Category Archives: Conservancy Action

Our River, Our Responsibility

A small river which is entirely ours

…and therefore entirely our responsibility

– By Adrian Flett of Rosetta/Nottingham Road Conservancy

A small but significant tributary of the Mooi River rises in the hills to the west of Nottingham Road, flows eastwards and under the R103 at the edge of the village. It feeds an extensive wetland and flows north towards Rosetta, where it again passes under the R103 and is the source of Rosetta Dam before it joins the Mooi River. This makes it a contributor to water in Midmar Dam through the Mearns Transfer pipeline and therefore a source of water for Durban and Pietermaritzburg as well as several other smaller centres.

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We have been told that years ago the local children caught fish in this small river, which we have heard referred to as Springvale Stream and for want of another name right now, we will use that name here.

Springvale Stream faces so many challenges and impacts in its relatively short journey to the Mooi, that it is difficult to imagine a worse situation for a rural river. And although many of us pass the stream at least once a week, we are so used to what has been happening over the years that we simply accept what has and is being done. The whole catchment of the river is within the boundaries of the RNR Conservancy and offers a great opportunity – and a great challenge.

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The less disturbed riparian areas along the river have so many flowers that it makes us wonder what the original little river with its wetlands must have been like: a real wild garden! There is not much we can do about some of the impacts but we can certainly take care of what we have left and it would be gross negligence not to do so. We hope to survey sections of the stream little by little to build up a picture of the biological diversity and we will be asking for specialist help for some of this work. But in the meantime we appeal to all the community to be aware of “Our River” and the activities along its course.

The wetland contains multiple flower species and deserves a formal survey.

The wetland contains multiple flower species and deserves a formal survey.

The main stream rises in hills partially covered in plantation forestry. When it reaches Nottingham Road and the R103 it has to contend with various industrial developments and we see that “platforms” are still being made for further development out into the wetland which has colonies of kniphofia and gladiolus (probably dalenii both bright orange and brown) . Have these developments all had the go-ahead from an Environmental Impact Assessment? Surely not! Has the stream reached the stage of being written off environmentally?

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The R103 itself has had an impact on the water flow into the river but the good news is that Shea O’Connor School is a WESSA Eco School and have taken the small tributary on their school grounds seriously. The railway line of course has had a huge impact on Springvale Stream and its wetlands. We cannot change the road or the railway line but we can monitor pollution along these and remove alien invasive plants like bramble.

The stream flows immediately below the rocks which form the bank on the R103 where a truck recently broke through the Armco barrier and had to be winched back to the road. The rock hyrax colony lives in these tumbled rocks.

The stream flows immediately below the rocks which form the bank on the R103. A truck recently broke through the Armco barrier and had to be winched back to the road. The rock hyrax colony lives in these tumbled rocks.

A new and very large impact on the Springvale Stream is the building of the Springrove Dam transfer pipeline. Again, this cannot be altered but some of the activities related to the pipeline require mitigation. An immediate example is the gravel platform at the entrance to Springvale Farm just off the R103 where this gravel is eroding into a wetland area filled with wild flowers and at least one “muti” plant, Gunnera perpensa.

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Springrove dam

Along the middle section of the stream, conservation-based farming attitudes have ensured that reedbuck may frequently be seen from the R103 in the early mornings and evenings, especially towards sundown on cool evenings. This is very satisfying and is an example of how wildlife can be encouraged even when there are adverse conditions, such as a busy road and a noisy railway line in close proximity. The little colony of rock hyrax mentioned in Newsletter One is also on an edge of this farm and is further referred to in this newsletter, where Jan was able to save the life of a member of the colony.

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The presence of wildlife, birds and flowers are such positive factors that we are sure that great results can be won from the conservation of this stream system. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to boast of a botanical beauty spot on the Midlands Meander? We look forward to bringing you more news of and reports on Springvale Stream.

Selfies with Snakes!

The newly launched Rosetta/Nottingham Road Conservancy kicked off the New Year with two great talks by renowned snake expert, Pat McKrill. They were each a great success and we look forward to inviting Pat to talk to us again in the future.  Sarah Ellis compiled this report.

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The first talk was primarily aimed at farm staff and gardeners and proved to be a real hit. We had approximately 75 locals, staff and a few school kids attend a very informative and interactive lecture under the trees at the NRLA Hall grounds which had everyone spellbound.

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Before the talk I asked Pat how good his Zulu was and he replied that when he had a live snake in his hands, he always had 100% concentration from everyone and everyone understood everything he said, even if he wasn’t 100% fluent in Zulu and how right he was!

