Category Archives: Uncategorized

Summer in Impendle

Plant enthusiasts and amateur botanists seem able to find floral treasures wherever they wander. Sharp eyes spot interesting things along roadsides, on working farms and in residential areas – often in unexpected places.   The Impendle area is rich in special flora – a collection of summer flower photos gathered recently follows.

r impendle stream with crocosmia pottsii 138

Kniphofia laxiflora are particularly spectacular this season,

r kniphofia laxiflora impendle 405

there seem to be more Kniphofia buchananii than usual too.

r kniphofia buchananii impendle 434

The altitude in Impendle is much higher than the surrounding midlands, so it comes as no surprise to find Ericas amongst the rocks.

r erica probably aestiva  impendle 145

Many flowers attended by beetles, bees and butterflies, including this Xysmalobium (possibly parviflorum?)

r xysmalobium beetle impendle 210

The large flowered Pachycarpus grandiflorum in abundance.

r pachycarpus grandiflorus impendle 242

With the ground saturated, the vleis were a picture with Satyrium hallackii en masse –

r satyrium halackii

quite the most gorgeous colour.

r satyrium halackii flower impendle 340

Manulea florifera

r manulea florifera impendle 307

Pycnostachys reticulata

r pycnostachys reticulata impendle 387

along stream beds, the grey leaved Senecio macrospermus was evident

r senecio macrospermus impendle 161

and clumps of Alipidea – either woodii or amatymbica  which is listed as Vulnerable in the Red Data List.

r alepidea amatymbica impendle 187

A nest cleverly woven between stalks of Chlorophytum krookianum

r nest on chlorophytum krookianum impendle 165

Plenty of orchids at this time of year – including the tall Pterygodium magnum

r pterygodium magnum impendle 177

Habenaria dives

r habeneria dives close impendle 305

and this Satyrium – possibly neglectum?

r orchid maybe satyrium neglectum impendle 392

Schizochilus flexuosus

r schizochilus flexuosus impendle 321

On the road verge – Ink plant – Harveya speciosa

r harveya speciosa impendle 389

Wahlenbergia

r whalenbergia impendle 246

Dainty Morea brevistyla and

r morea brevistyla impendle 222

bright blue Morea inclinata – the nodding wild Morea

r morea inclinata impendle 267

Crassula alba (or is it C. vaginata?)

r crassula alba impendle 225

and a small Crassula clinging to the rocks  – Crassula pellucida?

r crassula maybe pellucida impendle 327

Cheerful Berkheya, with attendant insects

r berkheya speciosa impendle 160

Eucomis autumnalis

r eucomis autumnalis impendle 219

Plenty of Watsonia densiflora in full bloom

r watsonia densiflora close up impendle 293

and the indigenous bramble – Rubus ludwigii

r rubus ludwigii impendle 191

Agapanthus campanulatus have also flowered profusely this summer

r agapanthus campanulatus impendle 142

Interesting small compact, grey leaved shrub – Helichrysum spiralepsis

r helichrysum spiralepsis impendle 213

Hibiscus trionum

r hibiscus trionum impendle 193

Dainty Polygala hottentotta

r polygala hottentotta impendle 286

This little unidentified blue flowered plant – any ideas?

r mystery blue flower impendle 200

Where have you been exploring lately?   Why not head up towards Impendle?  Take the Dargle Road and amble all the way through to Boston.

Are You Coming to Curry’s Post?

Penny Rees spent the day finding the perfect spot to hold a Water Workshop on Saturday 25 January in Curry’s Post.  Part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Programme currently funded by N3TC.  She recounts the trip, and tempts you to join in the fun and enjoy some lovely Summer countryside.  Sarah Allan, Chair of the Curry’s Post Conservancy had earmarked a couple of potential sites, and together they spent a wonderful few hours finding the right spot.

I was reminded today of my old “anthem” by John Denver:  “Country Roads, take me home, to the place where I belong…..” as I wound my way along forestry tracks and besides bubbling mountain streams in the search for the perfect miniSASS spot

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The first stream was too much of a wetland below an earth dam wall,

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the second ran through a tiny valley dotted with Asclepiads

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and pink Watsonias

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and was oh so pretty, all set about with tree ferns, but too small and a bit difficult to access.

