Category Archives: Water

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,


loss of land and damage to buildings through erosion,


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.


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.


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.

penny rees

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





buildings; homes and pump houses,


a cemetery under construction,


gardens, pastures,


eroded livestock access points,


rubbish pits,



haybale storage


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


and escaped garden species.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


DUCT Are Greening the Future

DUCT recently won the Mail and Guardian Greening the Future award in the Community Conservation category.

Kholosa Magudu, a DUCT Groen Sebenza intern, accompanied Dave Still, to the Award Ceremony held in Sandton. She writes: The M&G Greening the Future Awards honour organisations for their outstanding innovation in environmental best practice.  I was quite moved at the quality of work presented by the different entries, finalists, and winners. We, at DUCT, envisage rivers where water quality and quantity are maintained at acceptable norms with healthy, natural riparian zones and where the biological diversity is preserved. We have a vision of a community where all residents possess a basic understanding and appreciation of their river in river.res

Our contribution to job creation and livelihood improvement of previously disadvantaged groups by physically addressing environmental problems through alien plant removal, water quality monitoring (citizen science) and community-based land care initiatives is promoting capacity-building and Ubuntu.

Since my recruitment as an intern in May 2013 under SANBI’s epic Groen Sebenza Programme, I have learnt a lot about the biodiversity sector through DUCT contributing to my personal and professional development. I have had many highlights since joining DUCT, however, the day attending the award ceremony was the best for me. This was the first time I travelled on an aeroplane and am grateful to DUCT management for this opportunity.

We are honoured to be one of the winners of “Greening the Future” Awards 2014. What a remarkable way of recognising, celebrating, and encouraging work that propels change and perpetuates green solutions to socio-political problems such as poverty, inequality and unemployment in our country. This kind of recognition and support fuels the train to the enhancement of our conservation efforts. Thank you Mail and Guardian!

kholosa and dave

The article below, about DUCT, written by Yazeed Kamaldien, first appeared in the Mail and Guardian.

The Msunduzi and Umgeni rivers are crucial natural resources for thousands of people living in KwaZulu-Natal, but levels of contamination in the rivers have increased dramatically over the past 10 years. The Duzi Umgeni Conservation Trust stepped in during 2005 with ways to address both river health and social and economic development.

The river systems had become “badly degraded through neglect and over-exploitation”, says the trust’s chairperson, David Still. “Instead of complaining about the state of our rivers, we would rather do something positive to rehabilitate them and to change the perception that decline is inevitable.” Urban rivers are highly stressed in cities all over the world, he adds. “Our vision is for healthy rivers that support healthy communities.”

kids in river by Dumisane

The trust’s role has been to work in partnership with other organisations, from both civil society and the government.“We recognise that the problems with the health of the rivers are large and have not developed overnight. Our vision is ambitious and will only be achieved through progressive, combined and sustained actions,” says Still. Apart from ensuring cleaner rivers, job creation for members of local communities has also been an achievement. For the last four years we had between 100 and 250 people working for us at any one time,” says Still.

One of the core elements of the campaign is a River Care Team that focuses on a particular length of river at a time, tackling whatever environmental problems are presented. “This could be illegal dumping, invasive alien vegetation, industrial pollution, sewage pollution, illegal sand mining and so on. We have provided many people with work experience and training, boosting their confidence and making them more employable by others.” Still says the long-term vision is to create a river custodianship system where the “respective landowners in a catchment each take responsibility for their section of river”.


The trust is helping to set up such a system on the Dargle River, one of the tributaries in the upper catchment area. It also supports a number of local conservancy groups, each of which focuses on a particular stretch of river at low cost. The trust has also engaged children in its river revitalisation efforts. It has enlisted 73 schools in its eco-club programme and involved more than 3 400 learners in its river clean-up campaigns.

Its effort in monitoring sewage spills into the rivers and lobbying for improvements to sewage infrastructure have led to significant capital investment by the Umgeni Water and the Msunduzi Municipality in upgraded sewage works.

