Before Knysna was officially named a town, it was made up of small settlements, one of which was Newhaven, just east of today’s Long Street – the long straight road that intersects the town and runs down to Thesen`s Island. To the west was Eastford, a large farm that formed part of the extensive estates of George Rex. The”Founder of Knysna” In 1820 Rex gave 40 morgen of Eastford to the Admiralty. Some of this land was used by the Admiralty to set up a small boat building yard on the edge of the lagoon. The rest of the 40 morgen was used as commonage. In 1825, permission was given for the village of Melville to be built on the common. The village grew slowly at first, and by mid-century only a handful of simple houses had been erected. It became evident, however, that as the settlement of the Cape Colony increased, and the demand for the timber resources of the Knysna area grew rapidly.
As the area flourished, the settlements of Newhaven and Melville experienced their first “housing boom”. Woodcutters, furniture makers, coastal traders and related service providers settled in the area. It was to feed this boom and the subsequent demand for the kiln-dried bricks, those brickfields sprang up around the edge of the settlements, where there was abundant raw material and firewood available. One of these brickfields, on the northern edge of the town limits, as they were then, was an area called Bok-se-kloof. It is here, today, more than 100 years later, that the Pledge Nature Reserve lies, being restored, where possible, to its original natural beauty.
Just when Bok-se-Kloof brickfield closed down, is not known. Certainly, by the 1920’s, the area was known as “the old brickfield”. Daisy Eberhard, whose family was among the pioneers of the area, took over the “Brownie” movement in 1927 and, wanting a suitable meeting place for her group, she approached the Knysna Town Council to allow her to use a portion of Bok-se-Kloof.
In 1929, in support of her application, 500 yards of fencing was built on the hillside and the valley floor for her use. The area was adjacent to the old brickfield with a clear stream flowing through it. It was here that, under the guidance of Daisy Eberhard, generations of Knysna’s youth first discovered the diversity of the Cape`s botanical heritage.
Daisy Eberhard’s stream did not remain clear for very long. Ravaged by urban encroachment, the stream silted up and stopped flowing regularly. However, with its banks bare and sterile, it would flood after heavy rain. This caused silt and urban rubbish to be dumped into the fragile Knysna lagoon. The land itself, being part of a valley and largely unsuitable for housing, escaped major development. But it was left as waste ground — an informal dump, where invader vegetation soon took root and was spreading at an incredibly high rate. In 1988, Kito Erasmus, a local forest officer and a town councillor, encouraged the idea of getting the public involved in the eradication of plant invaders as an Arbour Day project.
His proposal received the full co-operation of the local branch of the Wildlife Society, under the Chairmanship of Margo Mackay, who inspired public interest and organised hacking parties. Their attention was focussed on the Bok-se-Kloof valley which by then was infested with 14 different exotic invader species.
The following year, the Department of Forestry received notice of an offer of sponsorship for a non-commercial forest conservation project in the Southern Cape. The Wildlife Society agreed to adopt Bok-se-Kloof as an environmental rehabilitation project for the Branch and a project presentation was drawn up which resulted in a generous grant from S C Johnson & Son whose range of household products include Pledge furniture care range.
The Community Project that became Pledge Nature Reserve received widespread publicity through popular environmentalist magazines and radio and TV programmes. This culminated in the project receiving M-Net’s Nature Foundation Award in 1991.
The Reserve has also received praise from botanists and environmentalists alike. An officer of the South African Botanical Society pointed out that Pledge’s situation so near to the Town’s centre made the Reserve both exceptional and of high value to Knysna that it should never be underestimated.