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Garden Route set for 220km ‘ribbon‘ to be protected - 24 October 2007

ENVIRONMENTAL Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk paid a brief visit to the Wilderness National Park by helicopter at the weekend to consult with SANParks senior management on proclaiming a 220 kilometre ribbon of protected areas by next March.

SANParks chief executive officer David Mabunda, who accompanied Van Schalkwyk, said the consolidated Garden Route National Park (GRNP) along the Southern Cape Coast would combine Wilderness, Tsitsikamma, the Knysna lakes system, inland forest areas and coastline.

Having recently returned from visits to national parks overseas, Mabunda said the structure of the proposed Southern Cape park typified the direction parks were taking internationally.

“Although South Africans tend to visualise national parks as monolithic, continuous fenced areas like the Kruger Park, the reality is that concepts are changing and fragmented examples, such as the GRNP will become, where protected land is unfenced and separated by private property are becoming increasingly common.”

He said provided the protected areas and the land affecting those eco-systems were managed by one professional and capable body, the concept could work effectively.

Van Schalkwyk said he had been amazed by the amount of development in the area and was aware of the enormous pressure on land and water resources in the region. He encouraged local landowners and entrepreneurs to embrace the concept of the new GRNP.

“People who will be affected by the consolidated park should not see it as a threat, but as an opportunity. The prospect of living and operating a business near the park will be tremendously exciting and will bring boundless opportunities,” he said.

SANParks regional manager Nomvuselelo Songelwa presented a status report to the minister which indicated the planning stages of the GRNP would continue beyond 2009, although evidence of the revised management structure would be visible soon after proclamation next year.

“We will commence with clearing of alien vegetation, implement our coastal management plan, work on developing benefits for local communities and work closely with the four affected municipalities,” she said.

One exciting prospect is the possibility of the reintroduction of wildlife, including various antelope and mountain zebra. Already the return of leopard had been confirmed with sightings in the Wilderness Park, she said.

BOB HOPKIN - Garden Route Correspondent