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Pat explained that snakes were very like us and were only interested in finding food (mostly rats and frogs), a house to live in (such as woodpiles and dark areas to hide in) and that they also spent time looking for boyfriends or girlfriends! He had a couple of harmless and slightly venomous local and exotic snakes in boxes which he held up for us all to see and he encouraged everyone to hold and touch them.

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This was something most of the audience were extremely reluctant, if not terrified, to do but by the end, quite a few people had had a turn holding and feeling a snake and had experienced their cool non-slimy skin.

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It was interesting to note that most of the older men in the audience couldn’t bring themselves to do this but that most of the younger members were happy to do so and that they all wanted to pose for cellphone photos of themselves with a snake to show their friends!

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The event even turned into a bit of a photo-shoot which was a very unexpected and positive spin-off from the talk as they delighted in talking about the “show and tell” sessions they would have later with their friends.

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Pat also demonstrated very successfully how snakes would never harm us unless they felt threatened. He released snakes onto the ground within a circle of people who stood absolutely still and they quietly slithered around looking for a gap to escape without harming anyone – an American Boa also calmly slithered over a seated lady while on its way!

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The message was loud and clear: if you see a snake, stand still and it will move off as we are too big to be considered dinner and PLEASE don’t kill it as they do an enormous amount of good eating (mostly) rats.

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After the talk at Rawdons that evening we all decided that Pat should have his own TV show – he was so entertaining and interesting with all his animated snake facts and anecdotes. We were fascinated by what he had to say and could have listened for hours – do you know that a lady snake can keep sperm for up to 4 years until she decides to “use” it? He showed us a red-lipped herald which was now full of eggs even though he had had her on her own for 3 years! This talk, which was also pleasingly attended by about 75 people, was obviously more detailed and interactive and also provided an opportunity for interested people to handle these misunderstood reptiles.

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This talk was funding by N3TC through the MCF Environmental Learning and Leadership programme.  Thank you Pat for a wonderful start to our monthly Conservancy talks!

Wonderful Community of World’s View

On a wonderful sunny morning this weekend, World’s View Conservancy enjoyed lovely support for their first Community project. This account is reproduced from their blog:  https://worldsviewconservancy.wordpress.com/

A few weeks ago, World’s View Conservancy members were most distressed to discover graffiti on the old stone walls of the Lookout point.

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On the 2nd January, 2015 they laid a complaint of criminal vandalism with the Hilton SAPS which will mean that these culprits will be treated with the full force of the law.

Both The Witness and The Mercury newspapers ran stories about this, leading to an influx of visitors to the Lookout to give support and denounce this behaviour.

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Early in January, on top of the unsightly graffiti, there was litter everywhere, weeds in the path and the grass was long.  Liam Muller and his friend Jay Tegg, learners at Grace College, were distressed by the mess.  They earn credits at school for doing community work and asked permission to tidy the place up!

They arrived at 8am, started picking up the litter, then proceeded to cut the grass with a brush cutter.  They also sprayed to pathways with weed killer, dug out the weeds along the memorial walls and swept after they were finished. Whilst they worked, numerous cars with people arrived at the Lookout and they were commended on their community work. The young men have offered to return again to help maintain the area.  How is that for Community spirit?

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On Saturday 24 January, mums, dads, kids and grannies came loaded with lawnmowers, brush cutters, spades and tree loppers to turn our ugly duckling into a swan again! Colin Scott brought his high pressure cleaner and eventually we cleaned the graffiti off the wall.

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Wives and husbands pulled weeds and cut back bushes whilst the kids helped by moving the rubbish to a central point. Everybody found a job they were comfortable with. Mrs Landman with her trusty lawnmower, set to and cut quite a large area of grass, whilst Carl Landman manned the brush cutter and disappeared into the longer areas.

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The flower beds were cleaned by gardeners drafted in for the morning. The pathways were sprayed with herbicide. Alien vegetation was cut back and daubed with Kaput. In the end, two bakkie loads of vegetation was taken to the local dump.

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Cristina Richardson kept the kettle boiling for tea and coffee whenever anyone needed a break and the muffins were divine! How wonderful to have 20 people turn out to look after a Pietermaritzburg treasure. Thank you everyone.

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The Chairmans’ Walk

Adrian Wilson, Chairman of Rosetta Nottingham Road Conservancy and Roy Tabernor, Chairman of Lions Bush Conservancy, recently undertook an experimental cross country walk from Nottingham Road to Fort Nottingham. This was, of course, with the permission of the relevant land owners. Adrian took the pictures and wrote this account.

