Cameron & Rhoda McMaster's

Articles

The Waainek Wild Flower Reserve
The reserve established by Philip Erasmus on the Bosberg is an excellent
example of a private initiative for Biodiversity Conservation, writes Cameron McMaster.

Philip Erasmus farms on Charlton, a farm on top of the Bosberg above Somerset East - a beautiful area of gently rolling grassland, blessed by a fairly good and dependable summer rainfall of around 600mm per annum. The area is well suited to sheep and cattle production. My association with Philip goes back as far as 1973 when I became involved in the establishment of his Dohne
Merino Stud, an enterprise that has prospered over the years and has taken me back to the Bosberg on a regular basis ever since then.

The road to Charlton is quite awe-inspiring, especially on the first occasion it is undertaken. After passing through the verdant and historic Glen Avon valley, the narrow road abruptly ascends a winding pass through thicket vegetation, to emerge 10km later into open grassland at an altitude of 1400 meters. There are spectacular views from the top of the pass, the steep forest-clad south facing mountain slopes plunging down to the left with the spectacular Glen Avon Falls at the head of the valley, and endless ridges of Karoo hills and mountains stretching away to the horizon in the north to Cradock and beyond.
I was first alerted to the botanical importance of the grassland on the Bosberg when my attention was drawn to some large and spectacular heads of Brunsvigia grandiflora flowering in April one year in the wide road reserves on the south facing slopes at the top of the pass. Even then, almost 30 years ago, my interest in wild flowers led me to explore further and I was to discover a wealth of floral diversity almost unequalled in the Eastern Cape. I was to embark on a learning curve that stimulated me to seek a deeper knowledge of the wild flowers of the region.

At the highest point at the top of the pass there is a narrow strip of grassland between the road and the steep forest-clad cliffs that plunge down to the valley below. On the regular occasions that I visited Philip to assist with the Dohne Stud, I took the opportunity to explore the area, each time finding more and more interesting plants. It was a challenge at that early stage in my wildflower career to identify and assess the importance of the species I was finding. Very soon I discovered that, in addition to being extremely rich in species, the area contained some very rare endemics (plants that occur only in a particular region). On each occasion I would tell Philip about my discoveries and the fact that these rare plants occurred on his land and that he was virtually solely responsible for their welfare, and so we looked into the possibility of creating a reserve for them.

The concept of Wild Flower Reserve fitted in very well with other tourism enterprises he was developing on the property. A large and rambling farmhouse nearby was converted into comfortable self catering tourist accommodation, and hiking trails and trout angling facilities were developed. The Wild Flower Reserve would be an added attraction for a wide range of guests. An area of approximately 500m long at less than 100 meters wide between the road at the top of the pass and forest cliffs on the edge of the Glen Avon valley was set aside and named the Waainek Wild Flower Reserve, the name of the property in which it is situated. For the last 15 or more years Philip and I have discussed the management of the reserve and he has undertaken the regular burning that has been necessary and the clearing of alien pine seedlings that sometimes come up from seed blown in from nearby wind breaks.

The two most important endemics that occur here are Haemanthus carneus, known only from the Bosberg (see FW 13 June 2008, Page 48) and the poker, Kniphofia acraea (see FW 27 June 2008, Page 56). The only other known population of this species is found in the mountains of the Mountain Zebra National Park about 40km to the north. There are strong populations of these two rare plants here, ample reason for the establishment of the reserve. Because the reserve includes the ecotone (the transition area) between the grassland and the Afromontane forest on the steep slope down to the valley, many other interesting plants in both biomes occur here. Over the years that we have made an intensive study of the flora in the reserve we have recorded many species including Cyrtanthus macowanii, Cyrtanthus tuckii, Disa crassicornis, Lachenalia campanulata, Gladiolus mortonius and Eucomis autumnalis, all plants that are target species for many visitors to the reserve.

One of the most significant plants in the reserve is a massive multi-headed female specimen of the rare cycad, Encephalartos cycadifolius. This cycad actually occurs in the Baviaans River area on the east side of the Fish River. This is the only specimen I know of on the Bosberg and because there are no male plants in the vicinity, the seed cones that it produces regularly are all infertile.
A few hundred meters to the west of the reserve on property belonging to Dr Pieter Botha, there is a small population of another rare endemic, the hairbell, Dierama grandiflorum (FW 15 Feb 2008, Page 50). This extremely rare plant has been recorded only here and on the Oudeberg near Graaff Reinet. An appeal in the local press for landowners to look out for other populations has so far not met with any success. Another remarkable discovery on Dr Botha's property, not more than 100 meters from the reserve boundary, was a population of the very rare Green Bearded Disa, Disa lugens. I have had discussions with Dr Botha on the possibility of linking these populations to the reserve and am pleased to report that he has so far modified his grazing policy of the paddock concerned to permit flowering and seeding of these two rare plants. On a visit to the area in November this year I found 30 plants of the Dierama in full flower. The ideal solution would be the consolidation of all these populations in an extended reserve. If this could be achieved, the contribution that these two landowners would make to wild flower conservation would be enormous and would earn the gratitude of generations of South
Africans who in years to come would still be able to observe these threatened plants in their natural habitat.

The Waainek Wild flower Reserve is visited regularly by botanists and plant lovers from all over the world. It is an excellent example of how landowners can contribute to conservation and can benefit from the ecotourism spinoffs that will result. Anyone interested in visiting the reserve should contact Philip Erasmus at Tel. 042 2433561 or Email. Great self catering accommodation is available right next to the reserve in the Glen Craig farmhouse situated in this safe, peaceful and beautiful environment on the Bosberg.

Also see:
The Waainek Wild Flower Reserve
And Glen Avon Falls in Images


Also see Landscape, Habitat and Flora Gallery
Waainek, Uniondale, Outeniqua Pass, Bruintjieshoogte,
Potjiesberg Pass and Avon Heights - 2nd February 2008

Waainek - 7th January 2008

Map

For further information about the tours we offer contact Cameron McMaster.