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We drove on, through the timber plantations – the green corridor formed by their beautifully kept buffer zone clearly evident.

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A couple of other stream sites had beautiful cascades

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stunning pools

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and pretty neighbours – but weren’t what I was looking for.

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We found just the right spot eventually, and turned for home, satisfied at our choice (and no, there is no picture – you will have to come and join us on Saturday, or read the blog afterwards).

We took a short cut to Sarah’s house, winding our way on a track that in places only Sarah could see…

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and in others – well, let’s just say I had to use my imagination in the long grass!

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We stopped to enjoy the evening beside a dam whilst frogs chirped, two Yellow-billed Ducks glided by silently, a Long Crested Eagle flew into the trees on the opposite side of the dam, and a Gymnogene landed above our heads, with her youngster shrieking pathetically for attention nearby.

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When the drizzle began we headed for home along the aforementioned grassy track, up the hills, through gates and timber

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until we seemed to reach the top of the world.

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As I got out of the vehicle to photograph this gorgeous Brunsvegia natalensis a warning whistle went up from three Mountain Reedbuck standing silhouetted on a nearby hill.

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As I drive back to Howick, I reflected on what a perfect couple of hours we had spent, and how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful place. My reverie was shattered as I entered Howick and was brought back to earth.

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If you would like to join us on Saturday, please contact Sarah on 076 578 2941

11h00 Presentation on findings of recent Lion’s River walk and hands on opportunity to learn how to do a simple miniSASS test to determine water quality.  Fascinating and fun too – for the whole family!   Bring your own picnic lunch.

White Butterfly Migration

The swarms of white butterflies are completely magic and it is a a wonderful experience to be caught up in the swirl as they pass through the Midlands.  Reports from Winterskloof, Boston, Fort Nottingham and Dargle of hundreds of them flitting across the grasslands and crossing roads (hope everyone is driving especially slowly).

2014 01 14 04 Belenois auro

How incredible that these tiny creatures are able to accomplish such an epic journey, when humans need praise for the tiniest things – like walking to work rather than driving.  These butterflies epitomise the reason we work so hard to protect our biodiversity and keep the eco-systems, on which we all rely, intact.   Thanks Christeen Grant and Barbara Clulow for the photos.

Reinier Terblanche, Steve Woodhall and Silvia Mecenero  of the  Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa, write this account:

Clouds of white butterflies are currently gracing the face of southern Africa. This phenomenon is an annual event, especially in years when conditions are favourable. Most of this endless flow of white butterflies is made up of the Brown-veined White (Belenois aurota, Pieridae family) which have become famous for their en masse migrations in southern Africa.  What we do know is that they move in the general direction from the south-western more arid parts of southern Africa to the moister north-eastern parts, more or less  mid to late summer. Some of them even fly off shore into the sea on the east coast where they end their migration. There is no evidence of a migration reaching Madagascar where the butterfly is also found.

white butterfly on rubus ludwigii

Brown-veined Whites occur over a very wide area in Africa and also into India. Whether there is a regular marked migration in other parts of its distribution is not clear. In southern Africa core populations of the Brown-veined Whites originate from the Karoo and Kalahari. These populations owe their strength to the main food plant of the caterpillars, the Shepherd’s Tree (Boscia albitrunca).  These core populations are maintained by the females laying eggs on the Shepherd’s trees before they move off to migrate.  The mass of white butterflies probably plays an important role in pollination but this is still poorly understood. In fact there is much that we still do not know about this widespread butterfly.

Members of the Lepidopterists Society of Africa are studying the Brown-Veined White butterflies in detail.  Reinier Terblanche is including this butterfly’s landscape ecology into his PhD. study based at Stellenbosch University. He leads a butterfly ecology project for the Diamond Route (De Beers group of companies) at Tswalu Kalahari private game reserve to find out more about the life history, vegetation and landscape setting of the “breeding habitats” of the butterfly.  Specialists and citizen scientists recently started to gather data for a project called the Great Little White Butterfly Migration.

