Tag Archives: beacon hill

Grand Adventures on Beacon Hill

Grade 5 Thembelihle Outing to Beacon Hill on 19 November 2015

It was a chilly and damp start to the day and the children looked very apprehensive as they arrived at school. A small group of eco club kids rushed over to me and asked if we would still be going (our last date was postponed) and I replied “we go even if it SNOWS“, which had them laughing. We spent the first 10 minutes reorganising into the previously picked teams, distributing bandanas, clipboards and booklets to each team.


Eve & Dave arrived and we loaded everyone into their vehicles and Leslé, Rejoice, Beverley and I followed in our vehicles. When we arrived on the hill an adult was allocated to each team. After reminding everyone to look for anything tiny and unusual, we set out to climb the hill.


Immediately, the children were engrossed in finding dew laden spider webs, ants, a porcupine hole and lots of varieties of grasses and flowers. each group went at it’s own pace and each group had a different adult with different knowledge. It turned out that teacher Rejoice was a total star and had grown up near a grassland and she identified lots of flowers and plants not necessarily by name but by use, which was fascinating.


She also spotted a shed snakeskin wrapped around a plant which we had all missed. On reaching the top of the hill each group was amazed by the view of Howick, Midmar, Mpophomeni and beyond.


They really enjoyed identifying places and spotting trains moving through the landscape. They also then looked at their maps and tried to figure out the different keys. We took some time to let everyone relax and just ‘breathe’. By the time we reached the beacon everyone was watching where they were stepping, asking questions and being engaged. The weather had changed and it was sparkling sunshine with a light breeze- just perfect! We doled out apples and snacks and the group was allowed some more freedom to enjoy the view and the place.

We finally headed down the hill and back to school and the children settled down to write about what they thought of the day. They really loved the outing and found it amazing that there was such a ‘cool’ place near to their school.

Thanks N3TC (small)

“Today was a cool day, Beacon Hill is a cool place! I saw different plants and flowers and even a crab. We have not seen these before.” – Lwandiswa Shange

“Thanks for an outstanding outing. Much fun, learning, and exploration was had by all the Grade 5 Love Bugs. You guys are superstars” – Beverley Cameron (teacher)

Sociable Sundowners with the N3TC Birds

On Tuesday 11th August, MCF was privileged to host a visit from N3 Toll Concession in the form of Andrea (Andy) Visser and Thandiwe (Thandi) Rakale. The aim of their visit was to give MCF support and encouragement, so all MCF’s member Conservancies were invited to attend.

Representatives from Balgowan, Beacon Hill, Curry’s Post, Karkloof and Lion’s Bush Conservancies flocked to the Karkloof Conservation Centre where they enjoyed sundowners, snacks, and fruitful discussions with Andy and Thandi in the Crowned Crane Hide.

Front: Andy Visser (N3TC) and Roy Tabernor (Lion's Bush). Back: Karen McGregor (Curry’s Post), Thandiwe Rakale (N3TC), Yvonne Thompson (Balgowan), Eve Hughes (Beacon Hill) and Charlie MacGillivray (Karkloof)

Front: Andy Visser (N3TC) and Roy Tabernor (Lion’s Bush).
Back: Karen McGregor (Curry’s Post), Thandiwe Rakale (N3TC), Yvonne Thompson (Balgowan), Eve Hughes (Beacon Hill) and Charlie MacGillivray (Karkloof)

The N3TC funded projects discussed were:

  • The schools’ projects, in particular the new schools that have been included this year;
  • River walks in 2015: the Indezi River Walk completed in April, as well as the planning for the two river walks in the Karkloof. The latter have a new dimension as landowners and partner organisations will be taking part in the walks;
  • Capacity building for clearing Invasive Alien Plants: This new project was the subject of considerable discussion, particularly in the light of our scarce water resources. N3TC is excited about the MCF strategy of capacity building prior to the implementation of a clearing programme.

There was general discussion on the need to achieve a sustainable balance between human activities (such as development) in Conservancies, and ensuring the preservation of wildlife habitats. The need for partnering between different conservation organisations to maximise efforts was also mentioned.

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes flew by during our casual discussions.

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes flew by during our casual discussions, reminding us of what we’re working towards.

MCF is indebted to N3TC not only for funding, but also for their ongoing support and encouragement. The intention is to give all Conservancies the opportunity to host future meetings so that N3TC can meet all our members, and get a feel for the entire MCF area.

Siyabonga N3TC

“Siyabonga” from the bottom of all our hearts N3TC!

Rare Asclepias in Flower

On the regular Beacon Hill walk on the last Sunday of November, Eve Hughes was thrilled to discover eight Asclepias woodii plants in flower.  “I spotted them some distance away and wasn’t sure, but on closer investigation, Molly Perret and I were convinced.”  She called Gareth Boothway, Biodiversity Stewardship Manager for Midlands Conservancies Forum, to let him know.  He went up to see the plants and took this photo.


