Tag Archives: environmental education

Forest, Fireflies and Camping

Written by Janine Smith, Chairlady of the Midlands Conservancies Forum and Regional Secretary for the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Honorary Officers.


Sixteen kids aged between 3.5 years and 11 years old spent two wonderfully exciting days at Bushwillow Caravan Park in the Karkloof, accompanied by parents and grandparent.


This is thanks to the founders John and Linnet Crow, and Twané Clarke whose dream to give kids in the area the opportunity to learn to love and enjoy the outdoors has become a reality as a result of their hard work and dedication to KRANES club. KRANES is a joint project between the Karkloof Conservancy and the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Lions River Honorary Officers, and this partnership has proven to be invaluable over the 2 years that this club has been running.


This weekend was the first camp out for the club. On Saturday morning, 3 December 2017, excitement filled the air at the caravan park as kids began their weekend of camping and fellowship with other similarly minded children. There were rules that were set. The first was that kids were to assist in setting up the tents.


It was amazing to see all of them knocking pegs into the ground with mallets and running hither and thither taking camping gear out of vehicles, whilst all the time keeping their eyes on the dam, which promised so much fun, but they had a job to do and got on with it.


Finally the beckoning dam was “in bounds” for these hard workers. Next rule, children had to wear life jackets and be accompanied by an adult if they were on the edge or in the dam. A rush to find the life jackets and fishing rods to catch that big one followed, with John teaching them a few basics. Bread was the preferred bait and it certainly was the right choice. Fish of all sizes were caught in abundance. The rods, with the fish on the hook, were hurriedly brought up the bank for all the parents to admire, then dash back to the dam to release the fish (only to be caught again later). The kids had great fun and the fish were well fed. Then they all jumped into the water and had an absolute ball until 14h00 when they were called to the clubhouse for orientation and forest rules were explained and discussed.

Twané sat all the kids in a circle and asked each one to choose an animal beginning with the same letter of the alphabet that their names began with and to share what they loved most about nature and the outdoors. Listening to their explanations of why they loved being in nature was an eye opener, replies ranged from enjoying seeing the flowers in the veld, to sightings and identification of birds, insects and mammals. Ethan Gillings, who is 3.5 years old, said he loved Reedbuck because when they pooed in his yard he collected the droppings to put in the garden, but he didn’t like it when Zebra came and used their garden as a toilet because that was not such nice poo.


Then it was time for the family scavenger hunt, which was lead by Linnet. Each family was given a map of the park and had to find and retrieve various articles from the forest, grasslands and dams. This clever idea was for everyone to become aware of the surrounding area. The kids also learnt to read a map and keep their eyes open whilst walking. When everyone returned to the camp site, the dam called again and a great afternoon of swimming, canoeing and fishing followed.

That evening the kids each helped to make a braai fire safely. This was a highlight as they were even allowed to light the fire themselves.


They were given dough which they put onto a stick (stokbrood) and cooked over the fire. Patience waiting for the dough to cook was put to the test. Then the best of all, syrup was poured into the hole made by the stick.


After everyone had eaten, the campsite looked like a Christmas tree with all the torches dashing around as kids went searching for fireflies and frogs followed by some quiet time and stargazing.


Tired kids and parents had an early night.


Dawn on Sunday beckoned everyone to the dam and once again this body of water became a hive of activity, after kids were chameleons and trees during the sunrise forest yoga.


After a relaxed breakfast, the kids were lead on a forest walk by Linnet and Twané. Twané had explained to the children the difference between a forest and a plantation, so off they went into the indigenous mistbelt forest to look and learn. At about midday the trekkers returned looking fulfilled and tired. Another quick swim in the dam before it was time to pack up camp. Each family left armed with a booklet “My Forest Experience” that the team had put together which included different types of forests, a forest code (leave nothing but footprints), why our forests need to be protected, critters that can be found in forests, signs of the forest (spoor to look out for) and so much more.


Well done to the KRANES team. It was amazing to see kids playing and learning together in nature. No one missed TV or cell phones and the children were taught responsibility and self-discipline. Keep up the good work and thanks for the many hours that you put into these children’s lives. You are helping to foster a generation of conservationists.


The kids found a Yellow-striped Reed Frog amongst the reeds in the dam.

