Sappi – Brightonbos general view – Peta Hardy (2)

Keeping up-to-date with the classifications: knowing your Eastern Mistbelts from your Eastern Scarps

Celebrating International Day of Forests with Sappi Forests

Sappi Forests in the process of updating and verifying all their forest classifications, no small feat when you consider their landholdings are home to approximately 9 500 hectares of protected indigenous forests.

Sappi’s landholdings across Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal include pockets of Eastern Mistbelt Forests, Eastern Scarp forests, Barberton Montane Forests and Eastern Dry Afrotemperate forests, among others”, explains Peta Hardy, Sappi Forests Environmental Analyst, “approximately 98% of the forest types originally identified on Sappi land still exist in their original form.

Indigenous forests, unlike other vegetation types that have been transformed or reduced in size by historic afforestation, have remained largely intact, occupying the same footprint they would have done without afforestation. In some cases, the removal of fire as a result of plantation management has meant that forest expansion has been observed to occur, but this is dependent on local site conditions such as slope, aspect and soil moisture.

The two-year project to update and verify forest classification ensures the structural classification of indigenous forests, and other vegetation types, on Sappi’s land accurately reflects the national vegetation classification system. The exercise will entail a mix of GIS analysis and aerial photography interrogation, coupled with infield verification for vegetation that is difficult to detect from a desktop analysis. “We realise that local site level classification will differ from the higher-level provincial and national classification, “says Peta, “but this should add to the accuracy of datasets at the provincial and national levels.

By ensuring an area is accurately classified, clear objectives can be set and implemented for the management of that particular ecosystem”, Peta continues, “for example, the absence of fire over many decades has in some cases resulted in forest/thicket succession, which may or may not be desirable, depending on the management objectives of the unplanted area. By creating clear management objectives derived from accurate vegetation classification, we can ensure grasslands remain grasslands and that impacts on indigenous forests, from burning or invasive species, are minimised.

Cover and gallery images: Peta Hardy

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