2014 01 16 01 Belenois aurota

The Great Little White Butterfly Migration is a wonderful initiative of the Animal Demography Unit (University of Cape Town) and the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa. It asks the public, as citizen scientists, to submit observations on the date of arrival of the butterfly migration and numbers seen, in order to better understand the extent of the current migration. (www.facebook.com/groups/WhiteButterflyMigration). This project is part of the larger project known as LepiMap (http://vmus.adu.org.za) which encourages members of the public (all over Africa) to submit their photographic observations of butterflies and moths. These records are invaluable to science for understanding the distribution and conservation status of our butterflies and moths Like anything that gains notoriety and fame, myths and urban legends are beginning to surround these fascinating butterflies. As well as exaggerations in the extent of their migration. These myths include that the Brown-veined Whites are pests of crops, that they have something to do with diseases and that they feed mostly on grasses. For up to date and factual information please contact the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa on www.lepsoc.org.za.

You can’t actually see the butterflies, but they were flying all around as this picture was taken in Dargle last week.  Not  a bad spot to watch a migration from!   They are difficult to capture on camera unless they are settled.  Anyone else have any photos to share?  send to info@midlandsconservancies.org.za and www.facebook.com/groups/WhiteButterflyMigration

Mayday Dargle Day 4 323

Summer Walk in Mpophomeni

Last week, the weather was just perfect for a little exploring. Often we forget that places close by are really interesting and drive miles and miles for adventures.  Nikki Brighton and friends headed to the eMashingini area of Mpophomeni and discovered lots of pleasant surprises and small adventures.

The cliffs looked like a particularly interesting spot to explore.

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We were delighted to discover a waterfall hidden in the trees, Arums growing in the crevices and Begonia sutherlandii clinging to the rocks

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and Pavetta was just one of the forest shrubs creating a cool glade.

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The areas around the stream were invaded by lantana, but treasures were still to be found, like Sandersonia aurantiaca

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this net winged beetle,

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lots of Hypoxis, Thunbergia atriplicifolia

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Vernonia hirsuta

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interesting caterpillars

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scarlet Freesia laxa,

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and Polygala hotentotta.

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Further along the valley we wandered along the uMthinzima stream, flowing strongly after all the rain.

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The water was really clean and tasted delicious.

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Thunbergia natalensis was flowering profusely on the forest margins.

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Rhus, and Rhamnus prinoides were full of berries (but we’d had our fill on the invasive ijikijolo beside the path)

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we found Impatiens hochstetteri and Streptocarpus in the deep shade

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We crossed some grassland to get to a Cabbage Tree (umsenge) we could see on the edge of a forest patch.

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There lots of Senecio was in flower, and just over,

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and the delicate little indigenous hypericum – Hypericum lalandii

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Plenty of bulbs with big spotted leaves – assume Ledebouria sp?

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It was a real scramble to get to the base of the tree through all the thick forest edge, it was worth it though as the Cussonia was enormous!

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plenty of Scadoxus puniceus in the understory and dense creepers.

On the walk back, we stopped to admire the views, determined to spend more time exploring places close by.  What wonders have you overlooked in your neighbourhood?

r  Mpop Entle stream forest 282

Penz Malinga hosts regular walks in parts of Mpophomeni on the second Tuesday of each month (next one 14 January).  Contact her to book: 084 226 5227.  Donation R20 to Mpophomeni Conservation Group. facebook/MpopConserve

Photos by Asanda Ngubane, Sihle Ngcobo, Philani Ngcobo and Nikki Brighton

2013 on our Blog

Are you interested in who else reads the MCG blog? You may be surprised to hear that people from 121 countries across the globe viewed our blog last year!   The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for us.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Summer Walk in Umgeni Valley

Christeen Grant spent time exploring Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve recently and compiled this collection of gorgeous photos.

