A WORD FROM THE CEO

Yolan Friedmann, EWT CEO

yolanf@ewt.org.za

It all began with an email in March 2015 from a wonderful ally and friend in conservation, Rob Brett, who works with our partner Conservation International. Rob asked me if we could meet regarding the potential for the EWT to get involved in the conservation of land in the Soutpansberg Mountains as he was engaging with Phil and Sue Roberts, an Australian couple who had visited the area, fallen in love with it, and wanted to help purchase a property to secure this critical landscape for Leopard conservation. For 40 odd years, the EWT had held the belief that our most effective position was to support other landowners to conserve habitats and species and not be in the ‘land game’ ourselves. But this conservation with Rob sparked my interest, and the more we spoke about this forgotten mountain, the urgent need for its formal protection, the critical importance of its water catchments, cultural heritage sites and extraordinary levels of species endemism, the more it became evident that the best way to catalyse urgent conservation attention was to have some skin in the game as a landowner ourselves.

From what began with Phil and Sue’s passionate desire to invest in African conservation in 2015 has now become a conservation success story unfolding before our eyes, where an overlooked and little-known Garden of Eden is becoming a model for sustainable conservation and an emerging nature-based local economy.

The Roberts’ funding resulted in the initial purchase of the 1,400-hectare Medike Nature Reserve. In just six short years, with the extraordinary support of partners like the Rainforest Trust and Doug Wilson, we doubled the reserve’s size to include Medike West. The dream to create a 23,000-hectare Protected Area is fast becoming a reality, with the commitment of several landowners to include their properties through the establishment of the Western Soutpansberg Nature Reserve Association in 2020 to protect and manage the area through the biodiversity stewardship programme, increasing the protection of the mountain’s unique biodiversity.

With funding from the F E van Pletzen / L Steynberg Trust, we reached another fantastic milestone last week by opening up over 40 km of trail running paths and another 68 km of hiking trails across several spectacular landscapes and farms in the magical mountain. I was fortunate enough to be part of the recce team, which spent five days testing these virgin trails that will open access to nature lovers globally to enjoy this serene wilderness and support its ongoing conservation. Moreover, it is part of creating sustainable, nature-based employment opportunities for our trail-cutters, rangers, and guides who hail from local communities and are eager to share their natural and cultural heritage with visitors. This is a unique opportunity to undertake a true wilderness hike in which you can experience absolute quiet, untampered vistas, pristine wilderness, overwhelming beauty, unique biodiversity, large numbers of endemic and highly threatened species, and ancient cultural history. Just some of the features you will see on this hike and nowhere else is a Yellowwood forest with trees of over 80 m high, Euphorbias, Giant Strelitzias, and Samango monkeys and a Leopard density that turns sand roads into veritable tracking highways every morning.

Watch this space for the official opening of hiking, trail running, and mountain bike trails next month, as well as opportunities to do specialist experiences for birders and tree huggers, all to the benefit of conservation and the upliftment of communities in this special place. For more, visit our EWT Destinations page and watch the video The Forgotten Mountain.