July 2, 2015

Hard Graft

The bush is the greatest classroom there is.  Yes, theoretical knowledge is important, and trust me, there is a bucket-load on a FGASA Field Guide Level 1 course, but there is no substitute for time spent in the field.  In addition to EcoTraining's twice daily activities in game rich areas, the students are expected to get their hands dirty and help out with some reserve maintenance.  If it wasn’t for reserves and conservancies, we would not have the opportunity to offer these courses and perhaps tourists would not even have a chance to see these areas, such is man’s habit of developing land at all costs.  Despite there being a module dedicated to conservation management, what better way to give something back than by helping to keep the bush looking as pristine as possible.

Getting ready to blow off some steam
As an added bonus, the students get the chance to blow off a bit of steam and frustration after weeks of hard learning.  Where possible we try to clear over-hanging branches, fix erosion channels in roads and place bolsters and mitre drains, which are designed to funnel water off the road and reduce weathering effects.  There is nothing like a bit of hard labour to clear the cobwebs of mental over stimulation and without exception, students throw themselves into exercises like this with great gusto!   There is something very primal about welding a panga and both men and women attack the cause with equal enthusiasm!

Despite the fun and games, the students also learn about the perils of poor management.  Many of the reserves are old cattle farm, with soil that has been pillaged of nutrients by hundreds of head of hungry cattle.  The grass is destroyed, removing competition for the wooded plants, and thus dense thickets of pioneer species inhabitat large areas of the land.  Pioneers are designed to rehabilitate the soil by adding nutrients and sheltering the soil from weathering, but it does this at the detriment of species diversity.  Sometimes these thickets can become so thick that animals simply cannot penetrate them and the carrying capacity of the area (especially of grazing animals) is significantly reduced.  This is one of many challenges that face many private reserves in South Africa and they need all the help they can get.

Let the bush clearing begin
Hard at work
Something as simple as clearing roads of overhanging branches can make a huge difference to a guest experience; and since EcoTraining students are training as guides, it is imperative to understand that guest satisfaction is massively important.  Unfortunately, we live in a capitalist world whereby the only way to protect most wilderness areas, is to make them a viable commercial operation and make money.  Like it or not, no guests means no income for the reserve and soon there will be no reserve.  If guests are constantly bobbing and weaving more than a young Mohamed Ali, they will not return!  Simple little touches such as a comfortable ride without the perils of losing an eye to rogue thorn go a long way!

Blog post and photos by Ben Coley

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