29 July 2015 Volume :3 Issue :35

Congress Delegates Revisit Famed Ukulinga Trials

Congress Delegates Revisit Famed Ukulinga Trials
Professor Kevin Kirkman showing GSSA delegates around the Ukulinga trials.

During the Grassland Society of Southern Africa’s (GSSA) 50th annual Congress held recently at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg, Congress delegates took time to visit the renowned long-running mowing and burning trials and the veld fertilisation trials which were initiated in 1950 and are still being maintained today.

Kevin Kirkman, Professor of Grassland Science and Director of Professional Services in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) took a group of around 40 visitors from the annual Congress along to the trials and guided them through the unique project. The tour was one of a few mid-Congress tours intended to give delegates an overview of various types of grassland and biodiversity projects underway in KwaZulu-Natal.

‘Research conducted on the Ukulinga long-term trials has contributed critically to the core knowledge of sustainable management of humid grassland in South Africa,’ said Kirkman.

The tour was particularly special, given that the first annual GSSA Congress was held in Pietermaritzburg in 1966, where many Society members at the time were linked to the then-University of Natal, whether as lecturers, students or collaborators. Two of the tour delegates, Professor Winston Trollope and Mr Koos Kappeyne van de Coppello, were at the University during the 1960’s, and had fond memories of time spent at Ukulinga as students. Trollope remarked on how the fire exclusion plots had changed, with distinct bush growth and alien plant invasion.

Professor James Donald Scott, the first Dean of what was then the Faculty of Agriculture, started the trials in 1950, with the veld fertilisation trial set up as the Masters project of Peter Booysen, who would later become a Professor in the Faculty and Vice-Chancellor of the University. The trials were set up to run indefinitely, and the visitors were impressed with the infrastructure of the trials and the professional manner in which they had been managed.

Kirkman commented on the benefits of having delegates visit the trials, saying that attendees had put forward the useful suggestion of a reversal experiment where the veld fertilisation trials are split in half and only half fertilised to observe the effects on nutrient reduction. He added that the visit had sparked conversations about potential collaborative research that could take place.

The trials are still extensively used in teaching and research, with second and third year Biology students doing practicals based on the trials, and a number of Honours, Masters and PhD students undertaking research on site.

As for the future of the trials, Kirkman outlined the plans of the Discipline of Grassland Science to expand the trials’ international exposure and recognition through the publication of research papers in prestigious international journals and by registering the trials on the International Long-Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER).

 Christine Cuénod


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