Stop Fracking in its Tracks

It comes as a surprise to most South Africans to discover that land ownership does not extend to ownership of any of the minerals buried in the earth. Mineral rights belong to the State. ‘Mineral’ means any substance, whether in solid, liquid or gaseous form, occurring naturally in or on the earth.

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We are justifiably proud of our Constitution – it is one of the best in the world. The Bill of Rights section of the Constitution includes our right to an environment that is not harmful to our health and wellbeing and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations – through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation, promote conservation and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources, while promoting justifiable economic and social development. In reality, economic rights and development goals often override environmental rights leading to a situation where people have to live with toxic air, polluted water and downright dangerous surroundings.

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Two companies, Rhino Oil & Gas and Sungu Sungu, have been issued Technical Cooperation Permits (TCP) by the SA Government for large swathes of KwaZulu-Natal. The TCP permits allow the companies to survey existing geological maps/seismic data and explore the area, but not to actually prospect – i.e. disturb the earth. Landowners cannot legally object to a permit holder entering their property, if they have been given 14 days written notice. Prospecting Permits (issued by Department of Mineral and Energy, not Environmental Affairs) allow the prospector to establish the existence of the mineral or gas by digging test holes or wells. They have the right to extract gas if they find it and, rest assured, they will take it to the next level should they find something! We need to prevent the issuing of prospecting licences as these will inevitably lead to full scale extraction. In the case of fracking the same extractive techniques which are employed in full-scale operations, are likely to be used in the prospecting phase. This has the potential to impact on the water, soil and air in the vicinity.

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Most of us agree that fracking in the Midlands will completely destroy the sense of place and our psychological wellbeing, let alone the environmental disaster it could cause. How do we ensure this does not happen? It is vitally important for landowners to be prepared and informed should prospectors arrive at their gate and to ensure they have followed the correct notification procedures. Often environmental consequences are not valued as much as the effect on humans, so make sure you know all about the health issues associated with fracking – pollution from toxic emissions, dust, noise and light, waste disposal, water pollution and the impacts from truck traffic. One of our best allies may be the local Municipality. Make sure that you participate in the public process of creating the Land Use Management Scheme (LUMS) for the area. Listen to others and speak up, don’t expect someone else to deal with these issues on your behalf. Become informed – the internet makes it so easy!

FRACK 02

Make friends with local officials. In the Midlands, land zoned for ‘Agricultural Use’ will need to be re-zoned for mining, so current local land use could help prevent fracking. Help your Municipality to understand that they will need to deal with all the waste, water and environmental issues that mining creates, but without benefitting financially. Any benefit in terms of employment creation is likely to be limited and of short duration whereas the negative impact on tourism is likely to gravely affect municipal income and job creation in the area.

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Register and comment on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for developments when they arise in your area. Inappropriate development affects our health, water and food security. Start now on smaller projects to get used to the public participation process – don’t assume someone else is doing this work. We will achieve much more with a strong common voice. If we need to fight on behalf of the environment in court, at least our Natural Environment Management Act (NEMA) ensures that even if we lose, costs are not ordered against us. Let’s make sure that it does not come to that.

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Other places on our planet have successfully prevented mining with low-tech tactics like refusing to serve or host prospectors in restaurants and B&B’s, creating human barriers that last for months and relentlessly reporting minor infringements like insufficient ablution facilities for workers. The Midlands is renowned for its creativity, surely we will not allow prospectors to destroy our environment for short term exploitation of a non-renewable resource. Support other communities fighting mining, such as Fuleni beside the iMfolozi Wilderness Area, Xolobeni on the Wild Coast and Mtunzini up the North Coast. See how they have approached their stand to keep their ecosystems functioning and learn the lessons to make your campaign more successful. Everyone can make a difference, no matter how small the action may seem.

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Sign the petition: extra.greenpeaceafrica.org/petitions/keep-fracking-out-of-the-drakensberg-karoo

Learn from other campaigns:

Threatened Plant Species – Disperis woodii

ORCHIDACEAE: Disperis woodii [Declining]

Disperis woodii commonly known as Wood’s Disperis was named after John Medley Wood (1827 – 1915), a botanist and collector who became the first curator of the Natal Herbarium. Many people will know him through his numerous publication on KZN flora. The exquisite orchid is a declining species, which is under threat from urban development and sugarcane cultivation.