For more information about KRANES and to sign your children up to the mailing list, please visit the Karkloof Conservancy website or email us: karkloofconservation.org.za / info@karkloofconservation.org.za

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!

Exploring Forest Habitats

Thanks to the Dargle Conservancy, the Midlands Conservancies Forum and N3TC, grade 5 and 6 learners from Corrie Lynn Primary School were afforded the opportunity to go on a wonderful school outing on the 24 June 2015. The children were excited to embark on an adventure in the nearby Kilgobbin forest.

Corrie 3 2015

We gathered in the school library and went through the rules of the day. The children laughed initially when I said we were going to be visiting a home, but then I introduced the concept of visiting a habitat and not disturbing the inhabitants just as we would never barge into someone’s home uninvited and behave badly. Some of the children knew exactly what a habitat was and then when I asked them if they knew what biodiversity meant they were quick to respond with ‘lots of different living things’. What bright sparks! I taught them my biodiversity song because it was a fun way to get moving in the chilly morning air.

The group of 19 children split into four groups and each group received a different coloured bandana and came up with a team name. We had The Strawberries, The Superstrikers, The Monsters and The Bananas. Team leaders were appointed with Sibu, Gugu, Gill and Abi taking charge. They received a booklet on the forest and an information sheet on animal tracks to use for reference.

Corrie 2 2015

We gathered in Barend and Helen Booysen’s garden and did some deep breathing exercises in a circle to get relaxed and become more aware of our surroundings. We were ready to enter the magic gate into the whimsical forest! The children were very respectful and soon found seeds, feathers, shells, interesting fungi and lichens. When we reached the stream the groups split up and went habitat hunting to find places where spiders were nesting, interesting burrows in the stream banks and places where civet and mongoose had come to drink. Others found bushpig tracks and porcupine quills, as well as a tiny nest. When this exercise was well and truly done we headed further along the path, gazing up at the huge trees and chatting softly.

Corrie 1 2015

At the next big clearing we settled down and sat with our eyes closed, listening to the unique sounds of the forest. Now that the kids were relaxed we had a storytelling session. Stories included ‘The Memory Tree’, which is about loss and how to heal a sore heart, as well as a funny story called ‘Please Frog, just one sip’. Everyone was starting to feel a little hungry after all the stories, so we headed up to the wonderful campsite for sandwiches, fruit and delicious crisp spring water straight from the hose-pipe. Some children were lucky and spotted a lone samango monkey while we were there.

Corrie 4 2015

We laid out the treasures that had been picked up along the way and on our way back returned them to the forest (apart from a few cape chestnut seeds which the children want to grow and bring back to plant in the forest). We stopped at the bottom of the hill and discussed how protected areas such as this forest are needed for the wild animals to live and hide, breed and roam. The children all agreed that it is very important and that only having domesticated animals in our environment could be very boring.

Corrie 5 2015

We chose to walk back to the gate in complete silence. This was a challenge, but everybody managed it and the group felt very calm and reverent as we bid the forest goodbye. We stopped to admire the huge arum lilies by the stream and then clambered back into our vehicles to head back to school.

Upon our return, the groups gathered once again to write down their experiences: 

  • “It is my first time to go into a forest, it is so peaceful and beautiful and I would like to bring my own children back here some time”. Ms. Chalufa (Grade 1 & 2 teacher who volunteered to accompany us)

  • “Our group saw a mushroom, a monkey and shells of snails. We liked seeing the birds and the big yellowwood trees”. Siyanda Mkhulisi & Nhlonipho Nkomo

  • “We saw lots of things in the forest! Some examples are: a yellow frog, spiders, tree seeds and a loerie bird. Some people think that trees should be cut down or removed- this is not good and we think they should not be allowed”. Samekelisiwe , Wandiswa , Lungelo and Anele

  • “We enjoy(ed) looking for the animal footprints in mud. It was so exciting to be in the forest. We saw birds, a bee and a white butterfly”. Siyabonga, Mxolisi, Samkelo and Bongeka

  • “In the forest we were excited to see a lot of different feathers and kinds of trees, the long, short and big ones. We saw an ant with black spots, a big fungi and bees. We like to walk in the forest”. Thembeka, Fezeka, Kwanele, and Siphesihle

The day ended with big hugs and thanks to Gill & Abi Nelson, who were thrilled to be part of the excitement: “Today was an absolute pleasure! Wish we could do it more often. Thanks for inviting us to join in. Mwah!”

