Umgano

A Short Visit to Umgano

- 26 August, 2016

Drummond Densham, the Umgano Conservation Mentor, and myself, Environmental Advisor, travelled to Umgano from Pietermaritzburg, on 25th August.  The visit had two purposes.  The first was to facilitate the workshop on the revision of the Umgano Management Plan that was scheduled for the following day.  The second was to visit to the candidate nature reserve with some of the Field Rangers.  As it turned out, the rangers were out on patrol, so we went up to Umgano on our own.

The Umgano Sawmill in operationThe sawmill office, and stacked sawn planksMabandla Community members collecting the free offcuts from the sawmillThe old stock-theft camp in the NR, now abandoned

On the way to the nature reserve, we paid a short visit to the new sawmill which is now processing logs from some of the pine stands in the Umgano Plantation.  The mill has only recently been commissioned and is now operating on a full-time basis.  It converts harvested logs into lumber (partly prepared planks) which are sold locally to members of the Mabandla Community. The villagers use the sawn planks for building construction and making rough furniture.  The photo also shows the mill in operation and part of the stacks of lumber.  According to the mill manager, David Wigley, the lumber is in great demand from local community members, who can now not only buy the planks more cheaply than is available in towns, but would also otherwise have to travel to one of the nearest towns (which are 30 to 50 km away), for their building supplies. Apparently, there is also strong demand for the lumber from building suppliers in Kokstad and Ixopo.  In addition to the sawn planks, off-cuts are also made available to community members free of charge.  All in all, the mill is providing a really valuable service to the community.

We then drove up to visit the candidate nature reserve which lies in the west of the Umgano area.  The nature reserve (which lies in an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot), contains a mixture of the high-altitude grasslands, wetlands and forests.  Most of the grassland areas have again this year been burnt out, despite the firebreaks that had been constructed to prevent wildfires from coming in.  This is disappointing, as the reserve is burnt out by wildfires started by neighbouring communities, despite the efforts made to protect the area from unscheduled burns.

Umgano Mountain in the background – viewed from the upper reaches of the nature reserve

Umgano Mountain in the background – viewed from the upper reaches of the nature reserve

The views of Umgano Mountain from up there are quite stunning.  Also impressive was the small forest, nestled between the hills, opposite which a tourism camp is planned.  This forest, seems to be in wonderful condition, which one feels, will prove to be a big attraction to visitors to the camp, when this has been constructed.  There is also a beautiful little stream, a tributary of the Ngwangwane River, which drains from the forest. The immediate thought that came to mind (bearing in mind its small size and remoteness from the main river), was whether it could be trout free.  Should this be the case, it could prove to be of considerable value to science, as an indication of the state of the aquatic fauna prior to the introduction of trout.

The Ngwangwane is a well-known trout river, in which community members fish and which is also normally available to visitors to the area for sport angling.  In this drought year, however, the river is very low, and is closed to visitor fishing.

It was particularly rewarding to see the old stock-theft camp , once used as a holding camp for stolen livestock), but which clearly has not been used for a considerable time after the Mabandla Community evicted the cattle thieves. The camp is now falling into disrepair.

The area of Southern Mistbelt Podocarpus Forest in the upper reaches of the nature reserve. A small tourism camp is planned for the shelf below.

The area of Southern Mistbelt Podocarpus Forest in the upper reaches of the nature reserve. A small tourism camp is planned for the shelf below.

Formal proclamation of the reserve which is eagerly awaited by the community, is thought not to be too far away.

We will submit a report on the management plan revision workshops, after the next meeting scheduled for 7th September.

Bill B,

Dr W R Bainbridge,

August 2016