Disperis woodii is found in the damp, sandy grasslands of KZN and the Eastern Cape, growing to heights of between 40 – 150mm. Disperis woodii contains two leaves that are alternate, sharply pointed, dark green with silvery veins, egg-shaped with the wider part below the middle and are situated at the base or on the stem.

Wood's Disperis - Disperis woodii. Photograph by Geoff Nichols

Wood’s Disperis – Disperis woodii. Photograph by Geoff Nichols

Flowers are solitary, whitish or pink, in the axil of a small bract on a red stalk. Median sepal are egg-shaped with an upright, tubular spur (a slender hollow extension of the perianth, often containing nectar), 10 – 15mm long and dark yellow-green. Lateral sepals are broadest at the middle with two equal rounded ends, gradually narrowing to a long tip, however, the spurs are not pointed and are 4 – 6mm long, marked with a longitudinal pink streak. The petals are attached to the median sepal, curved like a sickle and divided into two unequal parts. They are long and rounded in outline, gradually narrowing to a long tip of 5 mm long and 3 mm wide. The ovary of Disperis woodii is egg-shaped and about 4 mm long.

Disperis woodii can be seen flowering between March and August.

Please report sightings of these naturally occurring plants to Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager s.parbhoo@sanbi.org.za

References:

  • Kurzweil, H. & Victor, J.E. 2005. Disperis woodii Bolus. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2014.1. Accessed on 2015/06/04
  • Linder, H.P. & Kurzweil, H. 1999. Orchids of Southern Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam.
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wildflowers KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – Autumn 2015

Barry Downard

Here’s an unusual sighting – a Praying Mantis “riding” a bicycle!

Praying Mantis fits in with the KZN Midlands lifestyle.

Praying Mantis fits in with the KZN Midlands lifestyle.

Brandon Powell

2015-04-18 Inhlosane 08

We climbed Inhlosane in a stiff autumn wind – the view of the changing colours of the landscape and fast-sailing clouds was incomparable, as was the huge eagle that flew straight over our heads as soon as we opened the first weissbier at the top…

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There seemed to be beautiful, late-blooming flowers in every crevice and cranny of the mountain.

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At Bukamanzi the spiders and beetles get odder and odder looking, but I’m quite fond of them now: This shy, translucent one hides under the rose leaves.

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There’s a rather mad-looking orange and black one who turned up in the kindling basket.

Scorpion Spider

Scorpion Spider

And a beetle with a back that looks like a Congolese mask.

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Otherwise it’s been the usual Reedbuck, jackal and vervet monkeys but no sign of the resident genet or duiker in while.

A new addition is the resident snake, Sir Hiss, who I trod on one afternoon on the sunny door-mat. He streaked away like molten toffee being thrown in the air, a wild line of green, as I yelled and jumped up and down on the kitchen table for a good hour. After I described him to her, Helen Booysen thought it must have been a boomslang. She would know, after finding Barend with one whirling around his head like a kite. As snakes go it was wonderful to look at but like a mad horse I still shy away stupidly from hose-pipes/dropped tea-towels/dead sticks.

Our bit of the valley has had an especially fine blaze of autumn colour and flowers:

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And as ever it’s the details that really stay with one long after the big showy scenes have faded from memory:

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Nikki Brighton – Old Kilgobbin Farm

I think we are extraordinarily privileged to be able to observe wildlife at close quarters – often from the comfort of our favourite chair. Over the top of my computer screen, I was able to watch this gorgeous Golden Orb Web spider for a few weeks.

Golden Orb spider

Golden Orb spider

The low sun catching the threads of the web and creating sparkles in the partial shade of the forest. Quite challenging to photograph.

Golden Orb Spider

Golden Orb Spider

After a windy day, red Halleria lucida blossoms were caught in the web creating a really festive forest decoration. She is gone now.

Spider silhouette

Spider silhouette

Just outside, Hadedas built a nest in the Kiggelaria africana tree and hatched two babies. Once again, I was able to observe them at leisure, which was a treat, although the droppings made the most awful mess on the shrubs and patio beneath. Astonishing how two big chicks managed to perch on the tiny, flimsy nest. Before the fledged, they hopped from branch to branch stretching their wings.

Hadeda chicks

Hadeda chicks

A Midlands Autumn classic is the blaze of Leonotis leonaurus across fields and along roadsides. They are particularly spectacular this year.