The kids headed home grubby, tired and happy.

Angifun’ iFracking

“I have never heard of the possibility of fracking happening in KZN.” The refrain was often the same in schools across the Midlands that participated in the Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) Fracking Awareness Campaign, funded by Global Green Grants Fund.

Dabulamanzi pupils were keen to learn more about the issues associated with fracking.

Dabulamanzi pupils were keen to learn more about the issues associated with fracking.

A number of technical cooperation permits have been issued in the Midlands and Drakensberg foothills, which give the holders rights to research the area with a view to fracking. The role of this area as the ‘water factory’ of KwaZulu-Natal cannot be underestimated. It is vitally important to protect these areas which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of nearly 6 million people downstream.

Crystal Springs

Crystal Springs

Younger learners listened to the ‘The Great Fracking Indaba’ to introduce the concept and illustrate some of the problems associated with the fracking process – before arranging picture cards, which illustrated the story, in the correct sequence. This enchanting tale reinforces the fact that healthy rivers mean healthy people, plants and animals, helping the learners understand the importance of our precious water resources.

Corrie Lynn Primary enthusiastically taking part in our campaign to oppose fracking.

Corrie Lynn Primary enthusiastically taking part in our campaign to oppose fracking.

Older learners watched a presentation about energy and how it is generated in South Africa. Many were aware of our current energy crisis and dependence of fossil fuels. The fracking process was explained before posing the question ‘Could fracking be the answer to our energy crisis?’ At first it looked like a good idea before the facilitator pointed out how much water could potentially be used in each well (6 and 25 million litres), how much sand would be needed (150,000 kg) and the array of chemicals that would be pumped into the wells to release the gas during the fracking process.

Dargle Primary

Dargle Primary

Soon it was clear to everyone that contaminated water, soil erosion, potential threats to human health and destruction of sensitive environments were not a reasonable price to pay for this energy. Alternates that do less harm like solar and wind were explored. “All along, I have been made to believe the only solution to our energy crisis is fracking. I was not made aware of the environmental implications. A better solution, I think, will be solar energy.” Gregory Radebe, a teacher Bruntville Primary School, said with conviction.

Bruntville Primary understands that fracking is not the answer to our energy crisis and explored other options such as solar and wind power.

Bruntville Primary understands that fracking is not the answer to our energy crisis and explored other options such as solar and wind power.

Discussion turned to ways citizens could make their voices heard – by lobbying politicians, signing petitions and demanding that our constitutional right to an environment not harmful to our health is upheld. Khumbulani Khuzwayo in Grade 7 decided he would post the fracking awareness pamphlets (in English and isiZulu) at the bus stop so that more people would be informed about fracking. After the lively debate, everyone was encouraged sign a petition to voice their opinion against Fracking.

Signing the petition to make her voice heard.

Signing the petition

Although this was entirely voluntary most learners were keen to take a stand in support of their environment. “Stop fracking and destroying the trees. Please don’t do that – it is our future” wrote Zothani Njokwe (age 11) Thenjiwe Ncgobo, Principal of Corrie Lynn School commented “A lot of people and creatures will suffer and a small group will benefit. Learners are ready to stop fracking if it comes to their area.” Val Ellens of Howick Prep School added: “The children loved being involved in the discussion and a highlight was being able to voice their own sentiments on the petition.”

No Fracking Petition Nottingham Road Primary

No Fracking Petition Nottingham Road Primary

Finally, learners and teachers were introduced to the WESSA Water Explorers programme, a fun, inspiring web-based initiative that challenges them to look at how water affects our lives and to take practical actions to save water. As it supports the national curriculum and compliments the Eco-schools programme, teachers were very interested in participating. “Our Enviro Club is excited about the challenges and they use every chance they get to complete another one.” Antonia Mkhabela, Life Science teacher at Shea O’Connor School.