Verdant green growth of grasses and foliage, dim leafy loam beneath forest trees, between rocks, along tracks and streams; a summer abundance of flowers, insects, fungi, amphibians, mammals and birds revealed themselves. A magical treasure trove of nature, so accessible, on the outskirts of Howick. A  wonderful day’s outing for the whole family.

Fungi Psilocybe coprophila

Some of the flowers seen: Ajuga ophrydis,

Flower Ajuga ophrydis

Albuca fastigiata,

Flower Albuca fastigiata

Alephidea natalensis,

Flower Alepidea natalensis

Becuim obovatum,

Flower Becium obovatum

Brunsvigia radulosa,

Flower Brunsvigia radulosa

Commelina Africana

Flower Commelina africana

& Commelina erecta,

Flower Commelina erecta

Corchorus asplenifolius,

Flower Corchorus asplenifolius

Cyanotis speciosa,

Flower Cyanotis speciosa with bee

Dianthus zeyheri,

Flower Dianthus zeyheri

Eulophia stretopetala,

Flower Eulophia streptopetala

Freesia laxa,

Flower Freesia laxa

Hibiscus calyphyllus

Flower Hibiscus calyphyllus

& trionum,

Flower Hibiscus trionum

Hypoxis rigidula,

Flower Hypoxis rigidula

Ipomoea crassipes

Flower Ipomoea crassipes

& Ipomoea pellita,

Flower Ipomoea pellita

Monopsis decipiens,

Flower Monopsis decipiens

Moraea stricta,

Flower Moraea stricta

Pachycarpus  (possibly) concolor,

Flower Pachycarpus pos concolor

Ruellia cordata,

Flower Ruellia cordata

Senecio serratuloides,

Flower Senecio pos serratuloides

Streptocarpus polyanthus,

Flower Streptocarpus polyanthus

Tephrosia elongata,

Flower Tephrosia elongata

Thunbergia dregeana,

Flower Thunbergia dregeana

Grewia hispida

Flower Tree Shrub Grewia hispida

& Grewia occidentalis.

Flower Tree Grewia occidentalis

Many fungi had responded to the rain and damp conditions in shady leaf loam like this puffball

Fungi PuffballJapanese umbrella Coprinus plicatilis

Fungi Japanese umbrella Coprinus plicatilisFungi 08 Fungi 07 Fungi 06 Fungi 05 Fungi 04 Fungi 03 Fungi 02 Fungi 01

A Red Toad also blended into this environment.

Amphibian Red Toad

A delicate Orb Spider sat waiting patiently in a web

Spider Orb Web Spiderand a tick precariously perched at the end of a needle thin asparagus leaf, legs outstretched to catch onto an unwary potential host.

Tick

An explosion of insect life

Insect Moth pos one of the Emerald Moths fam Geometridae

including stunning beetles, a Yellow-spotted Ground Beetle

Insect Yellow-spotted Ground Beetle

Pill Millipede

Pill MillipedeYellow-belted Fruit Chafer

Insect Yellow-belted Fruit Chafer

Net-winged Beetle

Insect Net-winged Beetle sp

Leaf Beetle

Insect Leaf Beetle sp

Fruit Chafer

Insect Fruit Chafer sp

a wide variety of beautiful hairy caterpillars

Insect Moth caterpillar pos fam Lasiocampidae 02 Insect Moth caterpillar pos fam Lasiocampidae 01 Insect Moth caterpillar 02 Insect Moth caterpillar 01

and a serene Clubtail Dragonfly balanced delicately on a branch, greeted our view at every turn.

Insect Dragonfly pos Gomphidae Clubtail

Umgeni Valley is open everyday.  Office Hours are 8am to 4.30pm. Gates close at 7pm in Summer.  Entrance fee is R24 for adults and R12 for children.  033 330 3931

Giant Rocks, Magic Trees and 363 Steps

The dizzle had settled in for the weekend, r P1260050but spirits were high as 50 eco-conscious learners from Mpophomeni, Bruntville, Rosetta and Nottingham Road lugged their bags down the hill to Indulo Camp in Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. r IMG_2777 Connecting with friends made last year in Hlatikulu was high on the agenda, but first there was some exploring to do. r The whole gang One group headed off to splash in uMhlangeni stream, looking for creatures in the cascades

r P1260014and learn how to do a miniSASS test.