Wild Dagga - Leonotis leonaurus

Wild Dagga – Leonotis leonaurus

Also still in flower in the long grass is the dainty, parasitic Striga bilabiata. The pinkish mauve flowers with prominent veins are borne on hairy, plum coloured stems.

Striga bilabiata

Striga bilabiata

Veronia natalensis (I think) is also still flowering. The dark purple contrasts beautifully with the gold, bronze and russet grasses.

Veronia  natalensis

Veronia natalensis

Not so natural, but spectacular nonetheless, are the seed heads of Blackjacks (Bidens pilosa) along paths in the grassland.

Blackjacks

Blackjacks

Also in the grassland, there are lots of buck to be seen. I spotted Oribi (a group of three), Common Duiker and Reedbuck.

Beautiful Reedbuck ram

Beautiful Reedbuck ram

Relaxing in the sunshine in the middle of the road one afternoon was this beautiful Midlands Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion thamnobates). I moved him out of harm’s way and took some photos. Lucky me.

Midlands Dwarf Chameleon

Midlands Dwarf Chameleon

Mike and Anne Weedon

With much of our grass having been cut and the weather allowing for some green growth, the numbers of Reedbuck spotted have increased somewhat in recent weeks.

Female Bushbuck

Female Bushbuck

One of our members of staff was fortunately alerted by a scuffle in the bushes on the way to work recently and, on investigating, discovered a rather exhausted Serval (Leptailurus serval) caught in a snare. Not wanting to unnecessarily alarm the poor animal, I called on Free-Me and SA Can for assistance and they both reacted immediately. With a blanket over its head, the serval was soon calmed and the snare around its rump was quickly removed. A thorough examination surprisingly revealed no injuries whatsoever and the cat was released back into the bush. Many thanks for the prompt and expert help from these two wonderful organisations.

Serval trapped in snare. Free-me and SA CAN helped to free it.

Serval trapped in snare. Free-me and SA CAN helped to free it.

David Crookes

Sunset over Mavela Dam.

Sunset over Mavela Dam

Pat and Sandra Merrick

Some lovely sightings in April and May:

White-throated Swallow chicks thrown out their nest.

White-throated Swallow chicks thrown out their nest.

Painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterfly

Dead jackal on D17 - run over during the night.

Dead jackal on D17 – run over during the night.

This moth was on the window when I drew the curtains one morning - no idea of its identity.

This moth was on the window when I drew the curtains one morning – no idea of its identity.

These lizards are very social and run in and out the rocks while I am gardening.

These lizards are very social and run in and out the rocks while I am gardening.

Jackal buzzard

Jackal buzzard

Southern Boubou shrieking at her partner down below her

Southern Boubou shrieking at her partner down below her

Malachite sunbird in autumn colours.

Malachite sunbird in autumn colours.

I think this is a reed frog in its brown colouring.

I think this is a reed frog in its brown colouring.

Buff-streaked Chats having a bath one hot morning

Buff-streaked Chats having a bath one hot morning

Reed cormorant drying its wings after diving in and out the pond all morning eating crabs and frogs.

Reed cormorant drying its wings after diving in and out the pond all morning eating crabs and frogs.

Common baboon spider

Common baboon spider

We have had 5 female water buck on the farm this month. They seem to hide during the day in the gum trees and come out in the early evening to drink at the dam.

We have had 5 female water buck on the farm this month. They seem to hide during the day in the gum trees and come out in the early evening to drink at the dam.

Female waterbuck

Female waterbuck

An Aardvark dug this huge hole in our driveway. We filled it in but he came back several times and dug it out again. So presumably heaps of termites down this hole.

An Aardvark dug this huge hole in our driveway. We filled it in but he came back several times and dug it out again. So presumably heaps of termites down this hole.

Cattle Egrets and Reed cormorants settling down for the night.

Cattle Egrets and Reed cormorants settling down for the night.

Secretary bird showing his crown of feathers.

Secretary bird showing his crown of feathers.

African Stonechat

African Stonechat

Crowned crane on power lines at dusk - juvenile in the middle with small crown.

Crowned crane on power lines at dusk – juvenile in the middle with small crown.

We have had a pair of Blacksmith plovers sleeping in our garden each evening - they would walk around the house with their distinct tink tink sound waking me up.

