As passionate animal lovers and conservationists, we first saw our farm venture, which was a rundown old pineapple farm that we purchased in 1991, as a weekend get-away from the industrial town Richards Bay, where we had a stately home and a very busy life. Soon our vision to do more for conservation in the area, drew us to decide to move here permanently.
Our life task of restoring this land began, and with a tremendous amount of patience and perseverance, we set out to re-vegetate the degraded property.
It retained a small section of relatively undisturbed sand forest that we hoped would encourage birds and wildlife to return, as well as the re-vegetated agricultural fields.
This sensitive ecology is found only in Maputaland, on the deep white sands of fossil dunes of an earlier coastline where large tracts have been lost to agriculture.
Eventhough it meant that we would not derive any revenue from the property, we vigorously resisted the option of farming the Suni-Ridge land. It was necessary to give the land time to rehabilitate, and it has been a gradual process.
Read our blog article, “The beauty of Suni-Ridge“.
“We have given total commitment to our objective to rehabilitate the rare sand forest that occurs on Suni-Ridge.
Our first task was to remove the numerous snares in the sand forest. The property had been greatly neglected, so it had become a “poacher’s paradise” where bush meat from the property was being illegally sold in the surrounding area.
Most of the animals on the land had been killed, but wildlife, moving in from False Bay Park continued filling the poacher’s snares (read more about Protecting Wildlife).
Once the snares were removed, we decided to not introduce domestic live stock and the ground was left fallow to recover. Gradually tiny saplings started springing up and given the chance, nature healed the scars.
During 1993 we launched a project to acquire four properties that were marketed for agricultural development. Our urgent intention was to protect this ecologically sensitive land, which is the catchment for False Bay lake (see Water Catchment Forum), from being ploughed up for agricultural lands.
Eradicating alien vegetation was a huge challenge we faced. Invasive plants, such as triffid weed, tickberry and guava were persistent in the areas where natural vegetation had been disturbed. Removing invasive plants is still part of managing the Suni-Ridge Sand Forest Park.
The existing forest had been badly impacted, and a number of trees had been removed. When we acquired Suni-Ridge, we found huge holes where giant tree trunks had been torn down and left to decay. Nowadays, magnificent trees like the pod mahogany, red heart tree, lowveld wild berry, wild mango, lubombo wattle and acasia robusta are protected, and tower above the forest canopy.
Other areas in the reserve have grown into savannah plains, intermingled with young sand forest. We have nurtured and protected numerous trees, which have taken root in natural succession to the surrounding forest. We have also transplanted young trees from other areas. Water runoff from the land has been prevented, thus protecting part of the catchment of the lake.
Over the years we have drawn in the expertise of numerous organisations, such as the Kwa Zulu Natal Conservation Services. Their advice and our patience has born fruit.
Mission Statement of Suni-Ridge Sand Forest Park Environmental Rehabilitation Centre
Whereas the inhabitants of Suni-Ridge and the surrounding region share a set of common natural resources and depend upon these resources for their livelihood and quality of life and being mindful of the fact that the long-term survival of man depends on ensuring that natural life support systems continue to operate at optimum levels:
It was and is therefore agreed that:
An Environmental Rehabilitation Centre be established and that the name of the Centre shall be the SUNI-RIDGE SAND FOREST PARK ENVIRONMENTAL REHABILITATION CENTRE.
Suni-Ridge Sand Forest Park now supports a rich and diverse eco-system. See Wildlife at Suni-Ridge.