We departed on a rainy Friday afternoon to Borakalalo National Park for our Veld Management lecture and practical weekend. I was looking forward to another weekend camping on the banks of the Moretele River.
As usual, the weekend formalities started with a test, this time on our knowledge of trees. Once the test was behind us, we could relax around the campfire.
On Saturday we woke up to a beautiful misty morning with a little bit of a chill in the air.
Jemmé guarding over the kettle for that first cup in the morning, while Quartus is all smiles after his shower
Our Veld Management lecturer was Prof. Bob Scholes, a systems ecologist with a particular interest in the savannas of Africa. Prof. Scholes is one of the top 1% of environmental scientists in the world. He is recognised globally as a leading researcher within environmental science, systems ecology, savanna ecology and global climate change.
He uses the Socrates method of teaching – a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. This worked very well being out in the veld and in a relaxed atmosphere.
Prof. Scholes explained the importance of understanding the key elements of Veld Management. A clear objective is required. Goals are determined and actions decided on. Followed by constant monitoring to see if the goals are being achieved.
It is important to know how much power we have when making decisions combined with the knowledge that we have. When it comes to veld management it is better to make a large change than to fiddle on a small scale, as then we are just messing about.
As our actions could have potentially undesired results, we need to ask ourselves if we can reverse the effect of our decisions in our lifetime. Otherwise we could potentially leave a mess for our kids and future generations to sort out.
Cooperative argumentative dialogue in action
We learned that the main tools for vegetation management are fire, stocking rate (what species and how many animals per area) and water.
All ecosystems in southern Africa are dependent on fire, as the associated habitats are created by burning. Managing a veld by burning it is a science that is often not well understood by the general public, and therefore often criticised.
Larger animals are normally able to survive veld fires as long as they are able to move through the fire and are not trapped against a fence. Although some smaller animals such as tortoises who cannot move quickly enough, do perish in fires, their offspring survive as tortoises lay their eggs under the ground where the temperature hardly changes during a fire. Then there are some, who unfortunately cannot be killed by veld fires such as ticks, they go into hiding in the soil at the sign of smoke. Who said life is fair??
Our eyes were opened to different ecosystems around us. There is even a ‘Kalahari Desert’ in Borakalalo!
Marching from one Ecosystem to another
As soil forms the foundation on which plants grow, it is important to understand its properties and how it is formed. We were shown how to test for different soil types by making balls, worms and doughnuts from mud.
Masterchef – Mud class
On Sunday, Prof Scholes explained how veld composition is determined without having to count and note every single grass species. We were encouraged to focus on one small area at a time, gathering as much information as possible by using all of our senses. Until ultimately, we will apparently be able to recognise the smell of fornicating fungi 😊
A simple but effective method to focus on a specific area
What better ways are there to spend a weekend in the bushveld, learning about nature and seeing it with new eyes.
We were truly privileged to have Prof. Scholes as our lecturer. He encouraged us to think about and understand what is going on around us in nature.
Bushveld Mosaic is a challenging course but offering so much more than I could ever have imagined.
Ed’s Note: Many thanks to student Antoinette for this very enlightening report, and maybe fitting to end with a Socrates quote “Wisdom begins in wonder.” – Socrates.