We have had a pair of Blacksmith plovers sleeping in our garden each evening – they would walk around the house with their distinct tink tink sound waking me up.

Angifun’ iFracking

“I have never heard of the possibility of fracking happening in KZN.” The refrain was often the same in schools across the Midlands that participated in the Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) Fracking Awareness Campaign, funded by Global Green Grants Fund.

Dabulamanzi pupils were keen to learn more about the issues associated with fracking.

Dabulamanzi pupils were keen to learn more about the issues associated with fracking.

A number of technical cooperation permits have been issued in the Midlands and Drakensberg foothills, which give the holders rights to research the area with a view to fracking. The role of this area as the ‘water factory’ of KwaZulu-Natal cannot be underestimated. It is vitally important to protect these areas which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of nearly 6 million people downstream.

Crystal Springs

Crystal Springs

Younger learners listened to the ‘The Great Fracking Indaba’ to introduce the concept and illustrate some of the problems associated with the fracking process – before arranging picture cards, which illustrated the story, in the correct sequence. This enchanting tale reinforces the fact that healthy rivers mean healthy people, plants and animals, helping the learners understand the importance of our precious water resources.

Corrie Lynn Primary enthusiastically taking part in our campaign to oppose fracking.

Corrie Lynn Primary enthusiastically taking part in our campaign to oppose fracking.

Older learners watched a presentation about energy and how it is generated in South Africa. Many were aware of our current energy crisis and dependence of fossil fuels. The fracking process was explained before posing the question ‘Could fracking be the answer to our energy crisis?’ At first it looked like a good idea before the facilitator pointed out how much water could potentially be used in each well (6 and 25 million litres), how much sand would be needed (150,000 kg) and the array of chemicals that would be pumped into the wells to release the gas during the fracking process.

Dargle Primary

Dargle Primary

Soon it was clear to everyone that contaminated water, soil erosion, potential threats to human health and destruction of sensitive environments were not a reasonable price to pay for this energy. Alternates that do less harm like solar and wind were explored. “All along, I have been made to believe the only solution to our energy crisis is fracking. I was not made aware of the environmental implications. A better solution, I think, will be solar energy.” Gregory Radebe, a teacher Bruntville Primary School, said with conviction.

Bruntville Primary understands that fracking is not the answer to our energy crisis and explored other options such as solar and wind power.

Bruntville Primary understands that fracking is not the answer to our energy crisis and explored other options such as solar and wind power.

Discussion turned to ways citizens could make their voices heard – by lobbying politicians, signing petitions and demanding that our constitutional right to an environment not harmful to our health is upheld. Khumbulani Khuzwayo in Grade 7 decided he would post the fracking awareness pamphlets (in English and isiZulu) at the bus stop so that more people would be informed about fracking. After the lively debate, everyone was encouraged sign a petition to voice their opinion against Fracking.

Signing the petition to make her voice heard.

Signing the petition

Although this was entirely voluntary most learners were keen to take a stand in support of their environment. “Stop fracking and destroying the trees. Please don’t do that – it is our future” wrote Zothani Njokwe (age 11) Thenjiwe Ncgobo, Principal of Corrie Lynn School commented “A lot of people and creatures will suffer and a small group will benefit. Learners are ready to stop fracking if it comes to their area.” Val Ellens of Howick Prep School added: “The children loved being involved in the discussion and a highlight was being able to voice their own sentiments on the petition.”

No Fracking Petition Nottingham Road Primary

No Fracking Petition Nottingham Road Primary

Finally, learners and teachers were introduced to the WESSA Water Explorers programme, a fun, inspiring web-based initiative that challenges them to look at how water affects our lives and to take practical actions to save water. As it supports the national curriculum and compliments the Eco-schools programme, teachers were very interested in participating. “Our Enviro Club is excited about the challenges and they use every chance they get to complete another one.” Antonia Mkhabela, Life Science teacher at Shea O’Connor School.

Hawkstone Primary

Hawkstone Primary

The Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) opposes, on ecological, economic and social grounds, the use of fracking to recover natural shale gas. Fracking regulations state that a well site may not be located within: 1km of a wetland and 5km from the surface location of an existing municipal water well field and identified future well fields. Clearly, the risk of contamination of groundwater in an already water-stressed environment is simply unacceptable. As the learners at Dabulamanzi Combined wrote on their petition poster “We can’t drink gas! Angifun’ iFracking!”

