Just up from Wakefield, towards the Drakensberg, are the headwaters of the Umgeni River. By the time it passes the Umgenipoort research centre at the base of the property, it is gathering for its plunge over the Dargle Falls and its long meander to the Indian Ocean.
There has been a reawakening here in this catchment, that supplies Pietermaritzburg and Durban with their water, to protect, restore and study an area whose wetlands, indigenous mist-forests and rolling grasslands are home to a variety of plants and animals, including many endemic, threatened and endangered species.
Over the past years the scars, seen and unseen, of nearly two centuries of exploitation have begun healing through a combination of alien clearance, rehabilitation and sound management practice. The result is a return to high levels of biodiversity and ecosystem services, which provide rich and diverse research potential.
Wakefield comprises an area of largely undisturbed grassland in the river catchment. It has an interlinked terrain, from high, steep slopes down to river flood plains. There are also some previously cultivated lands close to the river, which provide opportunity for restoration ecology research.
The grasslands and patches of forest provide opportunity for multi-disciplinary research, from the soil, river hydrology, and vegetation dynamics to the animals (including invertebrates, birds and mammals). There is significant scope for research investigating ecosystem dynamics, although limited potential for manipulative research because Wakefield is a working farm, home to over 300 Nguni cattle raised holistically to ensure sound ecological management.
The proximity to Pietermaritzburg and Durban combined with safe accommodation give the property significant value for researchers. There is significant potential to incorporate the site and facilities in a broader, landscape-level research focus, with the Umgeni catchment area as a focal point.
Wakefield is private, but open to research opportunities. The research centre at Umgenipoort is managed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Landscape: Indigenous grassland and mistbelt forest
Key research areas: Restoration ecology, soil, hydrology and vegetation dynamics.
Researcher accommodation: On-site for up to 40 researchers.
Contact: Thulani Mnguni, firstname.lastname@example.org