Another problem area requiring clean-up and monitoring has been illegal waste dumping. In response, the trust set up the Mpophomeni Sanitation Education Project in 2011, a community monitoring and education programme. “Local community members volunteer as ‘Enviro Champs’ and monitor and report on sewage leaks, illegal dumping and other environmental problems,” says Still. “The Enviro Champs have become well known in the communities as the people to whom such problems are reported. “They in turn ensure that these issues are properly reported to ward councillors and responsible municipal units, and also attend ward and municipal meetings to monitor progress and promote accountability.” END

Congratulations DUCT – this recognition for the incredible work you do to conserve our water catchment area is well deserved. 

DUCT’s vision is an ecologically healthy and biologically diverse uMngeni-uMsunduzi river system that provides sustained ecological goods and services for the communities that depend on them for their survival. We envisage that communities will show respect for the rivers and will take ownership and responsibility for the condition of the rivers, seeking to preserve their natural function and beauty.

duct enviro champs canoeing

DUCT recognises that the problems with the health of the rivers are large and have not developed overnight. Our vision is ambitious and will only be achieved through progressive, combined and sustained actions by government and civil society. DUCT’s role is to:

  • raise awareness of problems with river health
  • develop, demonstrate and encourage the adoption of solutions to these problems
  • support and learn from people and communities who wish to make a difference or are already making a difference to the health of their rivers
  • actively engage in river health projects, education and capacity building.

We work in partnership with other organisations, whether from civil society or government, who share our vision, to champion the environmental health of the uMngeni and uMsunduzi Rivers.


DUCT has eight strategic focus areas.  These are:

  • Minimization of faecal waste in the rivers
  • Reduction of solid waste in the rivers
  • Reduction of industrial pollution in the rivers
  • Control and eradication of invasive alien plant vegetation on the river banks and in the rivers
  • Improvement of land care and reduction of soil erosion in the catchments
  • Reduction of water borne diseases in the rivers
  • Improvement of management of mining operations in the Valley
  • Implementation of an environmental flow schedule below the major dams, as provided for in the National Water Act of 1998

Gomfidae in Mpofana – Yay!

Brave Balgowan Conservancy hosted a Water Workshop just as the water was starting to get chilly.  This is part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Resources Project funded by N3TC. Priscilla Young wrote this report:

Penny Rees gave us a super talk with video footage of her walk from the source of the uMngeni river to the sea.  Then we then went down to the Dormer Bridge where we went wading into the Mpofana River.  Here we look up streammpofana from dormer bridge

Penny said this was going to be the perfect spot for us to do our testing and collection of species. We are now “Entomologists of the Aquatic kind”! However, this was not a pretty place on the river.

pollution mpofana

We found a nice flat rock to sit on and scrutinise what we found,  lots of rocks and slow and fast moving water – the ideal spot for a miniSASS test.

mpofana 1

Time to get the feet wet – Yvonne, Nhlaka and Penny start ‘fishing’

mpofana feet wet

Nhlaka has caught a “tub” full of “goodies”

nhlakaAnd David too!

david crowePenny, Yvonne and Nhlaka sifting and identifying their catches with magnifying glass to get a closer look.

yvonne nhlaka penny 1All the Yoghurt pots have been emptied onto the platter for examination by the “catchers” and listed by Penny. All sorts of interesting little water creatures were discovered – ready to be photographed and catalogued.

mpofane photo

This fellow was our major find! Apparently quite difficult to catch and find, and I believe the Dargle Conservancy will be quite jealous of this chap! This is his grand name! Dragonfly: Gomphidae Mini SASS Score: 8.25: Natural, unmodified condition. Penny commented“Howzat?! Not often we find such a good score.”


What a fruitful day. The weather was fantastic and Penny came to the conclusion that at this point – The Dormer Bridge – the Mpofana River was really very clean BUT we now wait to see what happens further upstream and when the Spring Grove Dam comes fully into operation.

Penny adds: The Mpofana is a crucial part of the Mooi uMngeni inter-basin transfer as the water from the Mooi River is deposited into this stream. This is already causing erosion, so everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what happens when the increased amount of water is sent down from the new Spring Grove Dam.

This is a list of what was caught/found in the River and we now have to monitor on a regular basis. Hopefully more people will join us in the next in the Water Workshop. It really was a lot of fun!