Hawkstone Primary

Hawkstone Primary

The Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) opposes, on ecological, economic and social grounds, the use of fracking to recover natural shale gas. Fracking regulations state that a well site may not be located within: 1km of a wetland and 5km from the surface location of an existing municipal water well field and identified future well fields. Clearly, the risk of contamination of groundwater in an already water-stressed environment is simply unacceptable. As the learners at Dabulamanzi Combined wrote on their petition poster “We can’t drink gas! Angifun’ iFracking!”

Dabulamanzi School

Dabulamanzi School

School Stuff – eco-art, trees, insects, cranes and water

Each midlands Conservancy receives a slice of the Environmental Learning and Leadership pie for eco-activities in a school of their choice.  The idea being to build relationships between conservancies and schools in their areas, and to inspire youngsters to value the biodiversity and ecosystems on which we all rely. As there is little point trying to outdo the professionals at their game, we work with partners MMAEP and KZNCF to do what they do best.

For some, it is easy to decide which school to work with – like Curry’s Post Conservancy. They already support Curry’s Post Primary and are thoroughly enjoying working with the MMAEP to assist the school achieve WESSA Eco-School status.  MMAEP have turned the flower beds into veggie gardens and plan to sort out the library next.  Recently, the MMAEP Bugs did lessons on Biodiversity.

currys post kids on recycled furniture

The little Grade 1 class was introduced to ‘nunu’s’ and learnt that an insect has 6 legs and three body parts and then set off outside on an insect hunt. We managed to find some bugs – a locust (perfect), some flies and ants. Back in the classroom the children were given big pictures of different insects, chose their favourites and drew them with pastels and crayons. This exercise required focused observation and resulted in fantastic pictures.

Grades 2 and 3 played the string card game where everyone is given a card depicting a different animal. The game is about who needs who, not who eats who – the basics of ecology.  We played the funky-chicken song and dance game, which is always a great hit, before reading a story. The other older grades learnt the word BIODIVERSITY and played the web of life game. We then selected local animals and birds for them to talk about and draw, ie jackals, cranes and buck. We also talked about habitat and characteristics and played the animal card game which shows the learners all the different species and categories of animals and where they live.

Sarah Allan, Conservancy Chair: “With advice from the MMAEP we have opted for a slow start to our recycling/recovery initiative at Curry’s Post Primary. We’re collecting bread bags for re-use as skipping ropes, old newspapers for paper mache/energy-fire bricks. We’re also encouraging folk to collect the bread tags so they can be donated towards wheelchairs for less privileged people.  We don’t want a recycling depot to become a burden or turn the school into an informal dump.”

Mountain Home Primary School in the hills of Sweetwaters was chosen by Winterskloof Conservancy for a day of eco-art.  The children were very excited to see the colourful MMAEP visitors arriving. The teachers were busy finishing their reports and were quite happy to hand over ALL the children – we had the Grade 2, 3, and 4 all together. The famous magic hats were distributed. In a large circle we did some fun warm ups and ice breakers including two long massage lines which caused lots of laughter.


We set the Grade 2 and 3 class doing simple puzzles (made from cut up pictorial calendars). They found this VERY difficult. The older grade cut out colour groups from magazines to use in their eco-portfolio.

r mountain home doing puzzle

We had some quiet time and read the story of ‘Siyolo and his jersey’ about a little boy whose jersey begins to unravel and he uses bits of it to help other people. It is a lovely story about kindness and sharing. Afterwards the older children learned how to do printing using polystyrene trays and pencils. They carved out a picture about the story we had read and then lined up to get a selection of acrylic paint roller on to it and learnt how to print it on paper. They came up with some fantastic designs and were thrilled with their resulting pictures. They got more polystyrene and everyone got to do a few different prints in different colours. As they finished they went on to use their coloured shades of magazine cut-outs to create sections for their eco-portfolio. The teachers joined us at the end and were very interested in the printing as it combined recycling with some easy techniques.

mountain home eco art printing

For many years Kamberg Conservancy has supported Dabulamanzi Combined School. This year, in collaboration with the KZN Crane Foundation they sponsored an excursion for 26 Grade  4-7 learners to  visit the Hlatikhulu Crane Sanctuary, to see and learn about the three African Cranes. After introductions, learners were taken down to the Sanctuary, where the rescued cranes are kept. Learners said they heard about the cranes but most had never seen them, besides a few who had spotted Grey Crowned Cranes on farms in Kamberg.  Learners couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the cranes and couldn’t stop smiling. “The wattled crane is so big” said Siyanda Mncwabe, in awe.  The hand reared Grey Crowned Crane called Boston accompanied them throughout the program, keeping the kids very amused.

