exotic invader vegetation, notably eucalyptus and wattle trees and noxious weeds. A large patch of very old eucalyptus (blue gum) trees has already been cleared in order to restore a wetland to a healthier state. The wood from these efforts is recovered for carpentry and making furniture for the Lodge, the balance being used to supply the energy needs of the Lodge. (See "Environment, Renewable energy").
(2) Protection of unique biodiversity
Morning Sun Nature Reserve is registered under No. 89 as a National Heritage Site, because it is a prime example of the unique biodiversity of the Soutpansberg (see "Reserve"). The local Venda staff of the Lodge and Reserve, under the supervision of its Venda Reserve Manager, is being trained to protect the fauna and flora of the reserve. Once the boundaries of the reserve have been determined, it is intended to apply for formal proclamation of the Nature Reserve with the relevant authorities.
The resident biologist and consultant of the Reserve, Dr Norbert Hahn, serves on committees who are endeavouring to have the Soutpansberg Region, or significant parts thereof, registered with UNESCO as a biosphere.
(3) Habitat restoration and enhancement
This is done inter alia in collaboration with Ben Breedlove, an American scientist currently doing his doctorate at the University of Pretoria on the subject of a "Function-Based Habitat Design Method" invented by him, for which international patent protection is pending. The method aims at designing and creating improved habitat conditions from animal perspectives and may include procedures such as
(i) (re-)establishing healthy growth of grasses or other vegetation indigenous to the reserve and palatable to herbivores;
(ii) (re-)establishing vegetation indigenous to the reserve which provides (selected) animals with shelter for resting, nesting and breeding at selected sites;
(iii) installing structures (habitat supplements) at or below or above ground level at selected sites which can be used by selected animals or groups of animals as shelter for resting, nesting and breeding;
(iv) reintroducing selected animals for creating a healthy balance of fauna to match the (improved/restored) habitat;
(v) selective reduction of bush encroachment, in particular sickle bush (Dichrostachys cinerea).
(vi) preventing and reversing soil erosion.
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