A large part of the route was along the impressive ridge that runs between the two villages and ends in the newly proclaimed nature reserve at Fort Nottingham commonage, before the steep descent to Fort Nottingham.

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Long shadows in the early morning, along with impossibly blue sky, impossibly green grass and impossibly blue dam.

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The route involved a number of fairly stiff climbs but the views from on top of the ridge were spectacular.

intrepid Roy setting a stiff pace up a steep climb

Springrove Dam and the Loteni Road on one side

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and the Dargle Valley, looking towards uMngeni Vlei,  on the other.

looking over Dargle to uMngeni vlei

Also interesting is the fact that this ridge is located on the catchment boundary between the Mooi and Umgeni Rivers.  At the top of a steep climb, looking back towards Nottingham Road.

looking back towards Nottingham Road

We admired the profusion of stunning wild flowers along the route, including Watsonia,

profusion of wildflowers

Cyanotis speciosa

cyanotis speciosa

Jamebritennia breviflora

jamesbritennia breviflora

Scilla nervosa

scilla nervosa

and lots of bracken with yellow Helichrysum in flower.

yellow bracken like plant

Might this be a Magic Mushroom?

magic mushroom

We surprised a yellow billed duck, and came upon her nest half way up a hill.

Nest of a yellow billed duck

Indigenous bush just below the summit of the ridge.

Indigenous bush just below the summit of the ridge

Strange stone structures on the commonage reminiscent of primitive man.

Strange stone structures

The walk took roughly 5 to 6 hours. At the end, Roy and Adrian, overlooking Fort Nottingham village speculated on whether there would be a broader interest in such cross country walks in the beautiful Natal Midlands under the banner of ‘The Chairmans’ Walk’. There must be endless possibilities.

Bird’s eye view of Fort Nottingham

 

Every Home Must Have a Garden

“Every home must have a garden” declares Ntombenhle Mtambo passionately.

Not content with turning her tiny back yard into a food forest, Ntombenhle has been pestering the uMngeni Municipality for the past 8 years to allow her to use a vacant plot, which Mpophomeni residents have been using as a dumping site, for a food garden.

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“This is so important,” she says, “Everyone should have the ability to afford a healthy lifestyle. In this garden we will share skills and teach people to recycle all the things they think are waste.”

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The Mpophomeni Conservation Group has set about creating this community garden with great gusto. Watch this short video of the original dream: https://vimeo.com/92513329

Volunteers began a few months ago, clearing the rubbish from the site – eish, so much buried plastic and chunks of concrete!

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Neighbour, Bonokwakhe Madlala brought them all gloves when he noticed they were working with bare hands.

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Then Hilton and Howick Rotary, who share Ntombenhle’s vision, erected a fence to keep the goats and chickens out.

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A fence is absolutely essential if you want to grow food in a township where livestock roams freely.

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Thandi Sheleme who runs the crèche next door to the garden is terribly excited and keen to start a garden on her side of the new fence too.

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Paul Duncan of Dovehouse helped draw up a plan based on permaculture principles. Zane Mnchunu of MIDI, who are delighted to be associated with the MCG garden commented Paul’s a magician, I’m convinced! What a man. Well done guys. Garden is looking good.

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Quick as a flash, swales were dug to harvest the rain and beds were made.

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Ntombenhle and Tutu have been planting seeds at Qhamukile School nearby, so were able to collect lots of seedlings for the new garden from there – including onions, spinach and comfrey.

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Barend Booysen brought bags of manure and mulch and some Vepris lanceolata trees.  “I am blown away by what is happening here. I can see a big future for this project.” he said, “I will be drop by with more whenever I am in the area.”

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Alex March of Nkosi Nursery delivered indigenous trees and shrubs for windbreaks, shade, medicine and wildlife including Ouhout, Celtis, Buddleja, lots of aloes, Artemesia, Rhus lanceolata, Freylinia.  He donated a whole bunch too.

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Fortunately, the rain arrived soon after, so digging holes was not too much of a challenge and planting commenced with gusto.

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The small stream that runs through the site is ideal for watering everything.  The water is clean and fresh. Plans are afoot to plant arums and incema in the waterlogged areas.

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Margie Pretorius visited the fledgling garden, was terribly impressed and sponsored a whole lot of fruit trees, herbs, seeds and seedlings.

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Ntombenhle popped into Hopewells to stock up – Peppers, Brinjals, Beetroot and Kale seedlings and seeds of nasturtium, coriander, courgette, beans, sunflowers, carrots, parsley and fennel.

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Every day as the volunteers clear and dig, people stop by to chat about the project. Ntombenhle says “A guy from the municipality stopped by too. He was speechless. They made us wait so long for permission to create this garden. Now they can see for themselves what we can do.”

