ReStory narrator: Ken Coetzee
Hunters Moon is a private commercial game reserve that was purchased and set up by Bill McAdam and his son Mark on the Seacow River near to Colesberg. Mark has been the manager since the reserve was established in 1999 and I (Ken Coetzee) was involved in an advisory capacity from the start. The first step was to put together a management plan which incorporated an inventory of biodiversity and identified all that needed to be done to turn an overgrazed sheep farm into a viable commercial game reserve.
Although striving for commercial sustainability in the game market, the McAdams were easily convinced that the sustainability that they desired starts with soil health, the restoration of a protective and productive plant cover and a balanced ecological approach to veld and animal management.
The aspects of soil erosion control, improving the plant ground cover and careful control of grazer numbers (e.g. black wildebeest, blesbok, zebra, springbok, red hartebeest and gemsbok) were thus core activities right from the start. At a later stage Mark completely reduced the “common” game numbers in favour of maintaining herds of rare game (such as sable antelope, roan antelope, buffalo, white rhino) for which the return was much higher and total numbers did thus not have to be as high to make a profit.
This was a turning point in restoration because fewer numbers of greater value meant less mouths on the veld, which together with some good rain years turned the area into a model of good Karoo veld management.
Income from hunting and live sales were extensively used to do soil erosion control works and improve road drainage. In hopelessly eroded “badlands” extensive contour berms were established some of which were hundreds of meters long and all of which reduced the runoff and improved water infiltration. The veld bloomed after the rains.
Small earth dams were installed in extensive bare patches, small hollows or pits were dug wherever needed, cemented stone gabions were built where erosion had reached bedrock and brush-packing was widely used. Invasive grey poplars were felled and turned into a dense ground covering mulch in which grasses self-seeded with truly gratifying results.
A considerable number of old broken farm dams were fixed and provided with a functional overflow, water is thus retained on the land rather than lost to the Orange River nearby.
Keeping rainwater where it falls on the land and consequently increasing infiltration became a primary concern as did the careful control of animal numbers. The results certainly speak for themselves and continued to do so until the current drought, the worst ever recorded in the district. Game numbers have been severely reduced to help weather the drought.
During the past 20 years, Mark had me visit the reserve every second year, for a careful and detailed evaluation of veld condition in relation to animal impact, soil erosion assessment and piosphere inspection, in truth a veld condition audit. During these visits we would visit every part of the reserve, walk through it, debate the value of the plant cover, come up with suggestions for improvements and identify sites in need of some form of action. In this way we re-evaluated the veld and its management continuously, in fact 12 times, each audit visit becoming a record of progress with management and restoration.
A key to the restoration success on Hunters Moon is that Mark has taken the trouble to learn about his plants, he is able to identify (scientifically) most of the grasses, dwarf shrubs and woody shrubs and trees. Not only identify, but also understand what each plant is worth, as cover and as food. Mark does not just see grass, he can read it, he can work out which stage of recovery the veld is by identifying the grasses, few farmers achieve this understanding of their veld.
In 2016 we surveyed all the natural springs still flowing into the Seacow River, during the worst drought in the district ever. Sadly, some had dried up but most of the springs on Hunters Moon were actually still flowing, and at a time when farmers in the district were trucking in water for livestock due to their boreholes running dry.
Clearly the veld restoration efforts over 20 years has resulted in more than a much-improved plant cover to sustain the game, it has also improved the ground water storage and the continued flow of the Seacow River.
Hunters Moon Safaris. Private game reserve on the Seacow River near Colesberg. This was a 28 000ha commercial hunting and game breeding operation. It is now a 50 000ha operation with a new owner but still managed by the same person.