Doing their bit to save the planet, pupils at Cordwalles Preparatory School have planted over 1 000 trees in the past five years in the school’s forest. In a project that began almost 10 years ago, the school embarked on a mission to bring back indigenous species to the slopes of the school forest, enlisting the help of the parent community, who have helped fund the project. Every tree has been planted by the schoolboys and by separating vegetation zones, the boys have planted according to the natural water availability. Spearheading this project are staff members Richard Robertson, the head of science, and Samantha Hubble, the head of outdoor education. As a result of this project and the individual preference of trees, there are greater bird sightings and more bird species in the area, said Hubble.“Many raptors and owls have taken up residence and we have a healthy population of dassies, porcupines and snakes. I have even seen a serval cat,” said Robertson. Under the guidance of Cordwalles old boy Andrew James, from the Botanic Gardens indigenous nursery, Hubble said their plan was to plant naturally but with intent. “In 2017 most of the trees planted were more of the forest type. In 2018, it was more woodlands. Along the fences, we have more feature trees. We have literally started from scratch, getting rid of the gum, that offers no benefit, and building the forest with natural intent,” said Hubble. As a result of this, they have also managed to get rid of much of the alien species while the indigenous growth slowly takes over.“It’s actually quite amazing. Because of the gum we had a huge problem with the balloon vines, but now that we have removed much of it, we are getting lots of indigenous plants coming through like the black-eyed susan and others,” said Richardson. Of those 1 000 trees planted, 53 species are all endemic to Pietermaritzburg.“It’s important to not only grow indigenous, but those that are endemic. We have had some trees that are indigenous but clearly not meant for this climate and have not survived,” added Richardson. Serving a dual purpose, Hubble said, recreating the indigenous forest was also used to teach the schoolboys about nature in its natural surroundings. “Interestingly in 2018, we noticed that some of the trees were being eaten along their bases and we suspected that rats were nibbling on them. So, we challenged the boys as part of their lessons, to find a natural solution to this natural problem.“Eventually the boys came up with the idea of installing raptor poles to enable the already existing raptor population to perch, spot and eliminate the rodents. This served as part of their holistic education,” said Hubble.Teaching the boys first-hand, Richardson said, many lessons were held in the forest — called their “outdoor classroom”.“Often the boys are shown the difference when they are asked to listen and observe what happens in the gum-tree portion and then in the indigenous. And you just see these little boys light up, knowing they have seen and heard the difference and how nature grows in its environment,” said Hubble.Envisaging the project to continue for many years to come, and as a legacy for the boys and their families, Richardson and Hubble said their focus was to grow “this forest in the middle of the city as a preserve rather than a reserve”.