Penny Rees and the Mayday for Rivers team have been awarded WESSA KZN Conservationists of the Year 2012. During May 2012, the team of five and a small camera crew walked 311 kms from the source of the Mngeni River at uMngeni vlei all the way to Blue Lagoon where it empties into the ocean.
Judy Bell, on behalf of Winterskloof Conservancy and Midlands Conservancies Forum, nominated the team for this award saying: “Most of us fear to dream so big, let alone work to realise the dreams to do more for the environment, but Penny did so courageously. Her dream was to raise awareness of the plight of our “working rivers” in KZN, focusing on KZN’s Mngeni River, from source to sea. Penny inspired many by doing this walk – some walked with her, others did their own walks in their own areas and many more learnt about the plight of our rivers from their blog – the photos helped armchair enthusiasts share in the trials and tribulations of the walking team. Many learnt about DUCT and the incredibly worthwhile work they do for the first time. The awareness they have raised has been invaluable to all those doing their bit to improve our planet’s ecosystems. She has done us all proud.”
These awards enable the KZN Region of WESSA to recognise the individuals or organisations that have made a significant contribution to Conservation and Environmental Education. The team including Pandora Long, Penelope Malinga, Preven Chetty and Mike Farley was honoured at the WESSA Annual Meeting on Saturday 24 November. “It really was a magnificent team effort” said Penny accepting the Award from Pieter Burger – Chairman WESSA KZN, “It would never have happened with out the rest of the walking team, each with different skills and knowledge. The back up team behind the scenes was just amazing too, and played a huge part in the success of the walk.”
There can be no doubt that Penny’s commitment to our water resources is passionate and, impressively, much of her effort to protect them is voluntary. Since finishing the walk, she has spent many hours downloading data and writing a comprehensive report which includes 26 mini-sass scores, all the negative impacts observed along the way (from invasive vegetation to erosion, poor farming practices and pollution) and also makes suggestions about possible tourist trails along the river banks. Penny says “After walking for 28 days and hundreds of kilometres, putting together a report on all our observations was a far more daunting than the walk itself!” adding “It has become clear to me that the majority of the negative impacts seen along the river are in contravention of South African laws. If these laws were enforced, most of the impacts would not occur and our rivers would be in a far better condition.”
The Mayday for Rivers team has a dream of clean, clear running rivers. Of a world where everyone understands how essential rivers are for all life on our planet. Since the walk, they have all been working in different fields to ensure that their dream does not die. Follow their inspiring stories at www.umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com
Andrew Anderson, Chair of the Midlands Conservancies Forum comments “I salute this team of uMngeni Champions. Thank you for showing us that this river is not only about the ‘science’ of a healthy river system but equally importantly it is about the people and communities that live along its course from source to sea. Thank you for the encouragement your bold project is having in urging me to take up the challenge to protect it AND through the efforts of organizations such as DUCT, Dargle Conservancy, the Midlands Conservancies Forum and the KZN Conservancies Association to find ways of engaging with government, on behalf of the millions of people who are indirectly dependent on the uMgeni, to support landowners in conserving and managing its integrity.”