New fence will protect natural treasure

2018-11-29 06:01
The world’s smallest desert

The world’s smallest desert

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One of South Africa’s best-kept conservation secrets lies 170 kilometres south of Durban and is considered to be the smallest desert in the world. Thanks to recent efforts, it will now be a protected site.

The Red Desert gets its name from the scarlet colour of the sand and is situated on a hillside overlooking the Mtamvuna River which divides KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape near the Wild Coast Sun Casino complex.

Only 200 metres in diametre the man-high hills and valleys of naked red soil bare stark contrast to the surrounding vegetation.

In 2005, the Williams family, who has owned the land for over a 100 years, formed a partnership with the Ray Nkonyeni Municipality, which consented to 105 hectares of municipal land being joined with the family’s 75 hectares for the purpose of creating a nature reserve.

Negotiations then began with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and in 2015 the Red Desert Nature Reserve was established as a biodiversity stewardship nature reserve.

The desert contains a significant area of “Critically Endangered” Pondoland-Natal Sandstone Coastal Sourveld found nowhere else in the country.

At least 480 species of plants and 200 bird species have been recorded there to date, with many listed as being under some degree of threat. Matt Williams, who is a fourth-generation member of the family, and chairperson of the Red Desert Nature Reserve Committee, said since the nature reserve adjoins the former R61 coastal route (which is now declared as the N2), many animals from the reserve have been run over by vehicles.

He approached the South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited (SANRAL) with a request to fence the eastern boundary of the reserve and his request was granted.

Ravi Ronny, SANRAL Eastern Region design and construction manager, said discussions about erecting 2,7 kilometres of fencing had been ongoing since 2014.

“Given the environmental importance of the nature reserve, we agreed to erect a fence along the reserve’s boundary with the road at our cost.

“The fence will help keep animals away from the busy N2 whilst also combating trespassing and plant poaching problems,” said Ronny.

He also said this section of the R61 is being upgraded at an estimated cost of R2,5 billion and will see the improved road becoming the “new N2”.

Presently the N2 curves inland, away from the coast, near Port Shepstone and passes Harding and Kokstad before traversing to the Eastern Cape. The upgrading of a 24-kilometre section of the newly-declared N2 from Mbizana River, just south of Shelly Beach to the Mtamvuna River, will see this reconstructed road becoming the new N2.

The new N2 on the KZN side will join with the N2 Wild Coast Highway currently under construction in the Eastern Cape.

Once completed, the highway will be approximately 85km shorter than the current N2 alignment from Mthatha to Port Shepstone and will reduce travel time by about three hours. — Supplied

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