Celebrating the end of a tough year

Celebrating the end of a tough year

It’s the perfect way to de-stress – three days of fun in the sun at Bivane Dam in Louwsburg, relaxing with fishing rods and boat rides. The short camping trip brought together the teams from Thuthugani Paulpietersburg and its client Mondi Forests, to celebrate the end of a busy year and to cement the excellent relationship between the team members of both companies.
While 2016 wasn’t quite such a tough year as 2015, it was still a challenging period says Nicky Gwende, Contracts Manager for Thuthugani Paulpietersburg. “We experienced a reduced number of fires during 2016 compared to 2015.”As part of its contract with Mondi Forests, Thuthugani provides silviculture services i.e. growing and tending of trees, as well as fire protection services.
Wasserpflanzer Field Day 
It might be a battle to pronounce but the Wasserpflanzer is an amazing piece of technology that can simultaneously manage marking, pitting and planting at a rate of four hectares per nine hour shift with a team of six planters, a seedling supplier, a marker, a supervisor and a driver. This multi-tasking machine is not only faster, it is also cost effective, with a 20% saving over mechanical pitting (MPATS) and planting (FIORI), and a 30% saving over manual pitting and planting.
The Wasserpflanzer was put through its paces at the recent Thuthugani/Mondi Forests jointly hosted Wasserpflanzer Field Day held at Pivaanspoort, which was attended by representatives from all Mondi Forests operations. A Basic Productivity Study presentation was made by Thuthugani’s Planning Manager Onias Chihwai. Other speakers included Paul Vireo, Herman Duvel and Cobus Hitge of Mondi.
An innovative clearing method for our forestry clients

An innovative clearing method for our forestry clients

At Arbor-care we are constantly assessing how we can introduce smarter, more effective working methods to make our clients’ lives easier. The introduction of a tractor-drawn flail to clear plantations of weeds is a prime example.

In forestry the area between rows of trees, commonly referred to as the interrow, should be kept relatively free of weeds to allow for easy access into the plantation, reduce incendiary material for fires and reduce competition between the weeds and the trees for water, nutrients and light. This clearing is traditionally done either by manually slashing down the weeds or treating the weeds with herbicides applied with knapsack sprayers. Both methods are labour intensive and time-consuming and in a move to modernise and reduce costs we decided to investigate more mechanical alternatives.

We first tried clearing the interrow with a tractor-drawn disc harrow and in some areas this proved to be reasonably successful. However, where there are old tree stumps in the interrow, the discs are easily damaged which results in downtime and additional costs. Another concern is that the surface capillary roots of the young trees are cut by the discs while clearing and the effect of this on tree growth is still to be determined.

Before and after: the flail clears quickly and effectively

without causing damage to the roots of the young trees.

We then came up with an innovative mechanical alternative: a tractor-drawn flail. The flail comprises a hydraulically driven horizontal shaft to which heavy duty chains are fitted, encased in a housing that prevents flailed debris from flying out and causing damage. The spinning chains are set to just brush the surface of the soil and remove the weeds with very limited disturbance of the surface. The flail can pass over stumps up to 300mm in height and also doesn’t harm the capillary roots. In addition, the flail mulches any dry branches and other organic material on the interrow, returning nutrients to the soil.  

This clearing method has proved to be so successful that Thuthugani Contractors currently has three flails working in Northern KZN.

The flail at work

Environmentally sensitive project for Idube Landscaping

Environmentally sensitive project for Idube Landscaping

Working within an environmentally sensitive and protected natural area has proved to be an intensive project for Idube Landscaping, which was contracted to design and install the landscaping for the grounds of the new Cape Morgan Conference Centre at Kei Mouth in the Eastern Cape. The conference centre is set within the Cape Morgan Nature Reserve and is an initiative of the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency Department. The Cape Morgan Nature Reserve is part of the larger East London Coast Nature Reserve group, which is some 3,424ha in extent and consists of ten coastal reserves and two inland State Forests.
Lifting of pre-mixed soil for roof garden
9th Jan 2016 First site visit
“All planting had to be approved by the conservation authorities and everything that we planted had to be endemic to the coastal forest margins and surrounding thicket and grassland areas,” says Idube’s Anthony Nel. “I first had to do extensive research on the plants of the area, within a relatively small 20km² radius and then submit a list for approval.”
Ramp to courtyard with vertical sleepers
Latte on steel arches for creepers
The biggest challenge was selecting plants that were available from nurseries. Once the list of plants was given the thumbs up, Anthony had to search to source the plants from nurseries in the area. At the time of ordering the plant material some plants could not be sourced, so alternatives had to be used.
Preparation with compost and mulching
Landscape planting with harvested grasses and ground covers
“I was also given permission to harvest grasses and bulbs from the coastal forest margins within the Cape Morgan reserve,” he says. Some plants were harvested elsewhere.
Part of the installation included the planting of the grass-block road around the new facility with Cynodon dactylon sprigs and Buffalo instant lawn on other remaining areas.
Plant placement
Landscape planting with harvested grasses and ground covers
The newly completed project includes the creation of a 300m² rooftop garden and 150m of rustic-looking tana-pole screen fencing to block off a view of adjacent buildings.
Roof garden planting
1m High tana fence around pool
1.8m Tana screen fencing
Pool mosaic by others
Arbor-care silviculture training

