Albany Thicket Biodiversity Restoration Project
There is hope!
What is the most critical issue facing humankind today? I think we can all agree on that one – the climate crisis, hand-in-hand, the biodiversity crisis.
Everywhere we look, we are seeing, feeling and hearing of depressing facts that make us feel utterly despondent. And all this while we are expending large amounts of energy just trying to keep our heads above water and food on the table during the Covid pandemic.
We’re here to tell you that there are a number of incredible people out there who are dedicating their lives to literally help save our Planet Earth. We need some hope, some comfort in these times, and just learning about, and supporting these foundations, like Tanglewood Foundation, and Conservation Landscapes Institute will give you that flame of inner hope.
Get back to basics – restore the soil and indigenous flora.
There is hope - exciting, tangible, REAL foundation work that is being undertaken in the Eastern Cape, in motion as we speak, and ready to roll-out onto a large scale.
The Tanglewood Foundation has helped enable the next stage in this conservation project and has been the catalyst in moving to upscale the restoration work, by making the donation that bought the property, land, and renovated the buildings of the new Tanglewood Research Area. The project is under the custodianship of Wilderness Foundation Africa, and will be driven by the Conservation Landscapes Institute, with the restoration work designed by the Rhodes Restoration Research Group at Rhodes University. The existing protected environments of Indalo and Buffalo Kloof.
The unique landscape of The Eastern Cape is truly exciting – it has seven of South Africa’s biomes and a high proportion of the country’s fauna and flora species. This region has been recognized to be of global biodiversity hotspot significance, and has a number of centres of plant endemism with high levels of plant endemism. The Albany Thicket Biome is the one we are most interested in for this project.
The land was identified, purchased, donated and renamed Tanglewood Conservation Area by a New Zealand philanthropist, the Founder of Tanglewood Foundation, Peter Eastwood, who has a lifelong passion and devotion to Conservation.
Tanglewood Conservation Area will be used to upscale the Albany Thicket restoration research work of Rhodes University in Grahamstown (previously funded by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment). It will become the a model for holistic restoration for community upliftment and include of carbon, biodiversity, ecosystem functionality, and wildlife rehabilitation in an area of up to 350 000 hectares.
The Albany Thicket is perhaps best known for the well-known and iconic Spekboom or Portulacaria afra. Spekboom makes up a high percentage of the canopy cover for many of the 44 types of Albany Thicket. Sadly, it is a complete myth that Spekboom can be as effective for carbon sequestration as the Amazon Rainforest!! Previous studies have shown that Spekboom can capture relatively large volumes of carbon in the drier thicket types. Critically, it is important to appreciate that there are hundreds of other species in thicket restoration that will also capture carbon. Restoring with a range of species is likely to be a far more resilient restoration strategy that vast areas of a monoculture of Spekboom.
Along with the phenomenal carbon sequestration capabilities of a restoring thicket area, the biodiversity benefits are huge. It is mind-blowing that we have this massive opportunity to help reduce climate change. The cumulative and historical levels of degradation and thicket transformation are very akin to deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest, with the primary difference being that degraded thicket does not restore itself like other systems.
What exactly is Tanglewood doing? Rewilding!
Tanglewood is involved in the in the embryotic phase – invested in the ground truthing from small stage to large scale - from ground scale laboratory to large scale rollout – this ground truthing the research work will enable large scale ‘shovel ready’ restoration projects.
The big vision is to create an Albany Biodiversity Corridor, a connected landscape between Addo, and Great Fish Game Reserve, extending all the way towards the sea. An area where communities live and work in harmony with nature, and where we can once again have elephants and rhino roaming the landscape, with the ability to migrate along this huge landscape naturally, within 15 – 20 years. Now that is something worth getting excited about!
If we can achieve this in the Eastern Cape, one of the poorest, marginalised areas, overgrazed, and degraded landscapes, then we can set an example to implement this elsewhere as well.
South Africa’s history provides such a unique challenge to wildlife conservation, that it is almost overwhelming. Yet we have some of the most highly experienced and talented conservationists, veterinarians, ecologists, and professors onboard, devoting their time and energy to making this dream an actual reality. And that means hands on, getting dirty and working incredibly long, hard hours against unbelievable obstacles. Yet they do it, every. single. day
The 760 hectare ex dairy farm was purchased six months ago, and is currently in the preliminary process of being renovated. Previous buildings are gutted and repurposed as laboratories for students to do hands on scientific analysis of the soil, flora and fauna in the degraded areas, and here’s the big bonus – on the surrounding cliff faces are UNTOUCHED areas of Albany Thicket that will be used to propagate and restore the degraded landscape to its original design and purpose. There is miraculously 380 hectares of ORIGINAL thicket which originated (roughly 30-50 million years ago). It has been estimated that some of the oldest trees in the landscapes could be approximately 1 000-year old. The extant and intact thicket (which is largely untouched by grazing and browsing) because of the rough terrain, will be used to collect seeds, cuttings and truncheons to restore and repropagate the entire area. Seed and cutting provenance is a key consideration.
The primary, long term goals of the Biosphere/Conservation Landscapes concept is to secure an expansion, and ecological connection, of land under conservation management and regenerative agriculture; to restore functional ecosystems with all their natural biodiversity, and to establish an inclusive Nature-Based Circular Economy beneficial to all South Africans.
Tanglewood is starting with 320 hectares, restoring the soil to its rich original state, propagating the thicket and natural savanna and other indigenous plant communities, whereafter the wildlife can be reintroduced, communities educated, and over time involved, and community lives uplifted. The ultimate goal is to have 350 000 hectares restored within 20-30 years.
This will mean providing a large, flourishing African corridor, empowering people, and saving and protecting our wildlife and our heritage.
We have no time left to waste.