It’s a small corner of the Karoo: a corridor of private land that stretches 300,000 hectares from the Camdeboo National Park, in Graaff Reinet, east to the Mountain Zebra National Park. It took 66 farmers over three years to buy into this project that promises a Garden of Eden teeming with wildlife. It could become known as the last piece of untouched land in the Karoo if fracking begins.
“The first meeting in Graaff Reinet was a little tense. I think a lot of the landowners thought we were going to attempt a big land purchase and buy out hundreds of thousands of hectares. Also, I think they were a bit worried that we were going to tell them what they had to do on their own land. Once this was clarified, there was little problem,” says Matthew Norval, the Director of the Conservation Programme at the Wilderness Foundation.
The corridor project is the brainchild of Norval, in collaboration with South Africa National Parks (SANParks). He wants to create a reserve that will protect the land for generations.
“The farmers in this area have looked after the land for many generations, some of them are third and fourth generation. The reason you can build a natural corridor in that region is because the land has been so well looked after and is still in good condition and there is a strong affinity from the farmers who own that land,” says Norval.
The application is sitting with the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa.
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“Fracking raised its head at almost the same time we started working in that area. There is no doubt that it influenced the way we worked and the way some of the landowners decided how to collaborate with us. I think fracking hit a lot of the landowners, sort of right between the eyes. They suddenly realized that properties that had been in their families for generations were now under threat. It was possible their land would get damaged and their children or their children’s children wouldn’t be able to make a livelihood from farming. You have to bear in mind its prime natural rangeland grazing for sheep and cattle,” says Norval.
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“I think it would be near impossible to rehabilitate the Karoo after fracking. In some areas, to a layman it may look like gravel plain. Somebody that doesn’t understand the intricacies of that ecosystem might just assume you can level it and there you go. But it’s not like that.”
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“This is our last gasp. Never mind rhino, we’re losing lion; we’re losing pangolin by the ton. When it comes to land, the opportunity to build corridors and create landscapes that are going to have some relevance in the future, this is our last chance. ”