Dabulamanzi School

Dabulamanzi School

Boston Wildlife Sightings – May 2015

Crystelle Wilson – Gramarye

AT the beginning of the month it was great to host Dieter Oschadleus, the director of SAFRING, the South African Bird Ringing Unit. He put up mist nets in the wetland on Gramarye with the hope of catching weavers and widowbirds which are his special field of research.

Dieter with an African Stonechat

Dieter with an African Stonechat

In summer the place is alive with Fan-tailed and Red-collared Widows and Southern Red Bishops at their nests, but by now they were flocking and spending their time together feeding and flying to roosting sites at dawn and dusk. Frustratingly the majority of birds managed to evade the nets, but Dieter was still satisfied with his haul of 14 birds. These were: 1 African Stonechat, 1 Lesser Swamp Warbler, 1 African Reed Warbler, 2 Levaillant’s Cisticola, 3 Village Weaver, 4 Red-billed Quelea, 1 Southern Red Bishop and 1 Fan-tailed Widow.

Fan-tailed Widowbird

Fan-tailed Widowbird

Red-billed Quelea

Red-billed Quelea

Levaillant’s Cisticola

Levaillant’s Cisticola

When a bird has flown into the net, he removes it and place it in a cloth bag until it can be processed. Detailed measurements are taken and the bird is weighed on a tiny scale the size of a cellphone before being released.

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The birds weighed between 7 and 36 grams. A surprising discovery was finding a tick on the African Reed Warbler. Dieter removed it and placed it in surgical spirits to hand over to someone else who is doing research on ticks.

African Reed Warbler

African Reed Warbler

There were two unusual records this month. One was finding a Black Harrier working the grassland adjoining the Dargle road near Fairview, flying low, backwards and forwards in typical harrier fashion and clearly showing the diagnostic white rump.

Black Harrier

Black Harrier

Then I was surprised to hear Spectacled Weavers calling in my garden. I saw them for the first time in the district earlier this year building a nest at the Pickle Pot, and now they’ve paid me a visit as well.

Spectacled Weavers

Spectacled Weavers

It was good seeing a Lanner Falcon doing its job as a pest control officer,

Lanner Falcon with prey

Lanner Falcon with prey

while juvenile raptor plumages once again demonstrated its potential to confuse: at first glance it looked like a Cape Vulture flying overhead, but any lingering doubt was removed when the distinctive call of African Fish-Eagle sounded clearly.

Juvenile African Fish-Eagle

Juvenile African Fish-Eagle

Denham’s Bustard was seen on Four Gates during a very enjoyable walk to the cascades on the Elands River.

Denham's Bustard

Denham’s Bustard

On the rocks we saw prolific otter scat as well as a pair of recently hatched agama lizards.

Otter scats

Otter scats

The SABAP2 atlas list for the Elandshoek pentad 2935_3000: Greater Honeyguide, Denham’s Bustard, Olive Thrush, Black-backed Puffback, Cape Batis, Yellow Bishop, Red-winged Starling, African Spoonbill, African Fish-Eagle, Red-throated Wryneck, Red-billed Quelea, Fan-tailed Widowbird, White-breasted Cormorant, Cape Grassbird, Spectacled Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Spotted Eagle-Owl, African Hoopoe, Black Harrier, Drakensberg Prinia, White-throated Swallow, Brown-throated Martin, Common Moorhen, Pied Kingfisher, Reed Cormorant,

Agama Lizards

Agama Lizards

Yellow-billed Duck, Three-banded Plover, Jackal Buzzard, African Olive-pigeon, Sombre Greenbul, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Glossy Starling, Southern Boubou, Village Weaver, Cape Sparrow, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, House Sparrow, Pin-tailed Whydah, Speckled Pigeon, Red-necked Spurfowl, African Pipit, Levaillant’s Cisticola, African Darter, Black-headed Heron, Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coot, Blacksmith Lapwing, Red-capped Lark, Hamerkop, Cape Turtle-dove, Red-eyed Dove, Common Fiscal, Egyptian Goose, Fork-tailed Drongo, Spur-winged Goose, Grey Crowned Crane, Black Sparrowhawk, Cape Crow, African Stonechat, Dark-capped Bulbul, Helmeted Guineafowl, African Sacred Ibis, Bokmakierie, South African Shelduck, African Rail, Green Wood-hoopoe, Common Waxbill, Long-crested Eagle, Cape Wagtail, Cape Robin-chat, Hadeda Ibis, Cape Canary, Amethyst Sunbird, Black-headed Oriole, Greater Striped Swallow.