Arbor-care silviculture training

Thuthugani Contractors, part of the Arbor-care group, are recognised as experts in the field of silviculture and fire protection services specifically for the South African forestry industry. While not a training company, Thuthugani has been asked to assist with educating individuals keen to enter the forestry sector. Two students, Thamsanqa Shongwe and Mncedisi Cebekhulu from the company Inhlanzeko, have been under Thuthugani supervision from May to July this year, for the purpose of practical training and hands-on experience, starting with grass-roots matters such as preparing land for planting and maintaining the land through weeding. Fields of work/activities included:
  • Chemical weed control (broadcast, spot and pre-plant spraying)
    • Storage and handling of herbicide
    • Understanding of herbicide labels
    • Calibration of knapsack sprayers and herbicide (calculations)
    • Application of herbicide in field
    • Identification of targeted weeds
    • Timing of controlling weeds (season/weather)
    • Handling and servicing of knapsack sprayers
    • Protective clothing for herbicide handlers as per toxicity of a specific herbicide.
  • Conservation work (control of alien invasive weeds on open areas)
    • Identification of alien invasive species (as listed on CARA list)
    • Treatment of each weed specie (as per Mondi standard)
    • Tools and PPE used on conservation ops.
    • Herbicide application methods (cut stump, frilling and/or foliar).
  • Forest fire protection
    • Basic fire fighting
    • Fire fighting tools/use of FF tools and protective clothing
    • Fire safety
    • Fire protection symposium/competition.
In addition to the local students who have been trained, Thuthugani has also helped train forestry workers from Arbor-care contracts in other African countries, and, should the need arise, the company is ready to undertake more hands-on training in the future.
Raymond Sibiya, director of Thuthugani Contractors, says, “It is important to share our experience with those who are interested in entering the field of silviculture. Thuthugani has helped share our expertise and knowledge with the students and we wish them well for their future.”
Preparing tracer belts that will assist when fire breaks are being burnt
In-house training for all employees who work as sprayers
Proto team training before the fire season where a fire was simulated, preparing all proto team members for the up-coming fire season
Arbor-care takes to the skies

Arbor-care takes to the skies

Arbor-care has invested in drone technology to assist with its operations. Willem Hattingh, Arbor-care’s Professional Services Manager, has to go through stringent training and clearance processes to achieve his Remote Pilot Licence, including passing a seven day theoretical course and examination and English language proficiency certification, as well as obtaining a radio operator certificate, undertaking a five day practical flight course and examination, and passing a medical examination. Arbor-care had to register the drone plus Willem needed to obtain an operator certificate from CAA (the Civil Aviation Authority). And that’s not all: a radio, fire extinguisher and insurance were also required. Not a simple or speedy process!
The commercial use of drones is becoming increasingly common for various applications, including aerial surveys in the agricultural sector and game surveillance and protection (especially to combat rhino poaching). Drones are quick and manoeuvrable, and can often replace a costly helicopter for aerial photography.
Arbor-care has already made use of a fixed wing drone in Ghana for land-use mapping, reconnaissance of drought damage as well as a detailed survey of fire damage in other areas. Willem says, “One of our applications will be reconnaissance-type work such as determining the extent of any disaster (fire, hail, drought etc) or checking on the quality of work. The second application will be obtaining a detailed aerial survey of the results of any reconnaissance – in a random fly mode – mainly work at a different scale and accuracy. The third application will be a pre-defined flight path to record any attribute of interest in a known area using thermal imaging or normal 3 band photography, with again a multitude of uses e.g. normal land-use mapping. It is a quick and easy way of assessing in-field conditions prior to gathering additional information to assist with planning mechanised operations. We can assess the quality of any activity but mainly planting and weed control as well as the quality of fire break preparation, and in a green field operation the updating of maps to reflect the current land-use status.”
Flight Jul 2016 – sequence of vertical images at predefined flight path at a fixed altitude and 80% overlap – later used to combine into 1 georeferenced image for example land-use planning and mapping.
Arbor-care currently uses a Quadcopter (DJI Phantom4) with four rotors, rather than a fixed wing drone, which is more versatile but has certain disadvantages as well as advantages. The main advantage of the multi-rotor drones are the ease of take-off and landing as no landing strip is required plus the craft can hover to better investigate an area. The main downside is the battery life and time in the air, which is limited to about 20 minutes.
Flight May 2016 – non vertical image of Arbor-care office and portion of the nursery.
DJI Phantom 4 – actual drone and controller with tablet interface to control the aircraft in flight (3 modes).
Flight 2 Jul 2016 – a snapshot of a panoramic video, before levelling off and adjusting the camera to 90 degrees and progressing with the flight (as in the first image).
Sharing forestry knowledge

Sharing forestry knowledge

While on a recent trip exploring forestry opportunities in Angola, the Arbor-care team came across local farmers who had formed a small-scale forestry initiative. Gum and pine plantations were being established, largely for the farmers’ own needs. There was an on-site mill owned by one farmer that he used to produce planks for building.The Arbor-care team was impressed by how the farmers, with no formal forestry training at all, had established firebreaks and carefully planted and nurtured naturally regenerated seedlings that they had picked growing from within the existing plantations. The farmers were very enthusiastic to learn what Arbor-care had to offer in the way of advice and technical guidance. Deon von Benecke of Arbor-care says, “Sharing knowledge is an important part of adding value where we can in an area such as this.”
Bed to grow seedlings in plastic pots
Tree farmers
Volunteer pine seedlings
Discussion on the need for weed control in eucalyptus