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“The method used to measure how clean the water is was very interesting. We were actually looking at the biodiversity of the stream. I’m looking forward to school re-opening to share this new activity with my buddies.” enthused Lungisani Mthalane.  Another group headed up the hill to photograph the many gorgeous summer flowers in the grassland – the Brunsvegia in particular, were spectacular. r thulisile brunsvegiaEveryone knew about Aloes and their many uses.rr IMG_0772 Learning basic photography skills unleashed unknown creativity.

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res IMG_2859 Many interesting insects were discovered and caterpillars, termite mounds, porcupine quills, mossy rocks and the warthogs were photographed. rr IMG_0745 The kids from the Mpophomeni Enviro Club each chose a plant which represented them best and explained why this was so to their friends. r philani, asa, sihle leaf Nomfundo Mlotshwa selected a fern. r Explaining about the plant we chose and why it reminds us of ourselves - NomfundoThey stuffed their nostrils with medicinal Artemesia leaves and headed for the Magic Fig Tree to make wishes. r Making our wishes at the Magic Fig with Kakibos up our noses - cropped Many hoped they had passed their exams but a couple wished to see the giraffe that lives there, especially as they has already seen giraffe spoor on the the muddy road.  Sisanda Hadebe was enthralled: “The giraffe’s footprint is huge. Bigger than a person’s hand!  We also found giraffe dung and learnt that it’s favourite food is thorn trees.”

Just wandering along provided many opportunities for learning – the mushrooms doing their job as decomposers, r mushroom by Mnqobi Ndlela Trees which produce bitter tannin in their leaves to avoid being eaten and Hypoxis which are important medicinal plants.umgeni valley dec 2013 019 After a hearty lunch of pasta with tomatoes and fresh herbs, coleslaw and cordial r P1250988 they hiked far into the valley past Cycad Camp to discover where Chief Ngwenya had lived many, many years ago. r hiking umgeni valley by Nkulu Mdladla “He wanted to keep his surname and not become a Zulu under Shaka’s rule, so he hid in this place.” explained Nomfundo Kunene. r tree nkulu umgeni valley 098 There, to their absolute delight, they spotted George the Giraffe! r It's George the Giraffe! by Nkanyiso Ndlela Nomfundo also enjoyed learning about the African Rock Python found in the area, although she hoped she wouldn’t actually see it!  “It was pretty cool exploring and learning things that we have never heard of before” she said. r nkulu umgeni valley 106 Sunrise Rock, just below Indulo camp was a favourite spot when anyone needed to escape from all the activity…. r IMG_2983 This big flat rock – tall as the tree tops – is accessed by a long ladder and a very special place to spend quiet time. res IMG_2972 Some of the girls looked anxiously at the cliffs wondering when another enormous boulder might roll down. Naledi Ngake said she really enjoyed climbing the rock because she had always been afraid of heights “When I faced the challenge of climbing the ladder, I realised that high altitude places aren’t so bad. I didn’t give up and this taught me that giving up isn’t an option.” Shea O'Connor Eco Committee on Sunrise Rock with Penny Rees After an evening around the campfire (cooking sausages sponsored by Fry’s Foods),

res IMG_3012‘Bush Idols’ provided plenty of entertainment – ranging from drama r IMG_3075 to song and dance. r IMG_3100 The older boys chose to sleep on top of Sunrise Rock. r nkulu umgeni valley 084 Nkululeko Mdladla said “The Sunrise Rock at night was sooo cool. That was fantastic.” in the morning a tired looking Vusi Hoyi commented “I don’t think I’ll try sleep on a rock again”