Learners then enjoyed  two lessons from the Cranes in the Classroom series, facilitated by Nkanyiso Ndlela of KZNCF – Footprint Friends and Lily pad Lament. These painting lessons promote crane awareness and caring for the crane’s habitats, which are grasslands and wetlands. Learners and teachers participated well in these activities and the result was  beautiful posters. The lessons took longer than expected because some were very slow and want to perfect their posters – they were very proud when they finished.

Dabulamanzi meet Boston

Cedara Primary School in Khanya Village at Cedara Agricultural Collecge is situated beside a wetland and stream. Doug Burden of uMgenyane Conservancy thought it a good idea to select this school as that stream flows into Gwensspruit which passes through their Conservancy and eventually into the uMngeni river. “Good for the kids to understand the impact their actions in the wetland has on the bigger catchment and down stream users.” he said.  MMAEP facilitators, Zinhle Msimango and Gugu Zuma went to visit.

Lots of eager hands up to answer questions

In the Grade 6 and 7 class Zinhle defined the word wetland – a wetland is saturated with water either permanently or seasonally and acts like sponge to store water.  When we went to investigate the wetland we found that it was not as big as they thought. We spoke of the plants  and animals that can survive on the wetland. We only had a chance to see a crab in the wetland this day, probably because the water is polluted and the wetland to had too much litter and in some areas it had a bad smell.

Exploring the stream

We did a water cycle lesson for the children and used the Windows on our World Wetland Catchment game. Children used cards and a chart to put right pieces of cards in the right place. Water, wetlands and people.

Catchment Action poster

With the Grade 4 and 5 class Gugu discussed the importance of water and why we need to take a good care of our streams and rivers. They filled in a worksheet with two rivers – one was clean and the another one was dirty. After break everyone went down to the stream to do a mini SASS. This stream does go into the uMngeni river after some time. They were surprised that five million people use water from the uMngeni river.  They learnt about the small insects, animals and plants that live in the river. Our miniSASS test showed that water wasn’t in a good condition. “It was a lovely day in the school we had so much fun and learned a lot. You guys are amazing” said learner Ayanda Hlophe.

ZInhle comments: “It was interesting for me and the children as they said they know of wetlands but never had a chance to learn about it and to learn about it practically. I feel people in the area need to be educated in not polluting the wetlands as it seems they just come and leave their rubbish in the wetland. I hope our lessons help. It was a fun, hot, productive day. Thank you to the Midlands Conservancies Forum and uMgenyane Conservancy for supporting meaningful environmental education in the midlands.”  Educator Petronella Gasa concludes “We were very glad  to meet the new Bugs team. We hope that we can have more environmental lessons with them.”  Derren Coetzer, Chair of the uMgenyane Conservancy,  is looking into arranging an excursion for the older learners to the Hilton College Nature Reserve later in the year.

What can we find in a wetland

World’s View Conservancy battled a bit to find a school to work with, but then hit the jackpot! At Sibongumbovu Primary  in Cedara, dynamic Vanessa McKay has recently started working as the English teacher and inspiring Beth Drennan runs the library, ensuring that the learners have regular access to books and a real appreciation of their value to learning.

Sibongumbovu tree planting for spring

Eidin Griffin of the MMAEP worked with the Grade 6 and 7 class introducing them to the word Biodiversity (and was thrilled when they came up with the words Biosphere and Bio-fuels). They looked at the concept of trees as habitats and practiced some ‘genius’ techniques like quiet time and breathing exercises. After reading ‘The Lorax’ by Dr. Seuss, everyone skipped outside to plant a Celtis africana (White Stinkwood) near the tap run-off. The younger children danced and sang and blew loving kisses to the tree to help it grow!

blowing kisses to help the tree grow

In the meantime some big lads were fixing the fence with extra fencing Eidin had brought to the school. Eidin commented: “What a positive day! The school is planning on becoming an WESSA Eco-School next year and many thanks are due to the Worlds View Conservancy and the Midlands Conservancies Forum for arranging this visit.”

