Fountain Hill Estate research symposium

2018-10-10 06:04

THIS is the third year in which the Fountain Hill Estate (FHE), near Wartburg, has hosted a meaningful research symposium.

FHE, owned by the Taeuber Management Trust (TMT), is a carefully managed combination of respectful land use, on which sugarcane, timber, avocados, pristine grasslands, carefully planned dams, and wild game all exist together. Agricultural and conservation activities take place in harmony with each other. The symposium, which emerged out of an on-going research partnership between FHE, UKZN and other partners, catered for a rich diversity of speakers and presenters. This included hands-on farmers, lecturers, postgraduate and undergraduate students, representatives of Umgeni Water, botanists, zoologists, froggers and many more.

The keynote address was given by Dr. John Hanks, a stalwart of conservation work across South Africa. Interestingly, in his keynote address, Hanks urged the audience not to get caught up in only conserving large charismatic species like rhino and elephant, but to also think about pollinators, other insects, and the landscapes beyond protected areas as priorities for conservation. Whilst highlighting the threats of rapid population growth to ecosystems in Africa, he called for more meaningful engagement with local communities. He went on to emphasise the importance of environmental education and the wildlife economy as a source of employment. Hanks referred to small conservation areas in particular, and said that a time will come when humanity will have to decide where our efforts should be invested, acknowledging that we may lose some conservation areas. We need to identify crucial conservation areas and concentrate on those, rather that try to save it all, and in the end, lose it all.

One of the talks at the symposium was presented by well-known local naturalist Dr. David Johnson, who spoke on the development and spread of vegetation through seed distribution by birds.

On day two of the symposium, Konrad Taueber gave a closing talk in which he described the history of the farm, the philanthropic work of the TMT (which goes beyond FHE) and gave some insight into future plans of the TMT and FHE. FHE supports research and philanthropy which helps the FHE team further their vision of “farming in harmony with nature”. They are working towards creating a centre for biodiversity research which will have a local to global reach and impact — growing the existing research activities and formalising the programme.

Through this centre, the trust envisages to continue to question the degree to which farming in harmony with nature makes a difference and contributes to sustainability...The TMT and FHE and all it employees, owners, trustees and managers are passionate about sound land management, biodiversity, conservation and education which makes economic sense.

Duncan Hay, of the Institute of Natural Resources, commented in his closing words: “FHE is a crucible for collaborative research; and collaboration will lead to more sustainable solutions...the next frontier for the research collaboration at FHE is to ask ‘How does our research bring about change?’” He went on to say that we need to make the knowledge work and take it forward both on and beyond the farm to have an impact — this is critically important since “we all live here”, in this catchment and landscape. He also noted how encouraging it was to see more women involved in scientific research.

FHE is building capacity in applied environmental research for sustainability. Researchers are being given opportunities to conduct rigorous science, whilst working in a collaborative space and realising the value of multi-disciplinary research.

At the end of the two-day symposium, a prize was presented to the person who had delivered the best presentation. This year’s award went to Jessica Cockburn, from Rhodes University, who spoke on her PhD research on the importance of collaboration between different stakeholders for sustainable landscape management.Jessica received a generous financial contribution towards her sustainability research activities from the TMT.

The philanthropic approach of the TMT and FHE in all their activities is an example to us all. The far-reaching effects of the research done on the property and beyond, but also through the encouragement and generosity of the TMT, is immeasurable.

Each land-owner has a profound responsibility towards the land and the way in which it is managed for the sake of the land and its flora and fauna, and society at large.

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