After breakfast the entire group set off enthusiastically on a Quest – just as the young men of Chief Ngwenya’s clan would have done.  Testing their endurance, determination and ability to solve problems. Searching for hidden clues to find their way to a picnic at The Pines on the other side of the Reserve.  First they had to camouflage themselves using mud and leaves, r IMG_6184then make up a bundle of sticks to protect them on their journey. umgeni valley dec 2013 101 Following the map was not as easy as expected. r umgeni valley dec 2013 106 It was a long hike and quite tiring – particularly climbing the 363 steps through the forest. r Hiking in Umgeni Valley Little Lungisani Maphanga (in yellow below) counted each step! and with the rest of his team was first to arrive at The Pines for lunch.  “The long hike was tiring yet enjoyable. We got to explore the forest and the landscape. The plants are looking superb as it is summer. I feel like going back again.” said Lungisani Mthalane

r P1260149It was too late to walk back down to ‘Bum Slide’ as planned, but the water in the nearby stream was too much to resist and everyone splashed gleefully,

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This wilderness weekend was a joint project of the Midlands Meander Association Education Project and Midlands Conservancies Forum, funded by the N3 Toll Concession, with additional volunteers from KZN Crane Foundation, DUCT and Southern Secrets.

r ann penny christeen

Thanks to SANBI for the loan of their cameras which helped focus attention and unearthed a few budding photographers. Many of the photos in this post were taken by the learners.

r qiniso photographing

“Thank you so much for the delicious food and the lovely camp and everything you have done for us.” said Wendy Mkhwanazi as she headed home.  Qiniso Zuma added “I had a great time with all you guys, can’t wait for the next one.”

r P1020713This was certainly a successful weekend despite the weather, cold showers and drafty accommodation.  We do hope to encourage the kids to bring a little less luggage next time, though!

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Celebrating Midlands’ Summer

Members and friends of the MCF gathered at the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Reserve on Friday to celebrate all that is good about living in the Midlands.

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It was lovely to spend relaxed time with our partners in conservation, sustainability and education. Hugh Temple said “It was great to exchange views
and ideas (and stories) with like-minded people.”

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It also provided an opportunity to explore the almost complete Wattled Crane Nursery on the edge of the dam.

wattled crane nursery

Judy Bell commented “It was great to create positive energy and have people talking to each other in a beautiful setting.”

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The refreshments were suitably ‘midlands’, with wine from the Wine Cellar in Rosetta (with contribution to KZN Crane Foundation funds),

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which went down a treat in the late afternoon sun.

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Peter and Cheryth Thomson enjoyed themselves “Thank you for a thoroughly lovely afternoon/evening. We enjoyed the special food, the good booze, the sense of place and, especially, the positive company.  We think the Midlands Conservation Forum is showing the way and were pleased to hear that a similar forum is coming about along the Drakensberg and that the KZN Conservancies Association is in full support. With all the governance problems facing conservation in KZN and in the country it is really encouraging to get together with people who are so enthusiastic about what they are doing.”

Café Bloom put on a splendid spread.

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Mostly organic and definitely all local.

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Phillippa Gordon was in heaven, “My absolute favourite food from the best restaurant in the Midlands.” she pronounced.

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“What great food. I had ngolwesihlana. mmmm.” added Nkululeko Mdladla

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Draft beer from Notties Brewery had everyone trying their hand at being barmaid.  A trio of cordials – Mint, Elderflower and Lemon were served with plenty of ice.

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“We feel privileged to have been invited along on Friday. It was such a lovely afternoon with friends just chilling and catching up. We have been inspired to try recreate the gorgeous food here at home. The girls had such fun in their own ways too.”  Kevan, Karen, Hannah and Jessie Zunckel

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Conversations were varied, and always interesting

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light hearted as friends caught up

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or intense as funding strategies were discussed.

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Kids had a ball,

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“Thank you so much for organizing such a lovely evening – everyone loved it and the food was the best!”  said Ann Burke

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The MCF aims to Inspire, Motivate and Challenge.  What better way than with a low-carbon meal surrounded by iconic Midlands grassland and really interesting people?

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As the sun set across the hills, the fire was lit. Here’s to renewed passion and commitment to protecting our eco-systems and living less harmful lifestyles.  “The afternoon was a delight.” concluded Sarah Allen.

