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Nature finds a friend


A FRIEND in need is a friend indeed, or at least this was the motivation behind the Friends of Kloofendal, which took on the West Rand nature reserve when it needed more than just a clean up.

The first gold mine on the West Rand
The first gold mine on the West Rand
"We are a group of volunteers who just have a passion for nature and our environment," says Karin Spottiswoode, a certified nature tour guide involved in maintaining the grounds.
Grassland with bushveld and savannah, green fields and rocks stretching over the 110 hectares of land fill the serene Kloofendal Nature Reserve. There is much wildlife amid the bush, too, including fish, tadpoles, frogs and birds living along the river that runs through the park.

"Nothing is boring about nature," Spottiswoode says, explaining how everything operates in interlinked systems. "Only a few seek out the understanding of nature that such places provide ... Only these people see systems within systems, inter-related forms of life: niches, insects, parasites, food and beauty, natural recycling..."

Spottiswoode is on the committee that formed Friends of Kloofendal, or FroK, a non-profit outfit that uses the beautiful terrain on the West Rand. FroK was started about seven years ago by the local community, chaired by Willem Hazewindus, a former chairman of the Roodepoort branch of the Wildlife Society.

The organisation's core aims were two-fold: to preserve the pure indigenous Highveld and to promote use of the park by the public as a nature reserve. It aimed to "protect, care for and maintain" the park and the Struben Confidence Reef, the first gold mine on the West Rand.

Since then, activities such as guided walks, star gazing, picnic concerts and educational courses have been established to develop public interest in the reserve and to use its resources. These nature lovers work hand-in-hand with City Parks to safeguard the park and encourage people to visit it.

"It's important to make the public aware and to educate them about our natural heritage and amazing biodiversity of plants and animals which occur in the reserve," says Spottiswoode.

The organisation has four portfolios. The environmental education team is in charge of taking the public on tours, walks and making presentations on nature and the reserve.
The Confidence Reef Mine and stamp-mill group is responsible for maintaining the mine, while the alien invasive problem vegetation team leads the cleaning and removal of intruding plants. The maintenance ensures the park is well taken care of, with the latest idea the Ecologically Friendly Picnic Concerts - hosted to raise funds for the reserve.

City Parks has given FroK workspace, at the Ecology Centre, in the park from which to operate. And it is here that they display findings of animal droppings and skeletons, snake skins, insects, plants and pamphlets about the environment.

"Johannesburg is blessed with many preserved natural areas, but they are visited by few people," she says, emphasising that knowledge often leads to a deep appreciation of the interaction between man and the environment.

"The ability of nature to survive adversities such as droughts, fire and storms is remarkable," she says, though she is also concerned with the finiteness of nature. Humans have a profound influence on nature and should take on the responsibility of preserving it while there is still time.

"People take nature for granted," she says with concern. "When all these trees, animals and dams are gone we won't be able to recreate [them]."

Kloofendal has a spacious lawn, benches with tables, a braai area, education centres, toilets and a stage and amphitheatre that can be used by any member of the public. Open from 6am to 6pm, the requirements for use of these facilities are simple - just stick to the rules of "maintaining a peaceful habitat for the animals and not causing them discomfort".

Spottiswoode says FroK's work over the past six years has put the reserve on the map. "In 2003, [it] was hardly visited," she explains. "People were scared to go there as it was lonely and thought to be unsafe."
Completely fenced off with security guards at the gate, the park is an alternative venue for birthday parties, work or business functions, or picnics.

"Entrance into the park is free unless you want a field guide to take you on the trails." Entertainment planned for events has to be "ecologically friendly", including any music. "We usually prefer non-electrical music or soft music such as classical."

FroK concerts are usually unplugged.

Since it began offering activities, "there has been a great increase in demand for further guided nature experiences - particularly for families".

The guided nature walks are the main projects on which the organisation focuses. Volunteers help with the drawing and providing of maps of the reserve. Every week or two for the last six years, FroK has organised walks on a variety of themes covering the fauna, flora, geology and mining history of the reserve. Each week the topic changes from plants to animals, including scorpions, frogs, trees, grasses and the prospectors' trail.

There are guided walks for individuals or groups led by Field Guide Association of South Africa (FGASA) guides; there are also nocturnal events presented by environmental experts and published authors.

Interactive guided walks in the morning cost just R40 each per adult or R400 for groups no more than 20 people - smaller groups allow for better interaction between the guide and the walkers. Children under 12 can join in on the fun for only R20 each while school groups pay R350. FroK members pay R30 per adult. Each group is assigned one field guide.
Nocturnal events begin with a presentation and are followed by a guided walk. FroK members are charged R40, while non-members pay R50. "It's not just the guide telling you what is going on with the plants and animals on the trail," Spottiswoode says of the tours. "You can also take part in the conversation and discuss things with the guide."

