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Q&A with Jon Bates and The Crane Foundation

Posted on: August 15, 2022, in News

Did you know that Notties has its own Nature Reserve right here on our doorstep! Literally across the road from Gowrie Estate!
We ask Jon Bates from the KZN Crane Foundation to tell us about the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Nature Reserve (BBCONR). 

Q: Why do we have a reserve in our hood? 

A: It’s a very necessary part of our responsibility as landowners. Located right here in the foothills of the Drakensberg is this moist grassland. The reserve protects 462 ha of an eco-system which is as important for us as it is for the survival of a myriad of animal, insect and plant species. 

Q: Which Crane Species do we find in our area?
A: The three species of Cranes, all of which occur in our area, are the Grey Crowned Crane, the Wattled Crane and the Blue Crane. Cranes worldwide are under threat, but in South Africa, particularly the Wattled Crane has come close to extinction. By the late 1980’s research indicated only 80 breeding pairs of Wattled Crane, which are mostly found in KZN. Besides which, efforts to protect Cranes highlight the necessity to conserve ecosystems – as I said, our survival depends upon it too. 

Q: How so Jon?
A: Cranes are the ambassadors for two of South Africa’s most important ecosystems, the wetlands and grasslands that make up our water catchment areas. Besides the critical importance of providing biodiversity for all life, these ecosystems provide water storage and purification and the recharging of our groundwater supplies. These areas are essential for flood control and we can but wonder whether lack of wetland conservation had something to do with the recent flood destruction in our province. In Notties, we are acutely aware of the educational, recreational and tourism opportunities! 

Q: How did Notties get so lucky to have this 462-hectare reserve right on our doorstep?
A: The KZN Crane Foundation was established in 1989 in response to the dramatic decline in KwaZulu­Natal’s crane populations. In fact, that same year, the first Southern African Crane Conference, hailed as a conservation milestone, was held in our town, yes Nottingham Road. It was attended by 69 delegates, and it highlighted the 90% decline in Blue Crane populations over a major portion of the birds breeding range during the 1980s. 

Q: It’s good to hear about Nottingham Road’s involvement way back then. ls the Bill Barnes Reserve home to the KZN Crane Foundation?
A: Yes, in 2002, the KZN Crane Foundation moved its headquarters from Hlatikulu to the Usher Conservation Centre which is sited within the Bill Barnes Reserve on the Fordoun donated section. Further land donations to the KZN Crane Foundation from the Bates, Brown and Berning families make up the 462 hectares of the Reserve. In 2009, The BBCONR was legislated and formed to set aside natural grasslands and wetlands in perpetuity. Here the donor farmers graze some of their beef cattle under a strict biodiversity management program. Whilst the research and scientific programs continue, KZNCF’s vision to increase biodiversity stewardship of landowners plays a critical role in protecting the breeding, nesting and foraging habitats that naturally occur on farmlands. I am sure you have seen “Crane Custodian” signs at the entrance to many farms in the area.

Q: And I believe environmental education is a big part of what you do:
A: Usher Conservation Centre is utilized as a base for Environmental Education outings of teachers and grades 4 and 5 learners. This experience whereby young South Africans learn and then do a trail walk, is invaluable in building a love and appreciation of biodiversity and the natural world. 

Q: And now the Bill Barnes Reserve is open to members to walk, jog and ride mountain bikes on trails.
A: Having this special natural open space for all who live here in Nottingham Road is an incredible asset. There are various levels of membership that provide much needed funds to continue the important work of the Crane Foundation, and to maintain the tracks and paths. Once you join, you get an entry pin that opens the gate. Visitors to the area are more than welcome to pay a single-entry fee of R35 at the guard house at Midlands Community College. *Regret no pets allowed on the reserve. 

For more information:
Email: kzncranefoundation@gmail.com


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