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Investing in Nature

This article, written by Kevan Zunckel, first appeared on the Verdant Life blog.

For many nature lovers, and especially those who dedicate their lives to the conservation of nature, it is clear that the fight to ensure that precious natural areas and the species that survive within them persist is an on-going battle.  It is also clear that although there may be victories along the way, we seem to be losing the war.  This may sound like a pessimistic outlook but it is unfortunately the reality that we face.  In KwaZulu Natal we are losing natural land cover at a rate of approximately 1% per annum, and with almost 50% of the province’s natural land surface already lost to various forms of development and transformation, all will be gone by approximately 2050 if our business as usual approach to life is allowed to continue unchecked.

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One of the lessons that many conservationists are learning from this is that while the traditional arguments in favour of nature conservation are valid in their own right, they are not finding traction with most of society and most of our decision-makers.  In response to this conservationists are increasingly embracing the need to ‘package’ nature in a way that demonstrates its value to society and the economy.  Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has embarked on a journey of doing just this by using resource economic techniques to put a value on the province’s natural areas to try and convince the Provincial Treasury that they are worthy of budget support.  This journey was launched a few years ago with figures that put the value of the Province’s biodiversity at approximately R150 billion.  The success of this campaign still needs to be seen, but this direct approach of placing a monetary value on nature has drawn criticism from many quarters.

However, there are other ways of ‘packaging’ nature so that more and more people begin to see and appreciate its value, and this is to acknowledge that nature produces and provides a wide range of goods and services upon which humanity’s survival is hugely dependent.  It is unfortunate that in our fast pace, throw-away, convenience-oriented way of life; many have lost touch with the fact that without these natural goods and services, provided to us by nature free of charge; we end up carrying the cost of the consequences of our neglect.

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A classic example of this was the massive impact of the storm surge that was experienced along the KwaZulu Natal coast in March 2007 where homes and infrastructure along the coast were badly damaged, while further down along the untransformed Wild Coast, the only evidence of the unusually high seas was foam way up on the grasslands above the rocky coast line.  Nature had endured the storm with no cost, but where nature had been replaced and encroached on, the cost was extremely high.

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Moving away from the coast and further inland, but still in KZN, an increasing awareness of the inability of the uMngeni River system to meet the demand for water in Pietermaritzburg and Durban has seen authorities investing large amounts in engineering projects designed to alleviate the situation such as bringing water from the adjacent Mooi River catchment into the uMngeni.  First the Mearn’s Weir and now the Spring Grove Dam are in place to do just this, but the projected demand is already close to what these investments can manage to supply.  Consequently more dams are planned on the Mkomazi River, also at significant cost.  What has not been factored into these supply – demand strategies is that relatively little is being invested into making sure that the land surfaces upon which the rain falls, infiltrates the ground, recharges the water tables and feeds these rivers; are in prime condition and able to function optimally.

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What are being referred to here are the natural water catchment services that the grasslands, wetlands and forests of the high and middle altitude areas of KZN offer to society.  All one needs to do is experience a thunder storm in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site and see the swollen rivers full of water that is still clean and free of sediment; and then to experience the same not far from the boundary of the Park where there are settlements and/or farming to see how different the situation is.  Worse still is to look at the water quality data that is regularly captured and reported on by Umgeni Water that shows us that the upper reaches of the uMngeni River are heavily polluted and that the good quality water of the Midmar Dam that hosts the world’s largest open water swimming event, is under threat of becoming as bad as the Hartebeespoort Dam.

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Fortunately the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has embarked on a campaign to aggressively ‘market’ the value of nature to decision-makers, and they have succeeded to do this in the uMngeni River catchment by showing authorities that by investing in the natural areas of the catchment, it is possible to significantly increase the efficiency of both the existing and planned water supply and treatment services of the relevant authorities.  Such investments will entail the management of natural land cover in the catchment so as to retain their optimal capacity to deliver water catchment services, to restore degraded and drained wetlands, to reinstate riparian areas that have been encroached on by agriculture and urban development, and to integrate natural areas back into the urban environment so that rainfall runoff can be better managed and delivered into the stream and rivers of the catchment.