Everybody has knowledge, she believes, which is why it's important to interact during the field tours. In the last few years, over 1 000 people have attended these walks each year, according to FroK.

FroK has a dedicated team of field guides, book authors and experts ready to share their environmental knowledge with anyone. All field guides involved in the park are either certified by FGASA or are leading experts in their particular field, such as geology or vegetation.

"For several years, FroK has built up programmes of walks in the Kloofendal Nature Reserve to open up opportunities for learning."

Educating children and adults is important to the organisation, and booklets on varies nature themes in the reserve are being published. "A booklet on fungi has been completed and booklets on insects, spiders, scorpions, trees, birds and mining history are being written."

For these booklets and an extensive book on local mining history to be published, though, further funding needs to be raised.

Attending a concert at the reserve
Attending a concert at the reserve
In 2007, FroK started an educational programme for school children which it is looking to expand. It calculates that half-a-million people live in the Roodepoort, Dobsonville and Florida areas. Of these, at least 5 000 are schoolchildren.
The educational focus for primary schoolchildren would be the role of insects and other small creatures in a natural environment. Secondary school learners would look at the Highveld ecology and how nature functions.

"This is FroK's Schools Environmental Education Programme target, which will take a couple of years to achieve," the organisation says - with extensive funds.

Guide course
FroK, together with Bushveld Training Adventures (BTA), offers a nature guide/environmentalist course that takes a year to complete.

"The BTA day course is the only environmentalist course with lectures and practicals run during the day and the only course run within a city." According to FroK, other similar courses have lectures at night and practicals in reserves outside Joburg.

The course covers aspects of the local natural environment, with topics ranging from indigenous trees, grasses and flowers, to insects, spiders and birds, geology, ecology and astronomy, to signs of the veld and guiding ethics.

The qualification is accredited by FGASA. The institution says, it "provides educational opportunities to promote the conservation and rehabilitation of the cultural and natural heritage of Southern Africa".

Presented by Sakkie van Aswegen, an established trainer and assessor of field guides, the course is open to any interested individual. "It can simply be an enrichment of one's own life," says FroK. "Some students from past years have described doing the course as one of the best things they ever did in their life."

The course starts on 2 February and consists of a minimum of eight students.

Upcoming events
FroK has a number of educational and fundraising events lined up for this year.  Several events have already been held, looking at mushrooms, grasses and insects. On Saturday, 30 January, FroK will host a course on spiders in Kloofendal between 9am and noon, lectured by Astri Leroy, co-author of Spiders of Southern Africa. It costs R150 per person and is payable on the day.

Prepare for a lesson on Prospectors' trail: history and geology of Confidence Reef Gold Mine at 2pm on Sunday, 31 January headed by Rod Kruger, a West Rand history enthusiast.

Interesting facts on Trees - ID will be held on Saturday, 6 February at 9am while a nocturnal event on bats will be held at 6pm on the same day. On 7 February, there will be a presentation on indigenous fruit, coffee and tea, and a walk at 9am hosted by Tim Truluck from Slow Food. Spottiswoode will also be on the walk.

On Valentines Day, 14 February, there will be a walk around the whole reserve for R20; no special booking is required. Koos van Dyk will present a lecture on birding on Saturday, 20 February, followed later at 6.30pm by a presentation and a walk looking at frogs, led by Ella Jansen van Vuuren, a FGASA guide.

A lecture on grasses will take place at 9am on 27 February while the Prospectors' trail - history and geology of Confidence Reef Gold Mine will be presented again on 6 March at 2pm.

A nocturnal event on creepy crawlies will be held on the evening of 20 March at 6pm, hosted by Jonathan Leeming. It will involve searching for insects using a UV light and parents are encouraged to bring their children.

Alien invasive vegetation and litter removal is scheduled for the second Saturday morning of every month, starting at 8.30am. This programme is intended not only to clean the park, but also to teach learners which are the main invasive plants and what they look like.

FroK will host fundraising picnic concerts on 28 March and 25 April. Star gazing events and long walks are yet to be scheduled. The Kloofendal Nature Reserve is in Roodepoort; the entrance is in Galena Avenue, between Topaz and Argent avenues.

For more information on the upcoming events, contact Doreen Wood on 011 679 3478 or 082 341 5902. For course and field guided walk bookings, contact Karin Spottiswoode on 011 674 2980 or 072 595 6991. Bookings can be made via SMS on the above numbers by sending your name and number of people you will bring.