The sun peeped out on a freshly washed world and the Crowned Cranes called in the distance as Dr Ian Player reminisced about his friend Nick Steele. The occasion was the 5th anniversary celebration of the Karkloof Conservation Centre and the opening of the Nick Steele Picnic Site. In the late 1970’s, Nick lived on Gartmore farm for a few years “in the very special place that is Karkloof”, and Ian wished he had lived to see this day and everything that the Karkloof Conservancy had achieved.
Ian mentioned Carolyn Goble particularly, who has done an incredible job of keeping the Centre going in the Karkloof, observing “The world has changed a lot since Nick and I worked on Project Rhino together, with women now playing a leading role in conservation.”Many other Midlands Conservancies and Environmental organisations joined in the celebration. Kim Gillings of Ezemvelo commented “Karkloof are a good example of what a Conservancy can do and are an example to others.” Andrew Ferendinos, Chair of the KZN Crane Foundation added “I’m thrilled to see the strength of this Conservancy which proves what positive impact farmers can have in crane conservation.”After thanking all those who had helped to make the Centre a success, Charlie McGillivray, on whose property the Centre is situated, said how proud he was of what the conservancy had achieved to date, adding “it is a journey, we are just beginning and I get excited thinking about what we can ultimately achieve.” Nola Steele, wife of Nick, joined him to cut the ribbon to the picnic site and declare it officially open.
Here Tanya Smith and Ian Little of Endangered Wildlife Trust honoured Britt and Rene Stubbs for their contributions to conservation. Tanya emphasised the fact that the Stubbs’ actively monitor the cranes and adjust the management of their land accordingly. Before presenting the ‘Crane Custodian’ award on behalf of EWT and the KZN Crane Foundation, she thanked Rene particularly for all the help he had been in generously sharing his knowledge of no-till farming with other areas. Ian Little added, before handing over an ‘Oribi Custodian Award’ – “The fact that the Stubbs’ were nominated by their community illustrates the level of their commitment to manage the natural veld on their property well. They burn off alternate blocks, providing a patchwork of long and short grass, and through careful observation they always know where the oribi are.”Britt was surprised and delighted to receive these acknowledgements of their efforts during the 26 years they have lived in Karkloof. “A little bit of consideration goes a long way” she said, adding “there is no reason why agriculture and conservation cannot co-exist.”
As everyone wandered along to spend time in the bird hides on the edge of the water, Charlie McGillivray echoed these words. He explained how no-till farming practices work with rather than against Nature, valuing the role which earthworms play. He believes that the arrival of Wattled Cranes on the property coincided with the change of tillage practice.Nowadays, there are 4 pairs of Crowned Cranes breeding and they are often seen in numbers. “The sound of them calling gives me a little shiver every time,” Charlie laughed. This property will soon be proclaimed in the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme (BSP). Gareth Boothway of the Midlands Conservancies Forum BSP project said the finishing touches were being put to the legal agreements and it would not be long before all signatures were gathered and this property would be conserved for biodiversity for ever. “The success of the Biodiversity Stewardship Project is entirely reliant on landowners committed to conservation,” he emphasised.After cups of tea on the verandah and lots of chatter about environmental issues, the group moved to the Karkloof Country Club for sundowners and snacks. Andrew Venter of Wildlands Conservation Trust, who has played a big role in securing funding for the Conservation Centre, spoke about ‘The Combined Conservation Efforts in the Karkloof’, and the value of working together. Everyone enjoyed a delicious dinner provided by members of the conservancy. At the end of a very happy day, Carolyn Goble concluded “We sincerely appreciate all the help and support that we have received from our conservation friends over the past 5 years and have found it very rewarding to have our very own Conservation Office where we can continue to create an awareness of the amazing biodiversity of the Karkloof.”
Congratulations to Karkloof on the meaningful contribution they have made to conservation in the KZN Midlands. www.karkloofconservation.org.za