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Cascades on the Eland’s River

The Grey Crowned Cranes raising their one surviving juvenile has been an education. At 16h55, as I set out for the walk, I heard them calling from the dam and went haring around the corner to the paddock. They were walking next to the dam, feeding. Junior found a stick amusing and picked it up, dropped it and picked it up again. Then the parents began dancing, and tried to include him too. He’s not quite as adept yet, but did his best. At 17h13 they all three took off and flew across the river and landed in the green field below the pivot on Netherby. At 17h23 they returned and the parents settled in the tree on the dam, but junior flew around the tree a few times and then disappeared. I couldn’t see where it went.

Barry Cromhout of “Highland Glen”

African Fish-Eagle near “Elandsvlei”; Black Ducks on dam at “Highland Glen” with four chicks; Grey Crowned Crane on dead tree on “The Willows”.

David and Barbara Clulow, visiting from 29 May to 31st

30 Grey Crowned Cranes on a pasture at Melrose; four Denham’s Bustards, walking in stubble maize lands on Netherby; Black-headed Herons on The Drift dam; Blacksmith Lapwing on The Drift; masses of Cape Crows; garden birds galore; Duiker on The Drift; Reedbuck on The Willows; Stonechats, Hadeda Ibis and Fiscals; Sacred Ibis; Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese; Red-knobbed Coot.

Forest Buzzard

Forest Buzzard

Frances Nel on “Four Gates”

Four Southern Ground-Hornbills on two occasions.

Sitamani Sightings – Christeen Grant

May this year has been a long extension of autumn, an “Indian Summer”; clear, cool days with cloudless blue skies. We’ve had virtually no rain at all and as it’s been dry also not had the usual frost by mid-May. Underneath the yellow gold grass seed heads the leaves are still green.

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I have been away most of May so haven’t explored far from the house to see which plants are flowering. Every winter I look forward to the showy snowy-white candyfloss flowers of the Buddleja auriculata.

Buddleja auriculata

Buddleja auriculata

Buddleja auriculata

Buddleja auriculata

The bright yellow Senecio polyanthemoides shine on the edge of the lawn

Senecio polyanthemoides

Senecio polyanthemoides

Senecio polyanthemoides

Senecio polyanthemoides

and star like Euryops laxa pop up between fallen leaves.

Euryops laxa

Euryops laxa

An insect buzz in the Halleria lucida trees signals the opening of the bright red flowers growing straight off woody branches without stalks.

Halleria lucida

Halleria lucida

Aloe maculata buds are starting to open up.

Aloe maculata

Aloe maculata

Aloe maculata

Aloe maculata

Birds are relishing the two birdbaths. One is on our verandah and late one afternoon I spotted a Cape Batis flitting up into the branches overhead. A courting couple of Black-backed Puffbacks were in display mode. The Afrikaans name Sneeubal aptly describes the pompom white ball of feathers on the male’s back. Three Buff-streaked Chats sat sunning on hillside rocks, a bit far off for a good photo.

Buff-streaked Chat

Buff-streaked Chat

The Speckled Pigeons are rearing yet another brood, two downy heads peep over the nest in the garage. The parents take well-deserved rests on the roof.

Speckled Pigeon

Speckled Pigeon

In the orchard bared branches reveal an arboreal Ants nest and Lichens.

Ants nest

Ants nest

Lichen

Lichen

Many Bees and Hoverflies zoom into the few flowering plants. Not many moths about at the moment.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

A beautiful male Reedbuck is often seen grazing near the house in the early mornings and evenings. Two duiker, three Reedbuck and a Black-backed Jackal were on the driveway one evening when I returned home.

Threatened Plant Species – Hydrostachys polymorpha

HYDROSTACHYACEAE: Hydrostachys polymorpha [Vulnerable]

Meet this unusual plant, Hydrostachys polymorpha, a perennial aquatic fern-like herb which is unable to survive without the turbulence of the water. Living life on the edge takes on a whole new dimension with this plant that has found a perfect formula for adhesion, nature’s very own super glue, allowing it to cling onto the rocks and thrive in the white waters which give rafters a thrill.