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Mrs Mncube who owns the Tuck Shop across the road brings over trays of tea and sandwiches to keep them going.

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N3TC have sponsored some inspiring learning for the group – to Enaleni Agro-Ecological Farm to learn to bake bread and make fruit cordials, and to the Khula Shanti Food Garden to discover pea pyramids, chicken tractors and the importance of rocks in the garden.

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Ntombenhle concludes “This piece of land is going to bring lots of fun, unity in the community, new skills and challenges. I can see a bright future if the community roll up their sleeves and learn to make money out of waste and gardening.”

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Come and see for yourself what is happening on the corner of Mhlongo and Stadium Roads in Mpophomeni. Or like them on facebook.com/MpopConserve

Clearing out your garage this holiday?  Ntombenhle will be very grateful for used roofing and poles to create a shelter, pieces of shade cloth, wire, trellis, watering cans, garden tools. They do need as much mulch (hay) and manure as they can get their hands on – so if you are clearing out the stables too…..  She is quite determined not to spend any money on these items and rather make use of/recycle things other people no longer need.  Contact her on 071 916 2550.

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uMthunzima miniSASS Surprise

Last month, the Mpophomeni Conservation Group invited youngsters to learn about the indigenous forest patches in the area and compare them to man made plantations. Discussions amongst the students around the issues of Alien vs Indigenous were vigorous. Nomfundo Mlotshwa was curious to know why people still planted invasive species which use so much water.  “To make all the furniture – like our school desks.  iHlahla zesizulu zikhula zibe nestem esincane. Indigenous trees grow too slow.” Asanda Ngubane replied.

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They wandered up the valley along the stream in search of interesting trees, and to their horror, observed five overflowing manholes polluting the river and six dumping sites close to the bank. “I am worried that the rubbish will wash into the river when it rains” said Lineth Mbambo.

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Much of the river that they walked beside appeared to be in a very poor condition.

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Once they got beyond the mass of houses, they were pleased to discover the river in a much better state. They explored a little and determined right away to return and do miniSASS tests along the length of the uMthunzima which flows directly into Midmar.

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Then a couple of weeks ago, ten enthusiastic learners turned up on a cold and rainy day to explore more. Ayanda Lipheyana (MCG facilitator) helped them make raincoats out of refuse bags to ward of the worst of the wet. They did four miniSASS tests in four different sites. Ayanda reports:

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We named our sites 1, 2, 3 and 4. Before we started Sihle Ngcobo asked “What is miniSASS? I saw the word in your invitation SMS and went to the dictionary but unfortunately I didn’t get the definition.”  I explained  what it is and why it is important to monitor streams in order to understand changes to the stream.

At Sites 2 and 3 we did miniSASS together. Kids were separated into 2 groups to do miniSASS at site 1 and 4.  Site 1 is lower down the stream and site 4 is up the uMthunzima stream closest to the source. As we go up the stream kids noticed that the clarity of water improved and miniSASS score changed from bad to good.

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At site 1 the water clarity was good but the miniSASS score was 3.5 which is very bad. We thought it because there was not too much life. We only 4 invertebrates and there was no oxygen because water was moving slowly and there is raw sewage from the manhole entering the stream above.

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At site 2 the water clarity was good and the miniSASS score was better – 5.6. There was more life and no sewage coming into the stream but there was some human activities – like washing and an illegal dumping site.

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At site 3 the water clarity was very good. There was more life we found 5 invertebrates and score was 7.8 which means the river is in good condition.The water was bubbling over the stones, which meant there was oxygen in the water.  Here Asanda Ngubane found a stonefly!

Kids were so excited to see a stonefly for the first time. Philani Ngcobo said “I did not know about the stonefly.  I was so happy that I learnt something new, and that part of our river is clean and good for the animals that live there.”

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At site 4 the water clarity was the same as at the site 3 but the miniSASS score was only 5.6. We found 7 invertebrates. Water moving slowly, means low oxygen.  We are confused why we got so much difference between site 3 and site 4 because site 3 and 4 they are 15 meters away from each other and site 4 is further upstream than site 3.  We will return to these sites again.

We had fun and the kids plan to go back on a sunny day, do more test and compare results. Londeka said “It is a new information for us about aquatic invertebrates adaptations and it will help us in Life Science.”  I made it clear that we can only drink water from the stream where we found a stonefly and that if there are human activities upstream we can not drink that water.