protecting our new tree

Elli Hamilton of World’s View Conservancy comments: “I visited the Grade 7 class the day after Eidin’s visit and Vanessa was in the process of recapping their exciting lesson from the day before. The children were involved and enthusiastic and Vanessa used her laptop to show us all pictures of the lesson and the tree-planting session. During the lesson I was also able to appreciate the colourful , cheerful artworks and displays in the classroom with some even hanging like celebratory bunting from the ceiling.  One of the girls took me out to introduce me to the newly planted Celtis Africana and on the way through the grounds I noticed that there is another well established ( 12 year-old? ) Celtis near the school buildings.

It is good to know that Eidin has already made such an impact on these Grade 7 children and as a Conservancy we would most definitely like to stay involved with both the School and MMAEP.I also informed Vanessa  that on  Thursday 11 December we  are organising a Carols by Candlelight service at the Worlds View Girl Guide Hall and it would be really good if some of the school children could attend.”

Learn more about good work of the Midlands Meander Education Project and the KZN Crane Foundation .  MCF are proud to count them as partners in our Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme which is funded by N3 Toll Concession.

Take Nothing but Wonderful Memories

Dargle Primary School Grade 6 and 7 classes were very excited about their trip to the Dargle Nature Reserve last week, but first decided on a few rules.

  • To be quiet in the forest
  • To be kind and helpful to each other
  • To respect the forest and its inhabitants.

forest walk  by Stephen Pryke r

Using Share-net booklets on forests and grasslands, Gugu Zuma and Eidin Griffin of the Midlands Meander Education Project helped them look at all the possible animals we might find in the forest. We also learnt a new word – ‘nocturnal’ – before Dennis Sokhela, of Old Kilgobbin Farm, arrived in the kombi to fetch us. We gathered up our water bottles and hats and set off for Kilgobbin forest.

r Barend and Dargle school kids forest

Barend Booysen greeted us warmly as we sorted our picnic into different rucksacks and met his very excited dogs. The children were initially frightened by the enthusiastic canine welcome committee but the two new Labrador puppies soon had them giggling and playing happily. Leaving the dogs behind, we headed into the forest. Barend explained how he and Helen look after the forest and why we need to leave only footprints.

forest sign r

As we walked along the sun dappled paths, Barend pointed out interesting trees including wonderful yellowwoods in different stages of life from 20 years to 1000 years old and showed us how to differentiate between the various leaves. Everyone was thrilled to spot some Samango monkeys browsing on new leaves in the trees. We sat for some quiet time, breathing in the clean air and breathing out all our cares. Mlungisi was amazed at the old trees saying “Wow, you will never find a person that is 200 years old.”

r Mlungisi in forest

Barend had the children really intrigued when he took out his cellphone, played bird sounds and then the birds came to visit! So exciting! The children recognised different bird sounds and were lucky enough to see two African Harrier Hawks skimming above the canopy.  Finding porcupine scat and looking at where the bush buck and bushpig scratch themselves on trees was also a thrill. They got to swing on a liana and investigate mosses and lichens.

r swinginging on liana forest

We headed up a steep hill to our picnic spot in the forest. After healthy sandwiches, oranges and a chocolate muffin the children carefully packed away their packaging and we climbed up and out into the grasslands.

r kids top of kilgobbin hill

Finding a comfortable shady spot under some flowering Ouhout trees we settled down again for a story. Eidin choose ‘The Lorax’ by Dr. Seuss. It was a perfect story as we chatted about how we need to protect our indigenous forests and all their precious inhabitants.


Then we hopped and skipped across the hayfields and had a little playtime on the raft at the dam before arriving back at Kilgobbin where everyone hugged Barend and clambered into the kombi before Carl Bronner drove everyone back to school.

r Dargle kids on raft

Eidin said “We had an utterly magic day. It could be described as the perfect day.” Gugu added enthusiastically “We had so much fun and learnt so much. What a wonderful place. I would like to bring the kids from my Zenzane and Nxamalala Enviro Clubs here too.”

