Beneath gorgeous wildflower mobiles created by the Howick Pre-Primary School, Nic Ruddiman’s collection of Beacon Hill flowers is an absolute delight. Ranging from the rare and endangered to the simply beautiful, it is a celebration of this special place. Nic’s favourite pictures are of a Cyanotis speciosa and another of Pachycarpus concolor.
After an introduction to the importance of Natural Heritage by Claire Adderley, curator of the museum, there was an array of fascinating presentations about the biodiversity of the hill. Claire emphasised the fact that, in future, the treasures of Beacon Hill may well be more important than the collections in the museum. Our role is to revere, respect, delight and protect our natural heritage, she added.
Botanist, Kate Fennell did a fascinating presentation on 6 plant species found on Beacon Hill, relating interesting stories about their rarity, names, pollination, adaptation to fire and medicinal use. Most of the audience were surprised to hear how South African Dierama’s had been part of the Olympic Park flower garden created in London this year.Simon Joubert talked about butterflies – which are good of the health of an environment. He is convinced that the Blue Pansy and Painted Lady breed in this precious patch of grassland, while many others including the Pearl Charaxes pass through. Acrea males like to congregate on hilltops, so Beacon Hill is just perfect for them.Creating corridors for Biodiversity is crucial said Ingrid Nanni of SANBI – Early Detection Rapid Response Programme – so the link to Symmonds Lane Stream and down into Umgeni valley is of critical importance. Other threats to the Midlands biodiversity (besides people, of course!) are invasive plants. In particular, Formosa lily, pom pom weed and St John’s Wort were mentioned. 105 indigenous flower species have been recorded, as well as 19 grasses, six tree species, 62 birds (including the endangered Grass Owl), 10 mammals and many butterflies. Among the rare plants found here is Asclepias wooddii, a KZN Midlands endemic which reappeared on the hill recently after not being seen for nearly 100 years. Flowering time is usually December.
Beacon Hill is part of the Midlands Conservancies Forum Biodiversity Stewardship Programme and has been assessed as deserving of Protected Environment status. Conservation of the area is important as it is one of the few remaining patches of Midlands Moist Mist belt Grassland. This status means that Howick residents will be able to continue to use the site for low impact, nature-based recreational and educational purposes, said Janis Holmes of Friends of Beacon Hill. Janis has been visiting the area for many years, enjoying the 360 degree views of the surrounding Midlands. The uMngeni Municipality, in particular Mayor Mbali Myeni, which owns the property is to be congratulated for their vision in setting aside this area for conservation. More importantly Beacon Hill will now have a management plan to ensure management appropriate to biodiversity conservation, supported by legal protection in terms of the Protected Areas Act. However, before the animals and wildflowers of Beacon Hill breathe a sigh of relief, it will still take time for the Protected Environment status and management plan to be implemented. The Friends of Beacon Hill have erected signs at the Lakeview Road and Curry’s Post Road entrances to the site emphasizing the prohibition of vehicular access to the hill and illegal dumping. It is disturbing that these signs have been blatantly ignored by some members of the public. Trail bikes have been using the hill as a recreational track and 4 x 4’s with trailers have been driving onto the hill to dump refuse. Nesting francolins and rare ground orchids are some of the innocent victims of this disregard.
The public using the hill are asked to respect the conditions of its use, especially that it is to become a Protected Environment. Join one of the regular walks on the last Sunday of every month, or explore on your own at any time. For more information see: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/membh.html