Where nature is maintained in a catchment situation it will help to reduce the risk of floods and flood damage, it will act as a natural filter to trap sediments and other impurities thus ensuring that water quality does not decrease to the current levels that prevail in the whole of the uMngeni River system, it will ensure that rainfall is optimally absorbed into the system such that flow rates in the dry season are sustained at levels much greater than they are today.  This will also ensure that there is a greater volume of water in the system which will help to dilute impurities and reduce the risks of water-borne disease.  The converse of each of these benefits bring about costs to society, many of which most of us are unaware of, unless you are not privileged enough to have treated water piped to your home and you have to draw it directly out the river.  Or if you have to cross a swollen river to get to school, or have nowhere else to build your home but in a flood plain and live in fear of the next flood.

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Currently the city of Durban spends in excess of R100 million a month to treat water to a potable standard.  SANBI have spent approximately the same amount of money over the last 10 years working on the restoration of wetlands in the catchment.  A more direct illustration of the value of such work is to be found below the Albert Falls Dam where the Working for Water programme has invested in the restoration of the riparian zone of the uMngeni River.  Upstream of this restored area is an intensive livestock production facility which is responsible for reducing the quality of the water in the river to a very poor level.  However, 20km below this facility the water quality is back to a natural standard with no other intervention but the restoration of the riparian zone through alien plant clearing.  Based on this illustration and the costs of the restoration it is possible to say that for 10% of Durban City’s monthly water treatment spend, almost the entire length of the uMngeni River could be restored and maintained.  If such an investment could be secured on a long term basis, the natural, social and economic benefits for KZN would be enormous.

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In recognition of these benefits SANBI, in partnership with the Department of Water Affairs, Umgeni Water, and the water service authorities of eThekwini, Msunduzi and uMgungundlovu; as well as a host of other relevant stakeholders; have established the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership.  This partnership aims to enhance water security in the greater uMngeni River catchment, i.e. including the upper Mooi and Mkomazi River catchments, by facilitating and coordinating investments into what has come to be known as ‘ecological infrastructure’, which SANBI defines as ‘functioning ecosystems that produce and deliver services that are of value to society’.

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Above: Signatories to the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership MoU representing the City of Durban, SANBI, Wildlands Conservation Trust, Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust, Msinsi Holdings, UKZN, SAPPI, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, WWF-SA, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Umgeni Water, uMgungundlovu District Municipality, Msunduzi Local Municipality, WESSA and Water Research Commission.

The uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership was launched at a function at the mouth of the river on 20 November 2013 where a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by 17 of the partners.  It is expected that many more partners will still sign the MoU and commit to working together to enhance nature’s ability to deliver vital life supporting services to the people and economy of the region.  At the same time it is possible that the conservationists involved in the battle for the region’s biodiversity may be getting closer to winning the war and that in future, we will start to see business UNusual being practiced as a matter of course.

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Above: The high-level panel discussion on the value of ecological infrastructure for water security at the launch of the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership in Durban on 20 November 2013 with panellists Neil Macleod of eThekwini Water and Sanitation, Kristal Maze of SANBI, Cyril Gumede of Umgeni Water, and Sbu Kozwayo of uMgungundlovu District Municipality.

If the partners to this MoU can commit to investing in the ecological infrastructure of the greater catchment, the question begs as to what can be done at the individual and household level.  One of the first of the strategies identified by the water service authorities has been to enhance water use efficiencies, and while it is easy to complain about leaking pipes and water mains; there is much that can be done at home.  Without going into the long list of usual water saving tips perhaps an illustration of what rainwater harvesting can do may be more effective.  Records show that if rainwater harvesting systems are installed and optimally used by approximately a million middle income households in the catchment, the equivalent volume of water that is stored in Midmar Dam could be saved.  Expressed in another way, this could negate the need for the development of the dams that are planned in the Mkomazi River.

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