  • Flat worms: Planaria
  • Fresh water shrimp
  • Stonefly: Perlidae
  • Minnow Mayfly: Baetidae
  • Other Mayfly: Heptagenidae, Tricorythidae
  • Dragonfly: Gomphidae
  • Bugs / Beetles: Gyrinidae, Veliidae
  • Snails: Ancylidae

Penny Rees and her team of DUCT River Walkers will be exploring the entire Mpofana River in October this year.  Read her version of the day’s events.

mpofana water workshop

Duzi at its Dirtiest

This article written by NIYANTA SINGH appeared in The Witness recently:

The current water quality in the Duzi River is at its worst ever.  Environmentalists have raised alarm bells saying “it has been one of the worst summers for water quality”, with a peak in poor quality over the past six months, and are laying the blame squarely at the door of the Msunduzi Municipality, accusing them of neglecting the sewer maintenance section in terms of resources and management time.

camp's drift on Duzi

Previous newspaper reports indicated that the municipality had recorded four burst pipes per day, 520 mainline blockages and an ageing asbestos cement pipeline.

The last test done by the Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) on March 18 shows alarming figures of E. coli contamination, which is indicative of faecal content in the water and results in severe illness including diarrhoea, kidney failure, abdominal cramping and death. In the Baynespruit River near Greytown Road and Sobantu, the contamination rate of E.coli was a shocking 241 920 per 100 millilitres of water on March 18. Last month, during the Dusi canoe race, the figures for those areas ranged from 6 500/100ml to 14 210/100ml. According to DUCT’s guide, any E. coli contamination greater than 50 000/100ml is a severe contamination and one in three people or canoeists may get sick. The current contamination levels exceed this level more than four times.

Duzi Walk 1 6-10-2012 (45)

DUCT’s Dave Still said any E. coli contamination of 10 000/100ml is considered indicative of fairly significant pollution.  The only acceptable value for drinking water quality, he said, was zero E. coli contamination per 100mls.   No naturally occurring surface water, however, could be expected to have this low level of E Coli contamination. If it does, he said, disinfectants would have been added to the water.

Still said while E. coli data could be hard to interpret as it was extremely variable in time and space, the readings were always higher after rain.  This is partly due to spilling sewers and partly due to wash-off of surface faecal contamination. The last month has been pretty horrible, quality wise, but then it has been quite wet,” added Still. The worrying factor, for him, however, was the long term trend from 1998 to 2013.   This graph shows a score, a single number, for each year, and that score is the number of sites above 10 000 E. coli/100ml each week on average. You want this to be low, not high. As you can see from the graph, the trend is not good,” said Still.

Duzi Walk 1 6-10-2012 (36)

Judy Bell, also an environmentalist, said in addition to changes in the natural infrastructure, which was under huge strain because of growing property developments, the sewer maintenance section was badly neglected in terms of resources and management time.

Another environmentalist who did not want to be named said he did not think it was only failing infrastructure that contributed to the poor water quality.  “I don’t think it’s a question of failing infrastructure. Yes, some of the infrastructure does need upgrading, but that cannot explain a move in the index from 3,3 to 6,4 from 2010 to 2012. It might be a malaise that dates from the time the city went bankrupt, as the team was about to get some much needed equipment but then never got it,” said the source.

Still said in addition to the poor water quality threatening major water sports events, sewage pollution in the Duzi was causing a phosphate build-up in Inanda Dam, which in turn was causing algal blooms.

Mayday 23 582

Dr Mark Graham, also a DUCT Director and one of South Africa’s most highly respected river health scientists said the blue green algae, already seen covering the Inanda Dam this year during the Dusi canoe race, was more insidious and difficult to treat than water hyacinth. “Some of the paddlers would have noticed a unique smell coming up the valley … This was geosmin — a by product of the microcystis algal blooms and a potent taste and odour forming compound which costs huge amounts to treat in potable water. With more nutrient enrichment it will become more prevalent within the dam main basin and could eventually affect water treatment plants in Durban,” said Dr Graham. This algae, he said, had another by-product which was even worse than the taste and odour issue — a group of compounds known as E. coli. “It is highly toxic, particularly if ingested and in sufficiently large quantities. This is a great concern for most water supply companies in the world today as nutrient enrichment increases in most water supply dams,” said Graham.

