Our Burning Planet

ACCESS DENIED

Nature lovers fed up with ‘razor wire bans’ at KZN’s Krantzkloof outdoor haven

Nature lovers fed up with ‘razor wire bans’ at KZN’s Krantzkloof outdoor haven
Proclaimed as a nature reserve more than 70 years ago, Krantzkloof was among the top five destinations for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife day-visitors when it was closed after the April 2022 flood. Sixteen months later, there is no firm indication of when the public will be allowed back in. (Photo: Andrew McKay)

Durban’s Krantzkloof Nature Reserve has been closed to the public for well over a year and local nature lovers are increasingly irate about the prolonged shutdown and other restrictive access policies.

It may not be as big or famous as the Table Mountain National Park, but the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve 24km outside Durban is one of the city’s most popular outdoor recreation and hiking areas.

Known to many simply as “the Gorge”, this 600-hectare reserve is managed by the Ezemvelo provincial nature conservation agency. Due to its spectacular scenery, abundance of wildlife and proximity to Durban, the reserve was ranked among Ezemvelo’s top five reserves for day visitors just before the Covid lockdown.

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Several waterfalls add to the attractions of ‘the Gorge’, a 600-hectare reserve northwest of Durban. The reserve is also home to crowned and Wahlberg’s eagles which breed here, along with lanner and peregrine falcons. (Photo: Andrew McKay)

Then, as nature lovers began to return after pandemic restrictions were eased, the reserve’s gates were shut in April 2022 after floods washed away river crossings and damaged trails, parking areas and other facilities.

Ezemvelo has blamed the 16-month closure on a shortage of funds to repair the flood damage and implement measures to ensure the safety of visitors hiking in the steep terrain of the reserve.

Long-term frustration

Yet, judging by the comments posted on social media networks and a community petition, the frustration levels of many residents and day visitors predate the 2022 flood-related closure.

Twelve months before the flood, Donna Ventress voiced her frustration about the new access restrictions at several entrances to the reserve.

In a message posted on the reserve’s Facebook page in April 2021, she lamented that local residents once enjoyed spontaneous access for afternoon walks, fitness training or just spending some time in the Gorge.

“I have been extremely frustrated at the way the access situation has been ‘policed’ and almost impossible to access with guards sitting at locked gates. I do realise certain changes needed to be made, but the changes that have been made make absolutely no sense to me.”

Local botanist and environmental consultant David Styles noted that access to at least three out of four public entry points was either closed off or restricted before the 2022 flood closure.

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The Uve Road entrance to the reserve was sealed off with a new gate and razor wire more than two years ago. (Photo: Kloof Conservancy)

“The Uve Road entrance is now covered with razor wire and it looks a bit like a border post in North Korea,” said Styles.

‘Perfect storm’

He attributes the most recent events to a “perfect storm” of flood damage, heightened concern around crime by some residents, underfunding of the Ezemvelo conservation agency and a management style that appeared to focus on restricting rather than welcoming visitors.

Unfortunately, he suggested, several residents seemed to support tighter access bans in the belief that this would prevent criminals from using the reserve as a conduit to break into homes or vehicles.

“Many residents believe that skop, skiet and donner (plus security fencing) are the way to go, and many just happen to live next to the reserve, but have no interest in it as a valuable natural area.

“So now we have a community set against itself, and some of the securocrat residents are aggressive and quite disagreeable.

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An aerial view of the long and narrow reserve, now surrounded by urban development. Closure or access restrictions at three entrance gates, Nkutu Road (N), Bridle Road (B) and Uve Road (U) have limited the opportunities to access the reserve. (Image: Google Maps)

“I also believe Covid and the April floods assisted this ideology of exclusion. There was damage after the April floods, but the upper part could have been repaired at not so much cost, and the bottom areas left for later. 

“A phased approach, allowing some use, would have been much more reasonable and friendly. Unless you wanted to just keep everyone out for as long as possible.”

Petition

In February 2021, while some Covid restrictions on gatherings were still in place, resident Cecily Salmon collected nearly 2,000 signatures as part of an online petition objecting to the new access restrictions at the Nkutu gate and the closure of the Uve Road and Bridle Road access points.

“These closures have taken place without any consultation or explanation and have severely impacted on the community’s ability to enjoy a wonderful natural asset,” the petition stated.

“In short, the available access points, numbers of people allowed each day, and times, are far too limited for a nature reserve of this scale, significance and biodiversity.”

Established in 1950, but now encircled by human development, the Krantzkloof biodiversity checklist includes around 50 mammal, 253 bird, 35 reptile, 150 butterfly, 273 tree and more than 1,500 plant species.

Salmon and the co-signatories were all willing to pay the daily R50 entrance fee or purchase Rhino loyalty cards and abide by all Covid protocols and Ezemvelo regulations, but they requested Ezemvelo to engage with relevant community structures to improve access to the reserve and reopen the Uve road entrance for pedestrian access from 6am to 6pm daily.

