Wild’s editor joined the volunteers who plant cedar trees against the slopes of Krakadouw in the Cederberg. By Romi Boom

Holding up a glass jar of extremely precious cedar tree seeds, CapeNature’s Rika du Plessis commands the attention of about 300 conservation volunteers, school children and families from all over the Western Cape. Rika, conservation manager at Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, exudes enthusiasm for the annual tree planting event at Heuningvlei in the Cederberg Wilderness Area.

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Wild magazine editor Romi Boom proudly holds up her cedar tree, ready for planting. Pictures courtesy of Romi Boom

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Precious cedar tree seeds

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The 4×4 route into Heuningvlei is only opened for the cedar tree planting event. The rest of the year access is by donkey cart or on foot.

This unique conservation initiative is aimed at preserving the endangered Clanwilliam cedar tree (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis), with about 200 trees planted on 20 May 2017. The day kicked off with refreshments at the Heuningvlei Backpackers Lodge, where after Rika explained the reasons for the project that has just celebrated its 15th anniversary.

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CapeNature’s Rika du Plessis

The endemic Clanwilliam cedar tree is listed as critically endangered on the Red Data List. Since January 2013, when three different fires ravaged close to 30% of the Cederberg Wilderness Area, the Cedar Tree Project has taken on even more significance. Apart from regular bush fires in the area, unsustainable exploitation and lack of water have caused the tree to face extinction.

Michael Tollman, owner of Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat, co-host of the event, emphasised his company’s commitment to preserving the precious natural environment of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Bushmans Kloof is a sanctuary for many indigenous plants, animals and birds, including the endangered Cape mountain zebra. It is also home to over 130 Bushman rock art sites.

The children can hardly wait to start planting the priceless cedar seeds. With tiny fingers, they bore holes in the soil in seed trays, plant a few seeds and trickle water over their efforts. Then Rika gives the go-ahead for the scramble to the wilderness area above the hamlet. Most folks take their vehicles, some hop onto bakkies and game viewers, others decide to hike up the mountain. Many of the volunteers are armed with their own hand spades to ensure that the fragile saplings are carefully entrusted to the sandy Cederberg soil.

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At the plant site, we try not to look at the burnt skeletons of mature cedars dotting the landscape. Rika briefs us on the process and indicates the area to be planted. The eco enthusiasts each receive a bottle of water with which to kickstart the growth of the vulnerable juvenile tree.

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The Groasis Waterboxx

A Dutch incubation invention, the Groasis Waterboxx, increases its chances of survival by cocooning a sapling. It slowly releases water on a drip irrigation principle via a wick that descends into a plastic receptacle for dew and rain water. At a cost of R300, the public can sponsor a Waterboxx.

Learners from local primary schools, Elizabethfontein, Elandsfontein and Grootkloof, participate in the planting session, clearly displaying their passion for natural heritage and the great outdoors. To quote Rory du Plessis, general manager at Bushmans Kloof: “This project is a great example of teamwork. The ceremony represents a deep commitment by all involved to saving this special tree – a vital part of the Cederberg region’s biodiversity.”

After the planting, the party starts! A yummy luncheon has been prepared by Bushmans Kloof; traditional Cape bobotie followed by milk tart and chocolate brownies. Next up is live entertainment provided by Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers, a troupe of riel dancers from Wupperthal who won gold at the World Championships of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles in 2015.

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Riel dancers from Wupperthal posing with the autumn issue of Wild magazine.

Should you wish to attend next year, contact Bushmans Kloof or CapeNature for details. The event is scheduled for the third weekend in May 2018. CapeNature offers accommodation at Kliphuis, Algeria and various other self-catering cottages.