Duzi Walk 1 6-10-2012 (176)

A DUCT team explored parts of the uMsunduzi river last year. Read about it here:



Winterskloof Gets Wet

Autumn is in the air.  We gathered on a beautiful, sunny, ‘freshly washed’ Sunday morning recently to enjoy the first of the Winterskloof Conservancy Water Workshop series.


Judy Bell writes:

Penny Rees of DUCT (Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust) and Mngeni River Source to Sea Walk fame began the workshop at Cowan House with a discussion about the need to look after our catchments in KwaZulu-Natal.

Our Valley is the watershed for the Dorpspruit, which feeds into the Msunduzi and then into the uMngeni River.  As you can see in the diagram below, the sources of about 12 streams are located right here in our Valley (shaded area) and our properties.  Hence the importance of us all becoming river custodians.

dorpsruit tributaries

Conservancies and communities along the uMgeni River and various catchments are forming partnerships with DUCT to assist in monitoring and protecting the rivers and their catchments in an effort to release more water of good quality into the system.  These workshops held in the Midlands Conservancies are educating communities to monitor rivers in a practical and easy way, so that we can all take action to improve the situation.  A grant from the N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) to the Midlands Conservancies Forum has enabled Penny Rees to run these workshops for the 14 Conservancies that make up the Forum.

The more people who learn to do these easy river health assessments, the more monitoring results will be available for the streams flowing through our properties and neighbourhood.  If we continue to record the results, we will be able to trend the quality with time.


Penny explained some fast-flowing facts about our water:

  • The uMngeni River arises in the uMngeni Vlei (Nottingham Road area) and flows to Midmar Dam (our drinking water supply) through intensively farmed areas – mainly dairy and pigs, with pollution from fertilizers, effluents and manure slurries, discharging into it.  It is also affected by raw sewage from blocked sewers, especially from the Mthinzima Stream, a tributary arising from the hills above Mpophomeni and flowing into Midmar.  Below the Dam, the river becomes heavily polluted in places as it flows through Howick, affected by contaminated stormwater, litter, raw and treated sewage.  The effluent from the Howick Wastewater Treatment Works flows over the edge of the krantz before the Howick Falls, into the Umgeni Nature Reserve.
  • The river is infested in many places with invasive alien plants such as bramble, bugweed, black wattle (Acacia mearnisii).  This is an invasive native to Australia, which grows unchecked in thickets, with no undergrowth to protect the bare soil, which then erodes easily.  The river previously meandered through grasslands, but with shading by the invasive wattle trees has changed the temperature and pH of the water, which encourages the growth of unhealthy micro-organisms and other plant life, affecting the river’s health.
  • Soil erosion, litter from illegal dumping and storm water drains, treated and untreated effluent all contribute to the deterioration in the health of the river as it makes its way to the sea.
  • Over one thousand million litres of water are abstracted from the uMngeni daily for domestic, agricultural and industrial consumption.  This is not sufficient to meet the increasing demand, which has led to the development of the Spring Grove Dam and Mearns Weir projects in the Midlands, transferring water from the Mooi to the uMngeni River.
  • Water is pumped at great cost from one catchment to another (e.g. Thukela-Vaal) to augment supplies.
  • Only appropriate developments should be allowed near sensitive wetlands and grasslands, which are often viewed as ‘idle land’, when in fact they are performing a life-saving role as water factories and cleaning agents.
  • eThekwini Municipality is currently spending around R1 million each month to clean uMngeni Water to drinking water quality standards and is now working with Msunduzi and uMgungungdlovu Municipalities to invest in the ecological or natural infrastructure that will help increase flows of good quality water into our dams – the wetlands, grasslands, forests in the upper catchments.  This is why the Midlands, with its ‘water factories’, is so important.
  • The River Walks that DUCT undertakes has shown that rivers can ‘heal’ themselves if there is sufficient space between the damaged areas (pollution and invasive alien plant infestations).   In the Cumberland Nature Reserve, this was shown to be a 10 km stretch without pollution, development or alien plant infestations.
  • Monitoring and knowledge of the health of rivers has become a priority, which is why the miniSASS river health assessments (Stream Assessment Scoring System) were introduced, to help citizens join the programme and learn about the water quality in their communities.