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Earlier in October, MCG collected 46 bags of litter from the uMlanga Stream near where it flows under Mandela Drive. Ayanda phoned the Municipality to collect the rubbish and was pleased when they arrived a few hours later. Ayanda concludes: We chose this spot because it is visible. to encourage others who love their environment to volunteer to help.  People passing by appreciated the work we were doing.  One said “We must make you guys counsellors because it seems you love your area”.

46 bags collected clean up

Summer in the Mist

In the great African tradition of auspicious rain for special occasions, the Midlands Summer Celebration last week was suitably wet.  The Cairn of Old Kilgobbin Farm is right in the mist-belt, beside the forest, a wonderful venue whatever the weather.

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The drizzle did little to dampen the spirits of those who headed off on a forest walk.

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Barend Booysen greeted everyone in his usual charming forest-side manner. Sharing a little history of the area and explaining why the forest is called ‘mist-belt’ (even though it was pretty obvious!)

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The rain hardly penetrates the canopy, so there was no rush to get back.

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A gentle afternoon spent smelling Clausena anisata leaves, collecting yellowwood seeds, hugging the really big trees and puzzling over some species.  Dineo Dibakwane of SANBI commented: “I enjoyed the walk, Barend is the best! It was nice meeting other people who share the same objectives regarding conserving our planet.”

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Other guests began arriving, settling down beside the fire and wondering where the forest walkers were.  They were obviously enjoying themselves, despite the drizzle. Jessica Dreamtime of the MMAEP said “I’ve never given much thought to networking but I saw and felt its power on Friday.”

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Then they emerged through the mist, and were welcomed warmly. Tshepiso Mafole, SANBI said  “It was great to be part of the inspiring and refreshing world of conservationists.”

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The red wine went down particularly well, but there was also plenty of Notties beer and homemade lemon and mint cordial too.

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Many Midlands Conservancies were represented at the gathering and lots of local environmental organisations too.  Janet Snow of Environmental Learning and Teaching observed: “It was inspirational to see the projects conducted with such enthusiasm. It is a true indication of the community of practice in the area – something to be proud of.”

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Hugh Temple of World’s View Conservancy, especially enjoyed the fireside conversations “What a wonderful afternoon.”  he said smiling broadly.  Tutu Zuma of Mpophomeni Conservation Group thought that the best part was the walk in the forest. “An enjoyable networking and learning day.” she said, Nkanyiso Ndlela of KZN Crane Foundation, echoed her thoughts.

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Everyone tucked into yummy food that The Farmer’s Daughter had made – split pea and asparagus salad, roasted sweet potatoes and butternut in balsamic reduction; and tomatoes, pesto and cream cheese.  There were hand made relishes, a selection of just baked breads, fresh organic greens, local cheeses and fruit too. Kevan, Karen and Hannah Zunckel thoroughly enjoyed themselves “What a wonderful afternoon with a lot of special people.”  

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Then Judy Bell, Chair of MCF thanked everyone for coming and especially, for all the work that volunteers do to protect the Midlands ‘water factories’ – the ecosystems on which we all rely.  Judy acknowledged Barend Booysen’s incredible contribution to inspiring, motivating and challenging so many people with his walks and insightful discussions along the way and presented him with a Mad About Chameleons certificate to thank him.

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Eidin Griffin of the MMAEP also thanked Barend for his kindness and generosity in leading two school groups recently and introducing them to the Kilgobbin Forest magic, saying “The children  wrote about their experiences and all of them had an amazing and inspiring time.”  She read a few of the children’s delightful comments from the Eco-Schools portfolio they have compiled.

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Local press gives environmental stories lots of coverage so we were thrilled that the Meander Chronicle and Village Talk joined us too. Phillippa Gordon editor of the Meander Chronicle said “Thanks for a fab interlude on Friday.  As usual – great people, great venue and a sparkly spirit giving it kick!”

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Judy concludes “It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to people, to hear their tribulations and successes and, especially nice to be able to welcome the newly formed Rosetta Nottingham Road Conservancy. Everyone works so hard, so it is good to have an opportunity to just relax and celebrate our efforts. Thanks to Dargle Conservancy for sponsoring the food to go with our drinks and everyone for participating with such enthusiasm.”  Long may the Summer Rains last. 

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See more photos of the celebrations on these Facebook pages:

 

Standing Stones of Karkloof

The Midlands is full of surprises, secrets lurk in unexpected places and hidden treasures are uncovered by those with a keen eye for the unusual. The Standing Stones of Karkloof are a perfect example.

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As part of their NEBRAC campaign to ensure that the proposed N3 bypass of the notorious Townhill, does not come through their valley, Karkloof residents have begun mapping areas of important natural and cultural heritage. One of these is the intriguing Standing Stones site, discovered by Max Ramseier, a retired engineer.

