From:      Phillip Owen <owen@soft.co.za>
Date:      Thu, 9 Jun 2005 10:21:14 +0200
Subject:    As the Timber Stands High. the Water Runs Dry.

As the Timber Stands High… the Water Runs Dry.

Sudwala Caves & Rainforest under Threat
By: Philip Owen - GeaSphere
June, 2005 

The Sudwala Caves and Rainforest are situated approx. 35km west of Nelspruit, Mpumalanga province, South Africa. The cave has a rich history, and is thought to have been used by man perhaps for many thousands of years. Stalagmites, stalactites and flowstone formations bear testimony to the dance these huge caverns have had with water. Awed to silence by the magnitude of this natural wonder, a visitor can hear nothing but the squeal of bats, and the drip, drip, drip of water – no more…  

The Sudwala Rainforest grows at the base of a unique geologicalformation which manifests in a gigantic cliff face close to the Caves,clearly visible from the R539 (on the left as you pass Sudwala on routeto the town of Sabie). Since the formation of the cliff faceand certainly for as long as local people can recall, a ridge offountains has been providing water that falls from the top of thiscliff. The mist spray experienced at the bottom of the cliff andresulting lush vegetation has led to its name – The Sudwala Rainforest.  The Rainforest has been declared National Heritage Site #167. Due to itssensitive nature it is not open to visitors, except for the occasionalresearch or management survey.

During the late 1980’s a section of grassland on the plateau behind therainforest cliff was planted to timber by Pine Valley Timbers (sinceacquired by Sappi). It was an obviously insensitive and badly thoughtthrough decision to use such a sensitive site for establishing aplantation considering the likely negative impact it was bound to have,of drying up the rainforest and cave systems.

As should have been anticipated, these now mature plantations areexerting unsustainable pressure on the water resource, and compounded bythe drought conditions is leading to the complete drying out of theunique rainforest and cave eco-systems.

The Sudwala Cave has become extremely and unusually dry – even the fairlate summer rains had failed to percolate through the deep cave system.  A wet cave is a live cave. It grows and has structural integrity. A drycave is a dead cave. Through this threat to the structural integrity ofthe Sudwala Cave, local tourism operations could be jeopardized.

As the only change in the local catchment area has been theestablishment of industrial timber plantations, and noting the wellresearched information on water use by evergreen deep rooting timbertrees, we very strongly urge Sappi to remove all the trees that couldhave a potential impact, and to ensure that the area is restored to itsnatural grassland state. Interested and affected parties have indicatedthey could be willing to raise funds necessary to purchase the land inquestion from Sappi, should this become necessary.

Both the Sudwala Rainforest heritage site and the adjoining Sudwalacaves deserve a caring and conserving attitude from Sappi when decisionsare taken about the future treatment of this ecologically critical pieceof land.

Philip Owen
GeaSphere
+27 (0) 13 7335267
+27 (0) 82 6369129