Coast KZN

06 Oct 2016

Wise ‘owls’ compromise on birding project

Judi Davis (South Coast Herald)

The Umkhobi Lagoon bird hide in Marina Beach, a simple structure at the heart of a complex argument. It is to be moved to Mpenjati Nature Reserve.

The new Umkhobi Lagoon hide in Marina Beach will be moved to Mpenjati.

The brand new, much-lauded Umkhobi Lagoon bird hide in Marina Beach will have to go.

However, it is not all bad news. Conflict surrounding the project has been amicably resolved and everyone involved in the sad saga is confident about finding a way to move forward.

The hide was built in good faith by members of Marina Beach Conservation Group who were inspired by the fact that the Umkhobi Lagoon, between Marina Beach and Southbroom, was such a popular spot for visiting and local birders and photographers.

They obtained R50 000 for their project from Ugu South Coast Tourism then engaged the services of an accredited environmental consultant. He obtained environmental authorisation from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Environmental Affairs and the Ray Nkonyeni Municipality.

Unfortunately those involved in the project did not realise there were other procedures they would need to follow and they neglected to do so.
As soon as it was completed the hide started to attract the birders – but it also began to attract controversy. Ray Nkonyeni Municipality was soon receiving complaints from local residents, mostly about its siting. However, municipal officials were also concerned about the neglect of due process. Eventually, Ugu South Coast Tourism chairman Joy Crutchfield agreed to mediate at a series of meetings.

The first meeting she chaired, held at Southbroom Community Centre on Saturday, September 24, was attended by Bruce Watts of the Marina Beach Ratepayers’ Association, Peter Hansen and Jacques Sellschop of the Marina Beach Conservation Group and Southbroom residents Brian Thompson, Derek Lawrence, Bruce Mackenzie and Jean Brown.

Joy and Deborah Ludick, also an Ugu South Coast Tourism representative, then met with the tourism sub-committee for the Southbroom/Impenjati area, Finally, Joy met with Mr Watt, Mr Hansen and Mr Sellschop on September 28.

After the meetings, all involved in the negotiations came to a number of agreements. The first step will be to relocate the bird hide to the nearby Impenjati Nature Reserve, where it is sure to be much appreciated. The reserve is a popular birding spot and one of the destinations on the Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route.

Ugu South Coast Tourism has also committed itself to provide a new hide on the lagoon, to the maximum value of R50 000, once permission had been received and the project has the support of the community and the local tourism area committee.
The new hide is to be built where it will have minimal impact on neighbours, will be suitable for birding and can be marketed as a tourist attraction.Those involved will have to secure public support for the chosen site and ensure that the structure is sensitively designed.The Marina Beach Ratepayers’ Association or Marina Beach Conservation Group will need to take ownership and full responsibility for the insurance and maintenance of the structure.

Members of the Marina Beach civic bodies steering the hide project have pointed out that, should the chosen site be on the Southbroom bank of the river, they would not wish to continue and Southbroom ratepayers or conservancy members would need to be approached to adopt it.

There are a number of legal requirements that will be addressed.

Due process will include obtaining a land lease for the hide from Ray Nkonyeni Municipality and approval of the project and of an environmental management plan by the KwaZulu-Natal environmental affairs department.

Finally, the municipality will need to approve plans for the structure and for a related public participation process.