Traipsing along the cycle tracks in the plantation, one does not expect to find anything exceptional. American bramble covers the ground, Plane trees are popping up everywhere and cannas invade the wetland areas – uninspiring to say the least. Anita Turvey of the Karkloof Country Club spices things up by mentioning that there is a grumpy old Buffalo on the roam and if we spot him we ABSOLUTELY MUST NOT RUN!

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An area of natural grassland used as a fire break between the trees, reveals a selection of spring flowers to lift the spirits.

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Then, at the crest of the hill, scattered across the fire break are enormous boulders. One might think random at first, but closer inspection reveals many interesting things. Our curiosity is palpable.

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“I can’t believe I have ridden my bicycle past these so many times and not paid them any attention” says Valerie Grzeskowiak. A number of determined cyclists whizz by enjoying the extensive network of MTB trails laid out in the SAPPI plantations.

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Here Max comes to life – his passion for stones is evident. Penny Rees comments “Max seems to be a magnet for special stones, he has been discovering them for years. Exploring the old fashioned way, with a compass.”

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He tells us of his excitement the first time he came across this site. “According to a book I had read on Adam’s Calendar in the Eastern Transvaal, I could tell that this was not normal. Nobody can say they just popped out of the ground. You can see these stones are standing upright, crafted into different shapes and sizes. Some have deep signs on them.”

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The general consensus is that the stones are Dolerite. A geologist will be visiting soon to give an expert opinion. We are fascinated by the shards of rock that have broken off the bigger ones – caused by fires perhaps? Amateur speculation abounds!

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There are a couple of formations that are particularly interesting. Two stones placed as a ‘gateway’, with a marker stone in the distance – one of these points directly at Loskop. Max believes that the stones are ancient road maps, directing one to other sites of sacred significance.

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Anita mentions that different stones make different sounds when you hit them. There seem to be three distinct shapes – tall, narrow pointed ones, small square shaped ones and big blocks. Everyone has a favourite – Twane Clarke, of the Karkloof Conservation Centre, likes the one with Asparagus growing beside it.

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Someone else notices that the northern sides are pockmarked while the southern sides are smooth. “How deep do you think they are buried underground” Lorraine Stone askes. Naturally there are more questions than answers.

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Max has found standing stones scattered across the Midlands, usually on the tops of hills. In Impendle, Dargle, Blinkwater, Nottingham Road and even in Howick he has noted and photographed this phenomenon. Astrid Bell shows us a photo of a fascinating head shaped stone seen recently in Lesotho. It is likely that if we are observant, we will be amazed at what is around us.

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A plantation of gums has grown around the stones. Sarah Allan of the Curry’s Post Conservancy comments, “The standing stones are a fascinating part of our landscape.  An enigma, a portal to our past and possibly, our future. Would that we could know more about them!”

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We are fascinated to hear about the Golden Meridian that dissects Africa – the 31degree East meridian that connects the Pyramids, the Great Zimbabwean Ruins and Adam’s Calendar. “All the sites across the globe are connected with straight lines.” Max tells us. We wonder if these stones depict a map of the night sky as others across the planet do? Or are they a calendar to mark the seasons? Max has observed the Winter Solstice sunset falling directly between two stones situated nearby.

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Rose Downard concludes “It would be very interesting to know more about the history of the Karkloof Stones and how they were originally placed, as it appears that they may once have been used for sacred purposes. Standing amongst the stones I felt a sense of peacefulness, and when I placed my hands on some of the stones I could feel a subtle energy vibration radiating from them.”

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A fascinating walk in an unexpected spot, illustrating that getting out of your car, lacing up your boots and heading across the hillsides you will discover many things that you never expected. Small adventures rock!

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Mpofana River – Report & Recommendations

The DUCT River Walk team have just completed their exploration of the Mpofana River. This is part of the Midlands Conservancies Forum’s Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Project which includes monitoring the tributaries of the uMngeni river and conducting water workshops for Conservancies.  N3Toll Concession fund the costs of these projects.  For more information about this river see the River Walks blog at:

How do you respond to a community who are facing the future impacts and threats of phase two of the Mooi-uMngeni Transfer Scheme, initiated in the mid 1980’s when phase one of this scheme came into operation, transferring water from Mearns Weir on the Mooi River into the Mpofana, a tributary of the uMngeni?

