Launch of Sand Forest Restoration Project in South Africa

An international team effort to restore an endangered forest in KwaZulu-Natal

It was a fresh green start for a critically endangered forest at the newly declared Greater Ukuwela Nature Reserve in South Africa this weekend, with the first saplings planted to launch the tree-planting phase of Wild Tomorrow Fund’s Sand Forest Restoration Project. 

A group of 27 L’Occitane employees from across South Africa traveled to the newly declared Greater Ukuwela Nature Reserve in the KwaZulu-Natal province to work alongside wildlife conservation organization, Wild Tomorrow Fund, and their team of 15 Zulu community women called the ‘Green Mambas, to plant native trees while learning hands-on about wildlife conservation and forest restoration. Over 500 native trees were planted in a single day, marking a big start to the reforestation phase of the project which aims to plant 10,000 trees across the next two years.

This is no ordinary tree-planting project

South Africa’s Sand Forest is a unique and fragile forest that grows on the remnants of sand dunes left behind when the ocean receded eastward to the current coastline millions of years ago. It covers a smaller area than any other forest type, is extremely rare and as such, its protection is vitally important. Today, only 3,540 hectares of Sand Forest habitat is estimated to remain. As a result, this forest habitat is critically endangered.

Wild Tomorrow Fund’s Greater Ukuwela Nature Reserve, officially declared as a protected area in June 2021, added an additional 10 hectares (25 acres) of Sand Forest under legal protection in South Africa. However, these remnant areas of the forest have been damaged by prior cattle farming and the unmanaged take-over of invasive plants, meaning it requires active restoration.

“It is the most threatened forests globally that – by virtue of their disappearing habitat – are places of last refuge for many rare species. That’s why conserving and restoring the endangered Sand Forest is such an important project for the protection of threatened biodiversity in South Africa”, commented Wild Tomorrow Fund’s co-founder in New York City, Wendy Hapgood. 

Wild Tomorrow Fund’s Sand Forest Restoration Project is truly an international team effort, bringing support from around the globe to this fragile forest in the north-eastern corner of South Africa. L’Occitane South Africa partnered locally with Wild Tomorrow Fund South Africa, awarding a grant to support the first year of the project, as part of the company’s “Respecting Biodiversity” initiative. Additional support came from Wild Tomorrow Fund’s supporters from the US and internationally including from Canada, Finland and Germany. 

Erin Rees, Head of Business Development for L’Occitane South Africa, commented: “We are delighted that L’Occitane’s commitment to protecting & restoring biodiversity globally now includes the incredible sand forest of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is meaningful to experience our collaborative restoration efforts first-hand with our team planting over 270 trees on the 21st of October. We thank the Wild Tomorrow Fund for bringing this beautiful project to us so that together we may be true Cultivators of Change within this unique South African landscape”. 

Leading up to the weekend of tree planting, the Green Mambas completed the first step in the restoration project, spending over three months removing the stubborn Coast Climbing Thorn, a tangled vine that chokes the floor of the forest. The vines wrap around the understory plants and must be cut to release their grip before being physically pulled out – a tug of war between this stubborn vine and the determined Green Mambas. Their work at Wild Tomorrow Fund’s reserve creates 15 new jobs in conservation for this team from the nearby rural Mduku community. The women are proud to be Green Mambas, supporting their families while learning new skills in ecological restoration. 

“Having the opportunity to be side by side with the Green Mambas was an incredible experience for our whole team. Our teams have worked hard in raising the funds used for this local contribution and seeing the fruits of this has been incredibly rewarding. It is wonderful to be able to personally act on our respecting biodiversity commitment – Making us true Cultivators of change”, said Amber Willis, Marketing Manager & Official L’Occitane Foundation Correspondent.

Wild Tomorrow Fund hopes to apply lessons from the restoration of the sand forest to other areas of remaining, degraded sand forest across the region, a breath of hope for this very endangered forest. 

Kevin Joliffe, Reserve Manager at Wild Tomorrow Fund South Africa said, “Thank you to everyone for their huge contribution towards our sand forest restoration project. It is very exciting and rewarding to see this critically endangered forest coming to life again.” 

Media Contact
Company Name: Wild Tomorrrow Fund
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