Water Quality Monitoring – No High-Tech Equipment needed!

The beauty of this testing system lies in its simplicity.  Anyone can learn how to collect a miniSASS sample on a river or stream, and determine the water quality and health of water resource.  It involves catching and identifying the number and types of macro-invertebrates (small animals) or “nunus” which live in the water.  These are barometers (indicators) of the general river health and water quality. Equipment consists of enthusiastic samplers of all ages using various plastic containers (yoghurt or margarine tubs) with mosquito gauze on top, children’s beach fishing nets and pot plant drip trays for the catch, as well as the miniSASS score card and invertebrate identification booklet.

Sampling the stream 16Mar2014

The group moved down to the Doreen Clark Nature Reserve, just below St Michael’s Road to do a miniSASS on the stream flowing through the reserve.  This stream flows throughout the year through the mist-belt forest, but picks up the run-off from the road and houses upstream, so is not expected to be in “pristine” state.  Under Penny’s guidance, the group quickly collected specimens from the stream amidst lots of ‘oohs, ahhs’ and muddied feet.


The “catch” was compared with the photographs and placed into groups.  The scores allocated to the different types of organisms was tallied and then divided by the number of groups to which they belonged.  Some organisms carried a higher score, as they are only present in “clean” water.  The stream scored 6.8 which is a rating of fair to good on the miniSASS scale (see Scoring Box below).

winterskloof mini sass score

We hope to involve the schools in the area to develop custodianship of the rivers and streams, to help with regular monitoring of the Valley’s streams’ health and water quality.  The website has further details on testing, identification of the nunus, scoring and registration of the stream as well as a map, geographic coordinates and locations of the river or stream and how to submit test results which should be carried out with a minimum of 6 week intervals to allow the sample site to recover.


Penny said she thoroughly enjoyed herself and that it was great to see how the younger members got so involved!

SASS – Ecological Category (Condition) Interpretation Score

  • Unmodified (NATURAL)                                                >7.9
  • Largely natural / few modifications (GOOD)       6.8 – 7.9
  • Moderately modified (FAIR condition)                  6.1- 6.8
  • Largely modified (POOR condition)                            5.1 – 6.1
  • Seriously / critically modified (VERY POOR condition)    <5.1

Thanks to all those who joined us for the Workshop, to Cowan House for hosting us, Penny Rees for enlightening us, the Midlands Conservancies Forum and N3TC for funding the Workshop and for those who joined us.  Winterskloof will have another water workshop later in the year in Spring, so watch out for this.  Balgowan Conservancy will host one on 27 April in the Mpofana River.

For more information, check out the DUCT uMngeni River Walk miniSASS and miniSASS websites.


The Importance of Wetlands in Kamberg

The Kamberg Conservancy used their allocation of the MCF Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme funds for a lesson on the importance of wetlands at Dabulamanzi school for Grades 4,5 and 6.  Nkanyiso Ndlela facilitated the lesson on behalf of the Midlands Meander Association Education Project and MCF.


When I arrived at school the teacher and the learners were ready for me. I introduced myself and the Midlands Conservancy Forum and the programme for the day. I ask the learners to stand up and we played fun life skills game, where they have to use their two body senses – sight and hearing. I asked the learners to do what I say, not what I would do. So, for example I will say touch your head but I would be touching my toes.

I divided them into three groups and I used the Windows on our World Wetland game as an ice breaker and to tune them into the day’s topic. This game helps learners to develop the skill of identifying and analysing environmental problems and it shows connections, interdependencies, and cause and effect relationships.


Learners were paying attention and following the instructions. Although this activity created conflict amongst groups, I kept encouraging group work and discussion as a group. They were interacting with one another and asking questions. We discussed the importance of wetlands and the causes of wetland pollution.

We then took a trip to the closest wetland, where we were able to identify negative agricultural impacts on wetlands – for example monoculture. I explained to them that some farmers spray their crops with chemicals and that gets washed down to wetlands.


Other impacts observed were alien plants – bug weed and bramble, and litter coming from the school and road. We also identified incema, which is a grass used to traditionally make mats.


We then went back to the class room where each learner shared their experience in the wetland by presenting to the rest of the class.

