Take note of one of Kenilworth’s ‘hidden gems’

JOHN HARVEY

Conservationists at the Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area (KRCA), which lies at the centre of South Africa’s oldest racecourse, are hoping a glowing feature on international television network CNN will encourage more people to visit the attraction.

The segment was aired in late February and came about after a visiting TV crew assigned to cover the J&B Met at the famous racecourse discovered what is frequently described as a “hidden gem”.

“Most racegoers attending popular events like the J&B Met and the recently established Million Dollar Race will be unaware of the natural riches that surround them,” CNN gushed.

While not recognised as a formal nature reserve, although the KRCA’s conservationists are hoping this will change in the future, the CNN crew was taken by the 52 hectare area’s status as the best-preserved Cape Flats Sand Fynbos in the world.

“I thought it was cool that CNN wanted to do something on our work here, as it obviously gives us mass exposure,” said area manager Rob Slater, whose organisation falls under the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust.

“We are very passionate about the area, as, in terms of the world, Cape Town has one of the most extreme biodiversities. In the KRCA, where we have some 350 different plant species, we have two that are only endemic here, and we are very proud of that,” he said.

“We also are home to one of the few micro frog populations in Cape Town, and are the only place on the Cape Flats where you will find them.”

During a walking tour of the area guided by Mr Slater and colleague Ismail Wambi, the Tatler was introduced to just some of the remarkable flora and fauna that make the area an “ecological goldmine”.

Interestingly, only two weeks earlier an ecological burn – the first of its kind – had been carried out and already the first plant species, including wild asparagus, were beginning to resurface.

“Ecological burns are essential to the lifecycle of fynbos for the purposes of germination. You obviously get different species of fynbos, but, generally speaking, you want to have a burn every 10 to 15 years.”

Mr Wambi said the conservation area’s location made it unique, as, to a large extent, it was not affected by outside influences. Accordingly, the vegetation is unspoilt and remains in pristine condition.

Bird life is also abundant, with birds of prey, such as peregrine falcons and fish eagles, revelling in the conditions alongside other species, such as black kites and blacksmith lapwings.

“The area is like an island,” Mr Slater said. “We are also fortunate in that the city planning was excellent, so we never get any dirty water running into the wetlands, where the water table is at one metre.”

Though the CNN exposure will almost certainly create more interest in the KRCA, Mr Wambi said it had already proved popular among school and birding groups.

“We have school groups coming through, but we also run outreach programmes to the schools themselves. We take groups of a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 25. You don’t want many more than that, because obviously this is a sensitive area with many protected and endangered species,” Mr Wambi said.

Mr Slater emphasised that ultimately the KRCA was about people enjoying the wonders of nature in a fascinating environment.

“Our goal is to be recognised as a formal nature reserve, because we really do have something special here. When people think of endangered species, they usually think of rhinos and other animals. We want people to remember there are tiny plants that are just as endangered. If we lose these, they are gone forever.”

The KRCA can be contacted on 021 700 1843 or conservation1k@kenilworthracing.com