Hydrostachys polymorpha by Alexander Rebelo

Hydrostachys polymorpha by Alexander Rebelo

This plant is found on the rocks in the fast flowing fresh water within the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, Umvoti and Krantzkloof Nature Reserve and the presence of the species is greatly affected by habitat degradation, river pollution, harvesting for medicinal use and most importantly reduced water flow.

Hydrostachys polymorpha grows up to 400 mm high. The leaves of the plant are basal and remain submerged in water. Leaves are 100 – 400 mm, contain small leaflets that are curled up, which gives the leaf a coarse wart-like appearance. The petiole and axis of the compound leaf are flat and coated with several wart-like outgrowths that are sometimes winged. Pinnae (leaflets of a pinnate leaf) are sub-opposite, numerous, spreading and 30 mm long.

Photograph by D. Gwynne-Evans

Photograph by D. Gwynne-Evans

Hydrostachys polymorpha flowers from May to August. The plant contains a spike inflorescence with alternate and sessile flowers along a common unbranched axis. The spike is erect above the water and dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). The male and female are similar, strong, and occasionally smooth, grow to 300 mm long and occur from the base of the plant. The stalk is leafless, strong, and occasionally smooth. The male flowers have overlapping bracts that are broadly egg-shaped with very small bumps near the pointed apex and recurved margins. The female flowers have bracts that are shaped like bivalve molluscs, 3 mm long and a lip-like tip with a central nerve extending downwards.

The fruit of Hydrostachys polymorpha are flattened, smooth, egg-shaped and hidden inside the bract. The seeds are small and orange.

Remember to report sightings of these naturally occurring plants to Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager s.parbhoo@sanbi.org.za

References:

  • Obermeyer A.A. 1970. Flora of Southern Africa 13: 211
  • Sieben, E., von Staden, L. & Raimondo, D. 2006. Hydrostachys polymorpha Klotzsch ex A.Br. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2014.1. Accessed on 2015/06/04

Don’t Fiddle With our Water Factories

In nature, there is no magic water factory – the water on the earth now is the same water that has been here since the beginning of time. Whether in the Karoo or the forests of the Congo, the basics of the water cycle are the same: Water falls on the land as rain, snow, sleet, hail and mist, runs into our rivers, fills our dams and underground aquifers, and flows out to the oceans. The sun evaporates this water, clouds form and some of it falls again on the land. This is the water that we all use. Only 3% of the water on our planet is freshwater (as opposed to saline) and only 1% is available for our use.

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South Africa is a water scarce, semi-arid country, and unfortunately, even the little water we do have is often badly managed, used wastefully and polluted. It seems crazy then that hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which uses a lot of water AND contaminates water, should even be considered an option to boost our energy resources! A number of technical cooperation permits have been issued in the Midlands and Berg foothills, which give the holders rights to research the area as a desktop exercise with a view to fracking. In order to verify the amount of shale gas present and its viability as an energy source, prospecting or exploration as it is termed in the oil and gas sector, will need to take place. This activity has the potential to affect groundwater quality as it uses hydraulic fracturing techniques.

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The KZN Midlands is a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area. The role of the Drakensberg and foothills as the ‘water factories’ of Kwa Zulu Natal cannot be underestimated. Intact grasslands are important for storing rainwater in wetlands or as ground water which is gradually released throughout the year. It is vitally important to protect these areas which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of nearly 6 million people downstream. Other free ecosystem services provided by these Midlands grasslands include pollination, soil production, flood water attenuation, carbon storage, cultural and recreational amenities and support to subsistence livelihoods. The uMngeni River catchment supplies 1000 million litres per day of potable water to a vast area including Howick, Hilton, Edendale, Wartburg, Vulindlela, most of Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

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The Midlands Conservancy Forum (MCF) opposes, on ecological, social and economic grounds, the use of fracking to recover natural shale gas. Specifically, the MCF believes that the risk of contamination of groundwater in an already water-stressed environment is simply unacceptable. Despite assurances from potential extractors that the technique is safe, evidence of failed safety measures and resultant contamination is increasingly common in areas where fracking has been undertaken, even under first world conditions. We can’t drink gas! Want to be better informed about this issue?

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Learn more here: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/prpagefracking.php