The Karoo Ridge Conservancy: New beginnings

Nurturing indigenous Nguni cattle on a sustainable grazing programme is part of the conservancy’s effort to reclaim the Karoo’s biodiversity © Karoo Ridge Conservancy

Like most good ideas it all started with cold beers around a fire in a boma and a late-night chat about how to leave the world a little bit of a better place and turn a passion into a profession… Then, in 2014, we stumbled across 5,000 hectares of beautiful, albeit slightly tired, Karoo landscape with enormous potential. And so, for the last few years we have worked endlessly on our small project that is growing bigger by the day: The Karoo Ridge Conservancy.

Having taken over an old sheep farm whose veld had been over-grazed and poorly managed through decades of fairly intensive farming, this really has been a case of building, and rebuilding from the ground up. We hope, little by little, to reclaim the biodiversity of this corner of the Karoo and enable the land to recover, allowing the wildlife that once existed here to flourish again

        Exploring the landscape in the Karoo Ridge Conservancy © Rob Southey

We have thrown all our efforts and finances at getting ourselves to a point where this could be a future reality: Land management and veld rehabilitation; nurturing indigenous Nguni cattle on a sustainable grazing programme; re-introducing game and ensuring welfare and gradually increasing their numbers; building a fantastic eco-lodge for our guests in a secluded valley not far from the homestead (and keeping the baboons out of it and off the roof when they spot an gap in the bookings); and generally trying to keep everything on track and alive!

Yes, we are still at the very beginning but already the veld is improving thanks to a lot of hard work and probably a lot of luck in the midst of the country’s devastating droughts – and we’re grateful for every drop of water we get.

                                 The eco-lodge © Karoo Ridge Conservancy

And so now we find ourselves getting ready for autumn, looking back on a long, hard, fun and successful summer…

Our third summer here spurted and stuttered into life and those lengthy, unseasonal cold spells had us all worried. But whenever the sun came out we found new life out there in the veld in the form of green grass and beautiful colours. Succulents began to flower in deep purples and yellows, and wild daisies and geraniums appeared all over the place. And as the plants we didn’t expect to see so quickly again come back to life, so the birdlife returned.

                                  The view in the Karoo Ridge Conservancy © Rob Southey

Summer visitors like the Diederik cuckoo returned, the weaver birds and bishops flashed out their colourful breeding plumage and got busy with their nests and we were blessed with super special sightings throughout the summer season. Alan Collett, who’s involved in the Bird Atlas Project, visited to help us tally up our bird list, which now, at the end of the summer boasts well over 120 species. In addition, we have also developed a new birding programme for guests who are keen to get involved!

                      A weaver bird building its nest, and jackal buzzard © Stuart Blackwell

As spring moved into summer our new boundary fence – a work in progress – continued to extend its reach around the lands, while we took even more internal fences down. Interminable jobs but just so rewarding!

The sable, kudu, gemsbok, springbok, red hartebeest, wildebeest and zebra can all now roam a bit more freely and it has been an absolute joy to see abundant springbok lambs and other young antelope roaming the plains again, part of the ever-growing herds.

                              A steenbok spotted in the veld © Karoo Ridge Conservancy

We were thrilled to have such lovely guests come to stay in our ego-lodge throughout the spring, summer and autumn. We’ve always thought this place is pretty special: the peace, the space, and the natural beauty. But it’s been wonderful to welcome ever more visitors to KRC and let them discover all this for themselves.

                  The four-bedroomed eco-lodge © Karoo Ridge Conservancy

And as a bonus this summer the Groot Brak River, whose often dry riverbed twists and turns over the lands, started flowing once again. Amazingly, we started spotting freshwater crab shells, water mongoose and Cape clawless otter tracks nearby and have been able to follow the activities of a whole new set of wildlife!

Probably more exciting for our guests is that the Groot Brak created something of a natural ‘beach’ not so far from the guest lodge. So whenever temperatures shot up there were regular expeditions, armed with swimmers, inner tubes and cold beers, down to the ‘Groot Brak Beach’ – not something we expected in the middle of the Karoo desert, but certainly worth a visit!

              The incredible view from high up © Karoo Ridge Conservancy

So winter is on its way again and we are buckling down for a few chilly months and lots more hard work! It has been just thrilling to see the work starting to pay off, the flora and fauna return to the lands and our own team here on the conservancy growing and learning to work through whatever each day holds.

               Enjoying the fire outside the eco-lodge © Karoo Ridge Conservancy

First Published by the African Geaographic


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