This 10 hectare gem, tucked away in the heart of Knysna, is both relatively unknown and underutilised. The result of sheer dedication and effort on the part of a band of exceptional individuals, Pledge offers visitors and residents a taste of the ecology and biodiversity that existed in the town prior to the major impact that human development had on the natural landscape. The evolution of Pledge, a mosaic of indigenous forest, fynbos and wetland, is a remarkable story.
The 19th century saw rapid development in Knysna as timber and mining drew people to the area. The resultant housing boom led to the establishment of a number of brickfields on the fringes of the town. Bok-se-Kloof brickfield, where Pledge Nature Reserve now stands, appears to have ceased production by the 1920’s. The local ‘Brownie’ movement was taken over by Daisy Eberhard in 1927 and she approached the Knysna Town Council for permission to use a portion of Bok-se-Kloof for her group. Two years later Daisy was given the use of a small fenced area adjacent to the old brickfield where, for generations, Knysna’s youth were introduced to the local ecology.
Unfortunately as Knysna furthered developed the watercourse silted up and flash floods further denuded and degraded the landscape, to the point that the land was abandoned and became an informal dumping ground where alien vegetation thrived. A far sighted town councillor, Kitto Erasmus, proposed in 1988 that the public be enlisted to assist in eradicating alien vegetation from Bok-se-Kloof as an Arbor Day project. Together with Margo Mackay of the local Wildlife Society, hacking parties were organised to tackle the 14 known invader species in Bok-se-Kloof. Another pivotal player in the evolution of Pledge was Margaret Addinal, an extraordinary woman who survived leukemia. The Pledge Nature Reserve Management Committee was established in 1989 with Margaret as the Reserve’s first curator and Kitto the first chairman. A major turning point was the decision by the Wildlife Society to adopt Bok-se-Kloof as an environmental rehabilitation project for the Branch – this resulted in a generous grant being awarded by S C Johnson & Son, a manufacturer of household products including the Pledge furniture care range. Pledge Nature Reserve was thus named and established, the project receiving M-Net’s Nature Foundation Award in 1991.
Trails were laid out in the reserve, trees were labelled and benches were donated. Alien vegetation having been removed, buildings were rehabilitated and indigenous trees and other flora planted. Thousands of visitors flocked to the reserve in the 90’s prior to dwindling through security concerns owing to the many vagrants living in the reserve. This rather sad situation has now been reversed under the dedicated curatorship of Mervyn Crous and watchful eye of the Pledge Nature Reserve Trust – security patrols are now regular, litter and other eyesores have been removed and the reserve is once again tranquil and pristine.
This unique Knysna reserve contains over 90 bird species, a wealth of local flora, insects, amphibians and reptiles as well as the odd mammal species (grysbok, mongoose, porcupine and genet). Fascinating evening walks are conducted by Mervyn in the reserve. The forest has matured sufficiently to feel like a natural forest, there are plenty of rest and picnic areas, the stream runs clear again and stunning views over the Knysna Lagoon. Leisure Isle and Thesen Island can be seen from points on the Memory Lane trail.
Bamboo guests should certainly include this unique and remarkable reserve in their list of places to see – don’t forget your binoculars, bird and plant/tree books! Visit Pledge Nature Reserve for further details.