Fusing culture and conservation in an Arbor Day celebration
As Sappi’s General Manager Communications, Mpho Lethoko, explains, “there is a serendipity in the fact that Arbor Week and Heritage Day are both celebrated in September, which also heralds the beginning of Spring in South Africa.” Spring for many symbolises rebirth something our country, if not the globe, needs more than ever in the wake of COVID. Perhaps, as Mpho suggests, “there is hope for a reawakening in the human spirit of its [South Africa’s] people as it celebrates its cultural and natural heritage in so many ways”.
Sappi’s celebration of the cultural and natural heritage found within its properties in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal is not limited to Arbor Week or even the month of September, it is a 24/7, 365 days of the year dedication to the conservation of biodiversity on their property. This is illustrated by the 166 Important Conservation Areas listed on their property, six of which are declared nature reserves covering an area of 6 486 hectares.
This year the focus has been predominantly on their Threatened and Endangered Species Stewardship Programme’s flagship Warburgia salutaris (Pepperbark) project. Working in conjunction with the SANParks Skukuza Nursery, 2 000 Pepperbark saplings propagated through the cooperation between Sappi, ARC Nelspruit and SANBI Nelspruit have been made available to the Endangered Wildlife Trust for their Warburgia salutarius project in the Soutpansberg Protected Area in Limpopo Province.
In KwaZulu-Natal, 1 600 saplings that were propagated by Sappi’s Richmond Nursery and the Sappi Shaw Research Centre, have been supplied to the Sibaya Coastal Precinct. These trees form an important part of the natural vegetation rehabilitation programme, which is being undertaken within the precinct, whilst at the same time forming a future seed orchard in a secure area once the trees mature. With recipients receiving the trees at no charge and in return they undertake to protect and preserve the resources of our planet and make the seeds available for future propagation.
This is a project whose roots run far deeper than Arbor Week, as since inception, “Sappi and its working group partners, SANBI Nelspruit, Fort Hare University, ARC Nelspruit and the Shaw Research Centre have propagated and provided over 40 000 seedlings to traditional healers, urban and rural communities and created seed orchards in safe and protected estates,” Mpho explains.
Alongside celebrating the Warburgia salutarius project, Sappi also threw themselves into the Jerusalema Dance Challenge which has taken the world by storm. This was chosen to replace the traditional Arbor Week activities of assisting and educating local schools in tree-plant activities, which have been thwarted by COVID-19.