Today, with phase two (Spring Grove Dam and transfer) close to completion, this community faces the threat of inundation of lowlands and causeways, cutting off access to parts of their farms,

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loss of land and damage to buildings through erosion,

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decline in the ecology of the river, canalisation i.e. the straightening out and acceleration of water flow and erosion of banks, and future lack of seasonal variation in flow – the highs and lows which are part of the healthy riverine ecology.

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From a macro picture the two big threats that affect rivers with transfer schemes worldwide, are transfer of nutrients, invasive plants and other contaminants from the transferring catchment, in this instance, the Mooi River. Transfer schemes are recognised as contributing to the reduction in riverine ecology and reducing the lifespan of dams through siltation.

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These are some of the issues that came under discussion at a meeting of the Balgowan Conservancy last night at the home of chairperson, Yvonne Thompson, where members heard a summary of the three day Mpofana riverwalk by team leader, Penny Rees.

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There are so many impacts within the 32m buffer and associated wetlands, potentially affecting the Mpofana such as: the uMgeni pipeline,

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roads,

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buildings; homes and pump houses,

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a cemetery under construction,

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gardens, pastures,

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eroded livestock access points,

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rubbish pits,

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haybale storage

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and alien vegetation including black and silver wattle, bramble, encroachment of timber plantations

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and escaped garden species.

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It must be noted that any disturbance of the natural riparian vegetation along the river banks will invite the presence of alien species, erosion, loss of soil health and biodiversity. This loss, negatively impacts the health of the river.

It is heartening to note the extensive work being done by the Balgowan Conservancy and landowners along the river to address some of these issues and in particular the eradication of alien invasive species.

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A huge congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in this valued work.

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It’s been a pleasure walking the Mpofana river and these are some of the considerations that we have held in mind as we made sense of our observations and make initial interpretations of the data collected. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm of the landowners along the route and it is wonderful to interact with such a close community that cares so much about the river and the future of their valley.

intact indigenous vegetation on mpofana

We would like to thank Yvonne Thompson for hosting the riverwalk team, for her kindness, generosity and hospitality in accommodating us in her beautiful home at Caversham Hall.

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We wish the Balgowan Conservancy everything of the best as they continue their efforts to ensure the health of the Mpofana River and the well-being of the Balgowan community that act as custodians of this beautiful little river and all its tributaries.

Richard Hunt at Riversfield

Some recommendations to improve the health of the Mpofana include:

  • Tackle newly emerging alien invasive species as part of regular farm work on an on-going basis, prioritising riparian areas.
  • Based on the pending Mpofana Riverwalk Report develop a strategic plan and source funding for prioritising, implementing and coordinating the alien invasive species eradication programme.
  • Target particularly invasive species which are not necessarily common invaders in this catchment, for example, Camphor, Privet and Syringa, Catsclaw before they become a future threat.
  • Prepare a long term strategy for reducing and eliminating invasive garden escapees such as; canna/Indian shot, Japanese honeysuckle, Periwinkle, Wondering jew, London Plane tree, Pyracanthus (Fire thorn)
  • Ensure all new development goes through the appropriate planning process that ensure any application for development within the 32m buffer zone undergoes the necessary EIA and other planning process.
  • As far as possible, limit or reduce livestock access to the river banks and into the river.
  • Develop a plan for the withdrawal and appropriate re-siting of existing intrusions into the 32m buffer.
  • Re-site waste pits to outside the 32m buffer (consider recycling the bulk of landfill at a local recycling centre)
  • Avoid mowing in the 32m buffer, allowing for the regrowth of indigenous vegetation as habitat for riverine species, including invertebrates which are key species for river health.
  • Ensure all dams release some water back into the stream to ensure that the stream remains healthy and does not dry up.  This is usually done by means of a pipe built into the lower section of the dam wall so that there is always a flow of water being released.  These pipes sometimes block and stop functioning and need to be checked regularly.

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Some recommendations for addressing the future threats of the Mooi-uMgeni transfer include:

  • Monitor your stretch of your river, measure the size and depth of the channel, take regular photographic evidence.
  • Be in contact with the ECO (environmental compliance officer) for the MMTS pipeline and insist on regular updates and community interaction.
  • Obtain a copy of the EMP (Environmental Management Plan approved as part of the ROD (Record of Decision) and check that this is being followed.
  • Constitute a Water Users Association as legislated within the Catchment Management Agency framework to legalise and protect your water rights and to enable recognised interaction with respect to both the health of the Mpofana and the impact of the transfer scheme.
  • Know and take up your rights with respect to public participation and protection of the environment and don’t give up in the face of the challenges facing the Mpofana and its community as custodians of this river and its significance within the greater context of Kwazulu-Natal.

