It is with immense pride that we announce the official declaration of Tillietudlem Nature Reserve. The declaration coincides with the 25 year anniversary of the current ownership by Chris Wilkinson.
When Chris first walked onto Tillietudlem Farm 25 years ago is was in a very poor state. Much of the farm was overgrown with alien pants – wattle trees covered all the streams and large stands of bramble threatened to take over the grassland. Even in this dilapidated state Chris fell in love with the land, and had a vision to return it to its natural glory; with this started a 25 year journey of hard work and sacrifice.
A perimeter fence was erected around the 2000 hectare farm, and the internal cattle fences were removed. Streams were cleared, wetlands restored and dams built. The land use was changed from intensive stock and crop agriculture to conservation. Indigenous game animals which historically occurred here like eland, wildebeest, blesbuck and zebra were reintroduced. Smaller game species which already occurred on the farm were under immense pressure from poaching, so anti poaching scouts were appointed. Over the years these species increased in numbers again. The greatest amount of time, money and effort however, was and is spent on clearing alien plants. With this change in land use Tillietudlem Farm became Tillietudlem Nature Reserve.
While engaged in all this work Chris also came to realise the immense ecological importance of the land. Tillietudlem falls within a vegetation type known as Moist Mistbelt Grassland, which is one of the most threatened eco-systems in the world despite it being one of the richest and most diverse. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife classifies Tillietudlem as irreplaceable in terms of its conservation potential. It is also a designated Biodiversity Stewardship Site, and falls within the five year protected area expansion plan.
The value of Tillietudlem is mostly due to the endemic and endangered species which occur here like the blue swallow, Pennington’s Protea butterfly and the long toed tree frog. Tillietudlem also forms an important stepping stone between other Nature Reserves in the area, and the possibility exists to link Tillietudlem with reserves such as Impendle to consolidate important habitat for species such as Blue Swallow and Oribi. Furthermore Tillietudlem is recognised by BirdlifeSA as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is therefore recognised internationally for its importance as a site for bird conservation. But probably the most valuable aspect is that Tillietudlem forms part of the upper catchment of the Elands River, and is therefore vital in the soil stability, ground water recharge and water supply regulation linked to the entire uMkomazi River system.
It is for the above reasons that Chris has decided to permanently secure the future of the land by declaring it a Nature Reserve under the Protected Areas Act. This basically means that the land can only be use for conservation, and that it can never again return to intensive agriculture, even if it did change ownership.
So after 25 years of hard work and sacrifice, Tillietudlem Nature Reserve now becomes Tillietudlem Nature Reserve. Congratulations Chris and thank you for your selfless commitment to conservation.