Farming for Conservation

Britt and Rene Stubbs moved to the Karkloof valley in 1986. Britt describes the changes on their farms over the years.

Denleigh was a beef and maize farm at the time, but we developed it into a dairy farm, planting maize, soya beans, potatoes and carrots using conventional tillage methods. It soon became clear that this type of land use was leading to severe erosion, increased soil pests, proliferation of weeds on contour banks and serious wear and tear on equipment. Seventeen years ago we decided to convert to No-Till for the maize silage, cover crops and autumn pasture establishment.


The positive results have been overwhelming! We have enjoyed increased yields from healthier soils due to an increase in earthworms and a decrease in soil pests.  There have been significant fuel savings as well as reduced wear and tear on equipment. In addition to the commercial advantages of converting to No-Till we have also observed positive environmental changes: improved water quality and availability; increased food sources and cover for wildlife; the return of indicator species and reduced erosion. We now enjoy regular sightings of all three crane species on the farm and have a resident pair of Blue Cranes which have been breeding here for a number of years. We hardly ever saw cranes when we first arrived in the valley, but now, with most of the large-scale farmers having converted to No-Till, the increase in crane sightings has been significant.


We took a conscious decision not to plant trees on veld which had been granted a timber permit. Choosing instead to rehabilitate 200ha of contiguous mistbelt Themeda veld to regain its biodiversity and secure the farm’s water supply. Livestock was taken off the predominantly Aristida veld and a carefully managed burning regime was introduced. 26 years later there is a significant increase in Themeda cover and many other plant species have re-appeared. This area now hosts many wildlife species, including cranes, grass owls, Natal red rock rabbits, porcupines, ant bears, mongooses, genets, cervals, oribi, reedbuck and duiker.


Six years ago, we bought a neighbouring farm Bartersfield, also a beef farm which we have converted to dairy.  As oribi occur here, we leave one of the four veld paddocks unburnt every year to provide cover for them. We have found that if the paddocks are not burnt in regular rotation the veld becomes moribund and overgrown, which prevents the healthy regeneration of Themeda and other plant species. Late autumn block-burning (particularly after rain) has proven to be the ideal time to burn the veld. This ensures that the fire is not too hot and doesn’t damage the Themeda. Burning in spring (in the absence of early spring rains) can destroy the growing tips and seeds of the Themeda which then sets the plants back.


We have found that the reedbuck, bushbuck, duiker and, to a lesser extent, the oribi have adapted very easily to feeding on the ryegrass pastures which we have established. The quality winter forage which is available to them has resulted in year-round breeding amongst the reedbuck. The oribi still only breed on an annual basis.  We believe that the increase in jackal activity in recent years (as well as caracal and dog hunting to a much lesser extent) has had a major impact on the oribi population.

britt stubbs crane custodian

What a privilege it is to farm in harmony with the Midlands wildlife.

Charlie MacGillivray, adds: There is no doubt that in my 39 years of farming on Gartmore, the advent of No-Till farming has been one of the most gratifying experiences.

Charlie macGuillivray res.

With it has come better yields with the use of less diesel, apart from the fact that the spectrum of birdlife has expanded, and this has included the return of the Wattled Crane flocks which had been absent for many years.

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The food availability that results from following maize silage crops with a cereal “cover crops”, the build up of biomass in the soils, and the resultant micro-organisms and naturally the earthworms, has attracted many avian predators with rodent, insect and seed eaters all benefitting from there being a crop cover throughout the year. Whilst we are not organic farmers as we do use specific chemicals and fertilizers, these are carefully selected and specific to the intended purpose.

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Being blessed with high soil clay contents has made it possible to draw on natures’ wonderful system, where with the organic matter build up, has enabled the more judicious applications of bought Nitrogen, according to the crop needs.  The “storage” of this highly necessary nutrient in an insoluble form (organic matter) augments the crops needs through mineralization and helps avoid acidifying the sub soils by over application of soluble “N”, which inhibits rooting depth of the maize crop limiting the water reservoir. Soil moisture is also better managed with cover crops and the presence of the organic build-up in the soils.

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Our scoreboard is not only yields, but the variety of bird sightings and sustaining BIODIVERSITY, which is the recipe for sustainable agriculture. The Biodiversity status accorded us (through the KZN BIodiversity Stewardship Programme, facilitated by Midlands Conservancies Forum) merely endorses the practices that many fellow farmers also follow.  I encourage as many farmers as possible, to engage in the Stewardship programme. It is, after all, going to ensure that our custodianship provides those that follow us, a better platform from which to harness the bounty of nature whilst still being able to utilize the land and produce at high levels. This has become a compelling imperative as more people are fed from the same sized world and Water is increasingly scarce and of poor quality.

HIDEFISHEAGLE2009_0619(010) (Small)It is our privilege to share the beauty and integrity of our piece of paradise with others and the Karkloof Conservation Centre – the hides are merely the start of making possible. Whether you twitch or tweet, there is something for everyone on Gartmore!

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2 thoughts on “Farming for Conservation

  1. Mrs C.J. King

    Dear Nikki,

    I was most interested in that article. When we were house hunting, before we bought Inchbrakie, we nearly bought Bartersfield and the Stubbs would have been our neighbours and probably our tenants as well!!

    Love from,


    Mrs. C. J. King,


    P.O.Box 196,

    Nottingham Road,

    Kwa-Zulu Natal, 3280,


    S – 29 21′ 189″

    E – 29 55′ 798″

    ALTITUDE:- 4,326feet (1,442metres)

    Tel: 00 27 (0)33 815 9518

    Mobile: 00 27 (0)82 941 3533




  2. Pingback: No Till Farming | Midlands Conservancies Forum

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