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Tierberg - a strategic 'living laboratory' donated to SAEON

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Tierberg Karoo Research Centre with the whole caboodle - land, accommodation and equipment - will now be SAEON's

By Marco Pauw and Joh Henschel, SAEON Arid Lands Node

 

One day, many years ago, a 100-hectare patch of Succulent Karoo - as Karoo as can be - was chosen as the patch from which a scientific crew grew a Karoo-care view, aka Tierberg Karoo Research Centre.

Twenty-seven years later, Drs Sue Milton and Richard Dean who kept Tierberg going and the goodwill of a succession of landowners over all those years, approached SAEON with a view to transfer their responsibilities. Some years before, they secured the longevity of Tierberg's data by submitting it to SAEON , so handing over the management and research responsibilities was the next logical step to take.

Strategic value

An investigative report by Prof. Tim O'Connor, SAEON's Observation Science Specialist, emphasised the strategic value of Tierberg. But how to ensure that research could continue here? Security of tenure was required and when the Managing Director of SAEON, Johan Pauw, made enquiries with the current land owner, Jannie Kitshoff, the latter enthusiastically embraced the idea of the continuation of the research by SAEON. Not only that, he offered to donate the patch to SAEON in order to preserve the research site for future generations.

But how to realise this gift? First, the gift had to be defined. A land surveyor was called for. Lennis van Schalkwyk came, saw and nearly conked - the latter an arduous story. The Karoo turned the heat on Lennis, sand gripped his bakkie wheels, and the long walk to the Tierberg huts sapped his energy… only for him to find that the tap to the rainwater tank was broken and could not be opened. An extremely thirsty night later, Lennis finally managed to call for help, and was rescued.

He did come back to measure the length and breadth of Tierberg, submit these figures to the Surveyor General and then to the conveyancers who are busy registering Tierberg-LTER - as the land is now called - in the name of the National Research Foundation (NRF), for SAEON.

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Sue Milton welcomes SAEON staff to Tierberg

 

Facilities

SAEON also inherited facilities on Tierberg. These have their own history. Before Tierberg Karoo Research Centre was established in 1987, it formed part of a livestock camp on the farm Sand River and, as such, had no infrastructure.

Staying in Prince Albert and driving to Tierberg every day would have been unaffordable for many researchers. Therefore, facilities were established with support from the Foundation for Research Development (NRF's predecessor) to house researchers near the site, initially at a neighbouring farmhouse, later moved to the research site. Two wooden huts were erected and furnished with beds and desks to serve as accommodation and work space. Rainwater was harvested from the roofs for drinking and cooking, and stored in a 500-litre tank. Ablution facilities consisted of an enclosed pit toilet only.

Although very basic, these facilities allowed visiting researchers to stay cheaply and in relative comfort while collecting data, and so increased the amount of time that could be spent on site. Unfortunately, through extremes of heat, cold, drought, storms and through exposure to solar radiation, the huts and associated infrastructure deteriorated over the course of nearly three decades. Cracks and gaps appeared in the floor and roof boards and allowed many animals to make the huts their home, including agamas and geckos, while bats and swallows found refuge in the roof. The pit toilet's enclosure made a very attractive home for a swarm of honey bees, which had to be removed by a beekeeper.

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SAEON staff put heads together with Sue Milton and Richard Dean to plan the renovation and upgrade of accommodation facilities and research infrastructure

Maintenance and upgrades

In order to make the facilities more inhabitable for researchers, SAEON is now not only having the huts repaired (tap fixed!), but also upgrades installed. A shower is being built to allow researchers to wash off the dirt after a long day in the field. The space between the huts is being converted into an open kitchen with a sink to make cooking and washing easier.

Solar panels and batteries will be installed to power a small number of appliances, such as lights, laptop- and cell phone chargers. The installation of a signal booster is also planned to ensure network coverage for calls and data transfer, allowing visiting researchers to stay connected.

 

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Richard Dean gears up for renovating facilities at Tierberg

Maintenance work on field research infrastructure such as fencing and plot markers is also being carried out by RenuKaroo (Sue and Richard) and SAEON Arid Lands Node staff. It is our hope that the refurbished accommodation and research infrastructure will facilitate the next phase of research on arid ecology at Tierberg.

While the need for researchers to be connected via technology is ever increasing, we hope that those who visit will take the time to experience the magnificent scenery and tranquillity that Tierberg has to offer.

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