I then introduced the wetland food web worksheet, asked the learners to draw lines between animals and plants to show who eats who, illustrating how all life in an eco-system is intricately connected.


I closed the programme by recapping, asking them what they have leant. They response showed that they have learnt something as they could remember the importance of wetlands and also wetland pollution.

Sanele Duma, educator commented “We had a wonderful time. The kids really enjoyed themselves as this was the long awaited field trip. It is also an important part of the curriculum to do this hands on learning. Now they understand wetlands much better. We hope to have another lesson like this. Thanks to the Conservancy.”


Splashing in Dargle on a Summer’s Day

Saturday 8th March dawned a glorious, sunny day as Penny Rees headed out to one of her  favourite places in the Dargle – the Dargle River on Howard Long’s farm Craigdarroch.

r Dargle River Workshop penny rees

This spot was chosen for the MCF/Dargle Conservancy Water Workshop because it is one of the few parts of the Dargle River which are in good condition.

Water Workshop 017

Penny reports: After tea and scones made by Howard’s wife Cheryl and daughter Jennifer, I showed everyone a slide show on the Dargle river walk which took place in January this year.  There was lots of discussion about how to clear invasive plants in the riparian zone and ideas and experiences were shared.

Dargle River Workshop 001

We then headed out to the river, passing spectacularly large bulls, who gazed at us from a shady spot, and hearing about the history of the farm.

Dargle River Workshop 017

The old stone storage shed that had been built by the original Scottish settlers (the Sinclairs) to double up as a fort if the need should arise.

Water Workshop 003

Above a cascade, Howard pointed out a large sheet of flat rock that was the ford (in the old days) – the only access to the farm! This must have been either terrifying or non-negotiable during heavy river flows!

Dargle River Workshop 025

Howard told us how they drank the water from this Dargle stream until about 10 years ago. He has been clearing wattles and other invasive plants along the tributary gullies which feed into the stream for many years.

Water Workshop 008

“Once you take out the wattles, the indigenous vegetation comes back. It is a 100 times better than it was, but obviously, each year you have to keep going back and clearing.”

Dargle River Workshop 067

“This river is only 18kms long,” he added “Surely, if we work together we can restore it to it’s natural state?”  Wyndham Robartes shared his experience of successfully clearing the riparian zones on his property using goats rather than chemicals.

Water Workshop 019

We crested a hill and there lay the Dargle River, clear bright water bubbling over rocks passing beautiful river banks with long waving veld grass that alternated with patches of forest.

Water Workshop 006

Penny explained how to do a miniSASS and armed with plastic containers, we were rearing to go.

Dargle River Workshop 048

Getting our feet wet was an absolute pleasure as we hunted for the invertebrates in the river – we found stout crawlers, prongills and damselflies and plenty more.

Dargle River Workshop 064

Once again (as during the River Walk in January) we hit the jackpot – Stonefly.

Water Workshop 015

The mini sass score for the days was 7.1  indicating that the river was in good condition.

Dargle River Workshop 083

A lively discussion followed on the roles that the different invertebrates have in the river ecology – from the slow moving planaria that favour shaded quiet waters to the frenetic riffle beetles that rush around on the surface of the fast flowing water.

Dargle River Workshop 076

Rose Downard found the morning  really interesting.  “Quite amazing what a difference it can make to the miniSASS score to find a Stone Fly, yet every insect has a part to play, including the humble snail. I think it would be wonderful if the whole of the Dargle River could be cleared of alien vegetation and restored to a healthy river again. It is an important part of the Dargle and should be treated as such.”

Dargle River Workshop 029

Wetlands and Tourism

This article first appeared in The Green Times.

World Wetlands Day celebrated in February marks the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in Ramsar, Iran. The aim of the convention is to protect the World’s highly sensitive and declining natural wetlands and to raise awareness of the importance and value of wetlands to people around the globe. The Convention has been signed by almost all national governments around-the-world, with South Africa becoming a signatory in December 1975.Bronner panorama WETLAND 4

The country currently has 21 designated wetlands of international importance across the country covering over 554 136 hectares in size and ranging from the Prince Edward Islands to St Lucia, Kosi Bay, Langebaan, Nylsvlei and the Natal Drakensberg Park.

