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People and Places

Kingston University of London

2013 marks eight years of fieldwork in Knysna by staff and students from the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment at Kingston University, London. Knysna is the perfect South African destination for us to study an amazing diversity of geographical, environmental and sustainable development themes, made possible with the help and enthusiasm of Glendyrr Fick and the staff at the Knysna Tourism Office.

The Knysna environment is very special. The proximity of forested mountains, the Indian Ocean and ancient fossil dunes that help create the Knysna estuary provide remarkable landscapes for our physical geographers and our environmental scientists to study. This physical setting provides the template for incredible natural habitats; from the indigenous hardwood forests, the shallow ribbon-like channels of the estuary and their salt marsh, to the rocky shoreline at the Knysna Heads with its powerful currents.

Human settlement and development in Knysna is well charted and forms a basis for our study of the human relationship with this landscape. Having the ability to bring our summer fieldtrip to Knysna allows our students to discover that the relationship between development aspirations and the environment is a fragile one, with the 20th century having left its mark locally. Our Sustainable development students investigate these development patterns; the consequences of decades of commercial forestry, the impact of rapid urban development and tourism and the steady encroachment of humans into Knysna's sensitive habitats.

Our students investigate and discuss the lessons of Knysna’s history and the sustainable development challenges for the future - a future that must balance the desire to uplift the community, grant meaningful employment, health and education to all, but without outstripping the capacity of the environment to sustain these goals. From a cultural perspective, the social fabric of Knysna makes it so special; the juxtaposition of poverty and wealth in close proximity, the legacy of South African social and economic history, the numerous community investment and upliftment initiatives present provide remarkable insight and personal development opportunities.

With Glendyrr's assistance we've been fortunate to make contacts with people and organisations at all levels and in all places, to explore Knysna's rich social and cultural landscape, visiting, talking and interviewing community leaders, finding inspiration in the most incredible community projects, and the spirit and determination of the people who's dedication and belief in a better, sustainable and equitable future are lessons to us all.

None of this would have been possible without the continued help and commitment of the Knysna Tourism Office. We're deeply aware that we are tourists ourselves, albeit with some very strange requests at times! Glendyrr and her team have been nothing short of fantastic, opening doors for us, helping us with our accommodation needs and putting us in touch with guides and specialists who have helped us look beyond the immediate tourist gaze and enabled us to gain an educational experience. Every year we come to learn about the Knysna environment and its incredible geography and every year we leave with admiration for the remarkable community spirit which is so entrenched within Knysna, through the addition of more community development projects, volunteerism and local commitment to the natural environment.

Every summer we bring up to 35 students and stay in Knysna for five or so days, dividing our time between staff-directed tours, to orientate ourselves and begin to build up our geographical appreciation. This is then followed by student-directed project days. Such is the geographical diversity of themes under Knysna's umbrella that these projects can vary enormously, tailored to the students interests and where relevant, working with local practitioners. This year, for example, we had a small group of students investigating strategies for managing alien forest species with South Africa National Parks, while another group collected information on sand dune grasses with Cape Nature, and another group investigated enterprise within the informal settlements, working with local guides and staying overnight with families. Over the past couple of years individual students from Kingston University have stayed in Knysna to conduct detailed research projects, such as Jo Millar's recent MSc thesis into water resources, drought and the rapid development of desalination.

None of this would have been possible without the continued help and commitment of the Knysna Tourism Office. We're deeply aware that we are tourists ourselves, albeit with some very strange requests at times! Glendyrr and her team have been nothing short of fantastic, opening doors for us, helping us with our accommodation needs and putting us in touch with guides and specialists who have helped us look beyond the immediate tourist gaze and enabled us to gain an educational experience. Every year we come to learn about the Knysna environment and its incredible geography and every year we leave with admiration for the remarkable community spirit which is so entrenched within Knysna, through the addition of more community development projects, volunteerism and local commitment to the natural environment.

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