The DUCT River Walk Team – Penny Rees, Preven Chetty, Pandora Long, Moraig Peden and John Fourie

 

Midlands Marches for Climate Justice

You might think that Climate Change is something happening somewhere else. It’s not, it is right here already. r peoples climate march 347The hundreds of people who gathered in Howick last weekend were determined that our leaders got the message, raising their voices in solidarity with people across the planet to say that the time for talking is way past. Act Now, Act Fast. We have seen the impacts on our local weather, on food prices, and watched in horror as tragedies unfold across the globe. r peoples climate march 238 - Copy Protests began early in Mpohomneni when the Mpophomeni Conservation Group led a march along Mandela Drive. r peoples climate march 094 Across Africa, thousands of people called on their governments to take real action by holding the global north accountable for starting climate change, and by ditching coal and investing in clean solar and wind energy in their countries. r peoples climate march the boys ‘Angifun’ ifracking’ shouted a banner at the Howick March, another suggested we need ‘Farming not Fracking’. “Fracking could destroy our water resources.” Said Penelope Malinga of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group “We can’t drink gas. We need clean energy. Amandla elanga kunegas.”  Fracking is a real threat in the midlands unless we reduce our energy consumption drastically. r sisanda peoples climate march 014 Many other banners focussed on clean energy. “It is possible to have a meaningful impact by simply focussing on your own energy consumption at home. Small changes add up to big things.” said Karen Zunckel, initiator of the KZN Midlands Green Map that lists many of the sustainable options available right here. “We have to do this, or we are stealing our children’s future.” r peoples climate march 323 - Copy Candy Zuma hit the nail on the head with her banner. Environmental impoverishment links directly to human suffering. r peoples climate march 012 At the UN Climate Summit in New York City on 23 September, Ban Ki-moon hopes to inject momentum into efforts to reach a global deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2015, at a conference in Paris. “Time is not on our side,” he said, “We cannot delay any more, change needs to happen now. We are the first humans to ever breathe air at 400parts per million CO2.” r peoples climate march 247 - Copy The People’s Climate Mobilisation and the Climate Summit in New York mark the beginning of a busy 18 months of crucial international negotiations. Climate negotiators will head to Lima, Peru, in December 2014 to make progress towards a global climate deal. Then, in September 2015 world leaders will meet back in New York to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals, the global post-2015 development agenda. Three months later, the world will gather in Paris to try and sign a new international climate treaty. r peoples climate march 255 - Copy With almost 3000 activities around the world last weekend, the sheer scale and diversity of the People’s Climate March, has shown politicians that there is a massive, energized movement demanding immediate action to address the climate crisis. This is true people powered movement – people from all backgrounds acting locally, mobilising their communities, shaping the future of our planet. Tafadzwa Bero of Shea O’Connor Combined commented “Imagine what this world will look like in the next 20 years? All the small changes could mean a huge impact towards reducing Climate Change.” r peoples climate march shea o c Judy Bell Chair of the MCF concludes: This is a human rights issue, as along with global development, climate change is already starting to affect the quality of the air we breathe, as well as our capacity to provide safe drinking water and sanitation, sufficient food and secure shelter. The World Health Organisation expects there to be an additional 250 000 deaths every year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone. We all need to look at ways we can reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases through making responsible choices, especially regarding transport, food and energy. We must commit to becoming more informed and involved. We must take every opportunity to influence decision-making in terms of development at the local, regional and national level. This can be at home, at work, in our communities and municipalities. We must all do our bit as all the small changes will have a big impact. r peoples climate march 163 - Copy We consider ourselves privileged to have the source of the uMngeni River and its tributaries in the heart of the KZN Midlands. The Midlands Conservancies Forum has a water focus in all we do to help protect these water factories which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of 5 million people downstream. Our work involves inspiring and motivating those who live, work and play in the area to cherish the ecosystems, such as the forests, grasslands and their interdependent wildlife, that form the basis for these water-bearing life support systems. r peoples climate march 298 Without these natural places, which provide us with clean air and water, good soil to grow our food and raise our livestock, absorbent surfaces to attenuate the effects of flooding and drought, sinks for carbon dioxide and modulation of the extremes of temperature, our life on earth will be much shorter and less enjoyable. In order to appreciate and protect them, we need to immerse ourselves in these precious places, so go to our website and FaceBook page to find a walk to inspire you and your family. You can also find out more about the work we do and how you can become involved to make a positive change. r peoples climate march 158 To change everything, it takes everyone. That includes you. Stand with the hundreds of thousands of people who marched around the world to help rock world leaders into action where they have only offered words before. http://act.350.org/letter/ready-for-action/ r peoples climate march 303