“However, the country has numerous other less well-known local sites that tend to be overlooked or unappreciated and efforts need to be taken to raise the profile of all wetlands in an effort to protect this valuable element of South Africa’s biodiversity” says Greg McManus, managing director of the Heritage Environmental Management Company.

r umngeni vlei in winter 020

An economic driver

With the importance of tourism as an economic driver in South Africa – and the potential negative effects of tourism on these internationally recognised areas, the tourism sector is often best placed to assist in the development of these fragile environments.

r karkloof conservation centre 5th anniversay wetland

SBS International and the Heritage Environmental Management Company have urged the industry to become more involved in efforts to protect and raise awareness of threats faced by wetlands and the important role wetlands play in biodiversity and the protection of species.

“The environment and our unique tourism offerings attract a growing number of tourists annually to the country, and with this comes a greater responsibility by the tourism sector to play an active role in protecting the country’s fragile wetlands. We can best do this by raising awareness of the sites with visitors and locals alike,” he adds.

A natural attraction to water

People are naturally attracted to water, to coastal wetlands such as coral reefs and beaches, and to inland wetlands such as lakes and rivers, reflecting the strong bond between people and nature as well as the unique aesthetic appeal of wetlands.

r kids at karkloof wetland

“Hotel and resort development and tourism activities in and around sites such as wetlands pose additional challenges to the sustainable and responsible use of wetlands, and increased impacts associated with human interaction, traverse patterns and activities associated with tourism need to be fully understood,” says Neal Dickinson, director of operations at Heritage.

As part of their efforts to raise awareness of tourism-based impacts, Heritage works closely with its certified members and others in the tourism and hospitality sector to ensure the highest possible awareness of issues such as wetland protection and has challenged the hotel and resort industry to get involved in the protection and sustainable use of their closest wetlands.

“While there are internationally recognised sites across the country, we need to be aware of the impacts being felt on wetlands closer to home,” adds Dickinson.

Other sensitive areas often overlooked

Often, local, less significant but equally sensitive areas are overlooked by local authorities, development agencies and even developers of tourism-based businesses, and Heritage is working closely with all interested parties to ensure higher awareness of the impacts that unplanned and poorly executed developments take place.

r wetland - Nikki Brighton

“Development of tourist facilities in sensitive areas takes place as a result of a lack of understanding of the role wetlands play in the biodiversity we have, and by raising issues related to the protection of wetlands, we hope developers and the tourism sector will play a more prominent role in their protection” says McManus.

This year’s theme: Wetlands and Agriculture

The theme for World Wetlands Day 2014 is “Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth” in recognition of the sensitive balance between preservation and agricultural development taking place globally.

The events this year will focus on the need for the wetland and agricultural sectors (and the water sector too of course) to work together for the best shared outcomes and follows the declaration of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming by the United Nations.

Small-scale farming plays an important role in the hospitality and tourism sectors through the provision of local produce and agricultural products, and often these activities take place in marginal or ecologically sensitive areas around unlisted or local wetlands and ecologically sensitive areas.

wetland flowers bramble invading

The tourism sector can influence the role played by small-scale farmers in the protection of wetlands.

Dickinson calls on hoteliers, resort operators and others in the tourism sector to join Heritage in recognising World Wetlands Day on Sunday, 2 February by becoming involved in any number of initiatives associated with designated sites across the country.

Raising awareness of their closest site with visitors and guests and organising awareness visits and activities is being encouraged as part of this global event.

disa - .RES

World Wetlands and Wattled Cranes

Every year on the 2nd of February, the world celebrates World Wetland Day, a time to take stock of the value of wetlands to people and the health of our planet. World Wetland Day 2014 will also mark the culmination of one of the most successful Wattled Crane breeding seasons in recent times. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s African Crane Conservation Programme (EWT-ACCP) and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) are excited to report that the 2013 KwaZulu-Natal aerial survey of cranes yielded the highest count of Wattled Crane’s since the start of the surveys 20 years ago!