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One of several bridge crossings damaged or washed away in Krantzkloof during the April 2022 floods. (Photo: Krantzkloof Nature Reserve / Facebook)

They also urged Ezemvelo to open the Nkutu entrance daily (instead of weekends/public holidays only) and also reopen the view site on Bridle Road to the public.

The depth of passion of several petitioners can be judged from the comments section. Several noted that they established homes near Krantzkloof specifically to have access to the reserve.

John Forbes, who grew up in Kloof and has been visiting the reserve for several decades, said it was a pity that the current generation was unable to enjoy the easy access to the reserve he once had.

“Understandably the security situation today is very different and greater control of access is unfortunately necessary. However, maximum possible access should be made available to locals to enjoy nature in its wider sense.”

Jean Senogles, a former geography teacher and a stalwart of the Wildlife and Environment Society, appreciated Ezemvelo’s duty to manage the reserve to protect its biodiversity, but she questioned the new access controls and their impact on public access to a natural haven for recreation, education and spiritual amenity.

A veteran rock climber, who asked not to be named for fear of being barred in future, said he had expressed his frustration about access restrictions to Ezemvelo officials, but gained the impression that there was little will to find solutions.

‘Insurance claim’

In response to queries from Daily Maverick, Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa Mntambo blamed the delay in the reopening of Krantzkloof on the processing of an insurance claim for flood damage.

“The insurance finally paid for the repair of some damaged areas of the reserve. There were, however, some exclusions. We are now trying to finalise outstanding areas so that we can soon start opening on weekends. Once we have attended to all outstanding issues, including repairing staff accommodation, we shall be able to open it as before.  

 “We understand the frustration that the closure caused. (But) the situation was beyond our control as we could not risk human lives by allowing them access to dangerous hiking trails.”

Yet, with no firm indication from Ezemvelo on when the reserve will reopen, the Kloof Conservancy has added to the growing voices of concern.

Conservancy chair Paolo Candotti said: “It is a well-researched fact that open green spaces significantly enhance the wellbeing of those able to enjoy such spaces. 

“The geographic layout makes it somewhat similar to Table Mountain National Park in the Western Cape where, because of the spread of the park, there are multiple entry points to facilitate community access.”

The conservancy acknowledged that uncontrolled access was unacceptable, “but if there is a will (from Ezemvelo management) then there are ways to address the concerns of access with the support of the community”.

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Some of the flood damage to the parking and picnic area at the main Kloof Falls Road entrance. (Photo: Krantzkloof Nature Reserve / Facebook)

“With a bit of goodwill, funds could be raised within the community for such solutions, but that would require a willingness to think out of the box and to engage in discussions. We do not see that willingness on the part of reserve management.”

The conservancy also accepted that there was significant damage to some parts of the reserve, yet a 22km fundraising trail run took place in 2022 and another similar event was scheduled for 20 August.

“If the trails are good enough for a fundraising trail run, then one can only assume that they are good enough for walking/hiking. So the issue cannot be solely about damage to trails or infrastructure,” Candotti suggested.

“If there are inaccessible sections, why not make temporary arrangements and open those sections that are accessible? As there is no engagement, we are unaware of the obstacles to reopening. 

“It defies logic that the issues cannot be satisfactorily addressed for over a year.“

In recent years, Krantzkloof had become extremely popular with hikers and trail runners and the number of visitors increased dramatically.

“That’s a downside from a visitor control perspective, but an upside in the fact that people absolutely love to visit the reserve. This was a golden opportunity to engage with those visitors and create environmental ambassadors for all Ezemvelo reserves. 

“It is likely that Krantzkloof had become the biggest non-accommodation reserve in terms of income and it’s difficult to understand how Ezemvelo can seemingly disregard the loss of income,” Candotti said.

According to the conservancy, there has been no effective effort to explain the reasons for the prolonged closure or the previous access restrictions.

Due to access restrictions and the shape of the narrow reserve, most visitors were unable to hike the length of the gorge by exiting via the Nkutu gate during the week, while the closure of the Bridle Road viewpoint denied the public access to one of the most spectacular views of Kloof Gorge.

“What we perceive in Krantzkloof is an intentional disregard and disrespect of the community it is meant to be part of,” Candotti said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Pennington says:

    Where the ANC and it’s cadres gets involved everything’s laid waste

    • andrew farrer says:

      yip, if the park’s open, they’d have to work. This way they can just sit at home and take their salaries paid for by your and my taxes #fkcu anc

  • betsy Kee says:

    We are the neighbouring conservancy of Everton. We have made trails in the parts of the Molweni gorge owned by the municipality and local residents which abuts Krantzkloof Nature Reserve. Whilst we appreciate the problems with hikers and day trippers who litter or don’t respect the environment, we find the majority of people who visit our trails are extremely appreciative. Needless to say our trails are increasingly used because Ezemvelo is closed. This could pose a problem in the future if we find that the foot traffic is too great for the sustainability of the area. We do believe , however, that in order to become aware of the need for conservation of these areas we need to expose people to them. Closing access to natural areas is counter productive in the long run.

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