Indigenous plant rehabilitation begins at Renishaw Hills’ development on the South Coast

Renishaw Hills, the new mature lifestyle village on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, is centred on the natural beauty of the region with a focus on restoring the indigenous flora throughout the development. This belief is behind the indigenous rehabilitation project being led by renowned South African landscaper and botanist, Elsa Pooley, with assistance from a leading expert in rehabilitation in KZN, Geoff Nichols.

Renowned South African landscaper and botanist, Elsa Pooley, and leading expert in rehabilitation in KZN, Geoff Nichols. (Image credit: Mia Morison)

Renowned South African landscaper and botanist, Elsa Pooley, and leading expert in rehabilitation in KZN, Geoff Nichols.

(Image credit: Mia Morison)

Pooley’s passion for the natural flora and fauna of the KwaZulu-Natal region started during her time living and exploring game reserves in Zululand. A founder member of the Botanical Artists’ Association of Southern Africa, Pooley has been awarded an honorary doctorate of science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, won the prestigious Marloth Medal of the Botanical Society of South Africa, the Certificate of Merit for Outstanding Contribution to Botany as well as being named the KZN Wildlife and Environment Society’s Conservationist of the Year in 1996. She has published a number of bestselling field guides to plants of the region and has resided in the South Coast region for more than two decades. Her work as an indigenous landscaper includes the Durban Beachfront upgrade and both large and small gardens and developments from the coast to the Drakensberg and Zululand.

She is joined on her team by Kenyan-born Nichols who holds national diplomas in Agriculture, Horticulture and Parks and Administration. Nichols was named Conservationist of the Year by the KwaZulu-Natal (1987) and uMhlanga (2001) branches of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa. He has also published a number of books and long-running indigenous gardening columns in magazines. He was responsible for the landscape planning for the original Mt Edgecombe estate with Ben Breedlove, and went on to manage landscaping and rehabilitation at Zimbali Forest Estate from its inception.

The Renishaw Hills’ project, which is already underway, aims to return the area, as closely as possible, to its original form, removing alien vegetation while planting local species to enhance the region’s biodiversity. This is being funded by Renishaw Property Developments – a subsidiary of Crookes Brothers Limited, the JSE stock exchange-listed organisation driving the Renishaw Hills development near Scottburgh.

The first phase of the rehabilitation has already begun with the cutting down of invasive alien trees, including gum trees and other Australian species. Those on very steep slopes, have been ringbarked.

“Although the trees are being cut down, the stumps will remain, leaving the root system in place so as to prevent erosion,” explained Pooley. “As these gum trees use a lot of water, the area will soon see a big improvement in the water supply with their removal.”

Every aspect of the work, which is being performed in conjunction with Mpambinyoni Conservation Development’s estate manager, Gareth Hampson, strictly follows the guidelines of the Environmental Impact Assessment that was carried out in preparation for the development. All plants being removed are category 1 and 2 on the government’s alien invasive plant species list, rendering their removal necessary.

The tree removal stage will only last a few months, although the Renishaw team will continue in the elimination of all other alien invasives. Clearing IAPs is a tough, work-intensive process that requires regular follow-ups. It will continue as part of the regular estate management to ensure there is no re-emergence of the opportunistic plants.

“Because of the size of the project the restoration and rehabilitation will be done in stages,” explained Pooley. “The biggest mistake one can make is to try and work over the whole large area. It is important to ensure that the areas cleared remain clear of alien plants. Without regular follow-up work the land can revert quite quickly.”

The project has created about 80 new jobs with all staff receiving thorough training. The trainee manager holds a diploma in horticulture and is currently undergoing training in the various aspects of practical gardening, garden maintenance and staff control.

To ensure the plants used in the rehabilitation are local, they are being sourced from the Renishaw estate which has large areas of undisturbed natural forest, bush, grasslands and wetlands. The Izinyoni Indigenous Nursery at Crocworld Conservation Centre has been set up specifically to produce enough of the correct plant material for returning natural vegetation to the estate. The nursery boasts one of the biggest ranges of indigenous flowers, trees and shrubs in the country.

The final result of the project will see a vast improvement in the biodiversity of the area, bringing with it an abundance of natural bird, insect and animal-life. The wetlands will potentially become great birding areas while managing the heavy rainfall more efficiently than the current farming systems.

Phillip Barker, managing director of Renishaw Property Developments, said that, although the rehabilitation project was a vast undertaking, the developers were committed to ensuring it was done properly from start to finish.

“Elsa and Geoff have vast experience in the field of vegetation rehabilitation with a real knowledge and understanding of South African plants. They are providing essential guidance to the teams under them, ensuring this knowledge and commitment to the indigenous flora and fauna continues throughout the development,” said Barker.

“Although we are in the early stages of development, positive changes will quickly start to emerge as the sugar cane fields revert to magnificent rolling grasslands, forest and wetlands – an area of abundant natural beauty.”

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