Wattled Crane flock_Karkloof_sunset

261 Wattled Cranes, including chicks, were counted during the survey. While 55 breeding pairs monitored on the ground through the 2013 season have fledged a minimum of 21 chicks. Completely dependent on wetlands for their long-term survival and with approximately 85% of all South African Wattled Cranes being found on privately owned farms, this year’s World Wetlands Day theme ‘Wetlands and Agriculture’ is so appropriate.

wetlands and agriculture

“South Africa’s Wattled Crane population is finally stable and showing a slight increase in KwaZulu-Natal, where approximately 90% of the country’s population is found. We fitted leg colour rings to a total of 16 chicks this season – this is the highest number of Wattled Crane chicks ever ringed in one season since the start of colour ringing of Wattled Cranes in 1987. Colour ringing of chicks, under permit, allows us to answer critical questions including movement, survival, age of first breeding, sex ratio’s and proportions of adults that breed. This enables KZN Wildlife and us to monitor how well the population is doing and to implement conservation action appropriately,” said Tanya Smith, Senior Field Officer of the EWT-ACCP.

Adult and Juvenile Wattled Crane by Kevin Christie

Each year, the province’s crane aerial survey totals approximately 25 hours of flying and covers roughly 20 000 km2 over five days. The results achieved would not be possible without the concerted effort by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the EWT.
“A big thank you to the farmers who are actively involved in efforts to conserve Wattled Cranes and wetlands. Your involvement, commitment and passion has continued to grow each year. Collaboration eases many of the challenges we face in the field and helps us to achieve the kind of conservation results that benefit the species we are trying to preserve,” concluded Tanya.
Wattled Crane conservation in KwaZulu-Natal is sponsored by Rand Merchant Bank through the implementation of the EWT’s Drakensberg Crane and Wetland Conservation Project, in collaboration with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and KZN Crane Foundation. For more information on the annual crane aerial survey or any of the above initiatives, please contact Tanya Smith on


Tanya Smith
Senior Field Officer
African Crane Conservation Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 83 394 7476

Brent Coverdale
Animal Scientist: Mammals and Birds
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Tel: +27 33 845 1449

Nomonde Mxhalisa
Communications Manager
The Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600

The Water Workshop was Wet, obviously.

As part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Programme, Penny Rees will be conducting water workshops in all Midlands Conservancies.  She reports on the first one:

I was pretty apprehensive as I drove up the Curry’s Post road into mist which grew heavier the higher I went!  Would anyone arrive in this weather?P1290018

To my delight, the answer was Yes. Seven adults and four teenies weren’t going to be put off by a bit of mist and drizzle and duly arrived at the charming Old Haliwell Country Inn.


After a short slideshow on the catchment, of which this stream is an integral part, we headed off to do the mini sass,


spending a pleasant time pottering in the stream, discovering all sorts of interesting creatures.




It seems that the stream is situated on an old dolerite dyke, making for some amazing rock formations




Our youngest assistant came kitted out with a pink net and matching gumboots.


and a couple of the bigger lads found a caterpillar in the grasses beside the road


We all got together to pool our catch, then carefully identified each of the small invertebrates, scored them on the score sheet – and came out with a surprising score indicating that the stream is in Poor Condition!


On looking around we observed that upstream of our test site on this pristine looking stream is:

  • A dam
  • Cattle pastures – we saw algae and sludge on the rocks, a sign of possible excess nutrients in the water, possibly from the cattle
  • Timber plantations (a pine plantation uses between 3,750 to 180,000 litres of water per hectare [the debate stems from differences of opinion] which the stream thus does not receive)
  • A heavy infestation of invasive Brambles and Bug Weed on the banks of the stream


With these taken into account, a low score wasn’t so surprising!

On the way home, the men hopped out to investigate some Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker) flowers poking their  inflorescences up above the long grass as the mist rolled in.


A short picnic lunch in the mist alongside a dam had a surreal atmosphere and was a tranquil end to the day.


To those who braved the water dripping from todays skies as well as in the burbling stream – thanks for joining me. I think I can safely say that apart from our feet, we remained dry and had a great morning.  Also thanks to NT3C for funding the workshop and the Midlands Conservancies Forum and Curry’s Post Conservancy for arranging the workshop.

If you couldn’t make the workshop today, we will be holding our next Water Workshop in Dargle on 8th March 2014 – please contact Nikki  if you would like to attend.