Asclepias woodii (Wood’s Asclepias), a member of the Milkweed family, is listed as Vulnerable in the SANBI Red Data List.  It is a  KZN Midlands endemic which reappeared on the hill recently after not being seen for nearly 100 years.

Kate Fennell, Friends of Beacon Hill committee member said “It’s always such a treat to find new things flowering on the Hill, especially a rarity such as Asclepias woodii

This is an extract from a presentation Kate did on the plant recently:

How do Asclepiads attract pollinators?  Floral scent – Asclepiads produce a number of volatile compounds. A recent study identified between 15 – 57 compounds and a distinct scent profile for each species. Nectar is produced in small to moderate quantities.

How are the flowers adapted for pollination?   Inflorescences are dense and mechanically strong. Coronas are fat and fleshy and store nectar. Inside the cups are hairs (papilla) which are thought to secrete nectar. Pollinaria produce pollen in compact masses called pollinia. These have mechanical clips which attach them to pollinators.

What pollinates the plants? Chafer beetles. The beetles are agile, fast-flying and hairy. Importantly, they do not damage the flowers when feeding. Asclepiads with similar features share chafer pollinators. Because bees are uncommon in grasslands, chafers fulfil the role of large bees.

Asclepias woodii

Join the regular Beacon Hill walk on the last Sunday of each month to see some of the 106 species of plants which flower in this special piece of grassland.

Contact Eve Hughes 082 872 4333

Autumn up on the Hill

Hazel Lake visited Beacon Hill on 26 May 2013 and submitted these pictures and words.

We had a lovely autumn walk on Beacon Hill on Sunday.  It was a perfect clear autumn sky, with 360 degree views of the Midlands.

lovely clear dayThe walk wasn’t too strenuous, with just a short scramble up at the edge of the plantation line.

not too strenuous

It was very interesting to learn about the old wagon tracks used en route to Curry’s Post.

interesting to learn about old wagon tracks

Eve Hughes told us how important it is to burn the grassland and how the biodiversity is promoted by correct burning.   The scar from a road onto the hill has almost completely recovered and grown over.   The grassland feels almost completely untouched by humans.

different grasses

It’s wonderful to think we have such beautiful place to walk, right in our town.  We agreed that we were blessed to live in the Midlands.

We enjoyed identifying the different grasses and found few pink everlastings still flowering.  We saw a variety of wild flowers, butterflies and buck droppings.

Far-Sighted Municipality Protects Biodiversity

Beacon Hill, the 40 hectare jewel of Moist Mist-belt grassland right in Howick is safe for the next 99 years.

20111220 - Beacon Hill - flora_06

Last week, the uMngeni Municipal Manager, Dr Ngubane, signed agreements with the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme to have Beacon Hill officially declared a Protected Area.  The Municipality must be congratulated for their forward thinking approach to serving the citizens of uMngeni.  Less than 2% of the original grassland in KZN is conserved. Grassland ecosystems provide society with essential goods and services including water storage, carbon sinks and habitats for many medicinal plants, birds and animals.

chlorophytum on Beacon Hill res.

Further exciting news is that the Fort Nottingham Commonage, another 1096 hectares of endangered grassland also owned by the Municipality, will be incorporated into the existing 131 hectare Fort Nottingham Nature Reserve owned and managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW). This is really important for the conservation of vulnerable Drakensberg Foothill Grasslands, Mistbelt Forest, Protea Savannah and Wetlands which provide the village with clean water and is a source tributary to the Lions River.

Scilla natalensisRs

Ross Haynes, Chair of Friends of Beacon Hill, comments “In 2011 we met with the Mayor, Councillor Mbali Myeni. She was very supportive of our plan to have the area conserved. Last year, the application for protective status was supported when it came to Council along with the Fort Nottingham project. I truly doubt that this would have happened so soon had it not been for the support, knowledge and hard work of Gareth Boothway, Biodiversity Stewardship Manager for the Midlands Conservancies Forum.”

cyrtanthus contractus

The process has taken nearly seven years in Fort Nottingham but Roy Tabernor, Chair of the Lion’s Bush Conservancy, thinks it was worth the effort.  “Villagers walk regularly on the commonage and value the wildlife found there, including Oribi, Samango monkeys and the Long Toed Tree Frog.  Our members see this as a great step forward in conservation and many are now also in consultation regarding portions of their land being under the stewardship programme.  Meeting the Mayor really was the turning point in the process which had dragged on for so long, we are really grateful to Gareth for setting this up.”

Roy Tabernor

Gareth Boothway is naturally delighted with the developments.  “This has been an incredible collaborative effort. The Department of Agriculture assisted with veld assessments and developing the rangeland management plan, EKZNW contributed technical advice, the Botanical Society gave specialist advice on the plants and the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme helped facilitate the process working towards proclamation. With this cooperation we can have a big impact on protecting the eco-systems which support our lives. The uMngeni Mayor must be commended for taking action towards conserve important biodiversity for the benefit of all who live here.”

b hill ngos.res. JPG