The children LOVED their adventure in the forest with ‘Papa Ben’ and have started writing stories and drawing pictures about their experience. Thanks to Dargle Conservancy for giving these children such an incredible experience. Big hugs to Barend for his generosity of time and spirit – he children were especially impressed when he challenged them to catch him and raced off across the hayfields! It would not have been possible to get all the children back and forth without the help of Carl Bronner and Dennis Sokhela, so we are very thankful to them too. What a wonderful and inspiring day.

Planet Friendly Holiday Fun

From Mooi River to Mpophomeni, eco-conscious kids had heaps of fun in the sun while learning about important environmental issues and taking action too. Other Midlanders might have headed for far flung places to escape the cold and tick things off their bucket lists, but, actually, there is plenty to entertain one right here without expanding your carbon footprint.

Bruntville Imisebe Holiday Club members were fortunate to visit the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Reserve and began the day with some milo to warm up. They learnt all about Wattled Cranes and visited the new Chick Rearing Nursery situated on the edge of the dam, asking so many questions.

imisebe kids at crane nursery

A two hour walk exploring the sunny grassland followed. Reed bucks were spotted running down the hill and they also saw a grey heron and a puffadder (for some it was the first time they had ever seen a snake) “We love our nature, but we didn’t know that there is lot of fun in the grassland and that animals need each just other like us.” Smanga Manyoni said with a laugh.

winter in BBCONR kids walk

Hiking is a great way to warm up. These teenagers headed into the hills surrounding Mpophomeni to explore.

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Discovering that there was all sorts of life even though the veld was dry

r mpop walk winter asanda grasshopper

In many places, the grass had been burnt, but Aloe maculate was still flowering.

r mpop walk winter aloe maculata

Using binoculars donated by N3TC, they were able to see for miles. “We can see Midmar so clearly” said Sihle Ngcobo. Everyone really enjoyed taking these photos with the camera donated by Sue Hopkins.

r mpop walk winter 027

At the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Reserve, Beautiful Cranes Nature Club members brought along friends who were spending the holidays in the area.

After warm up games (really appreciated by the visitors from Durban!), Nkanyiso  introduced the ‘feed the chicks’ activity. This activity teaches that both the mother and father crane share responsibility of feeding and looking after the chicks. This involves looking for their food and also placing it in their beaks. In groups some kids become ‘chicks’, while the ‘parent’ picked up leaves using the Wattled crane puppet and feed the chicks.IMG_2274

Using colours torn from old magazines, they all created very beautiful posters of the three SA crane species.


Each group had to share what they knew about their crane. All hands were in air and they answered correctly.


Learners were having fun interacting with one another and all three groups came up with beautiful posters of cranes and every one was happy.


In Mpophomeni the Kidz Club conducted a Clean Up in the uMthinzima stream near the library.  They chose that spot because they are concerned that the dirty water pollutes Midmar dam.


They collected rubbish bags of from the river banks


and were startled to find a headless, dead cow in the stream.


Discussions afterwards focussed on the need to conserve water resources for future generations.


The Mpop Kidz Club gathers most Saturdays in the sunshine at the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial Wall.

r Mpop Kidz Club 878

The Club is facilitated by Mpophomeni Conservation Group members – Ayanda Lipheyana, Tutu Zuma and Zamile Mtambo.  Their purpose is to help the kids understand the importance of respecting all living things in the environment and to use their creative skills to re-use waste and make useful things.

r Mpop Kidz Club badge

They plan a wide range of activities, which always begin with games to warm up on chilly winter mornings. Mfundo Msomi said “We learn to be responsible, by respecting one another.” Masiphile Madladla added “It is the first time since my mother died, that I am not feeling alone.”

r Mpop Kidz Club game

They have learnt how to make skipping ropes from plastic bread bags (and tested them out, of course!),

r Mpop Kidz Club skipping

and Eco-Bricks from waste plastic, which is very often burnt as the municipal refuse collection is really poor.

r Mpop Kidz Club eco bricks

Nozipho Dladla comments “Mpop Kidz Club is the best. Yeh! Rich or poor, we are all one – like the sunshine that shines everywhere on everyone.”

In July, they invited the Mpophomeni Enviro Club (facilitated by MMAEP) to join them when Nkanyiso Ndlela of the KZN Crane Foundation came to visit.  50 children turned up for a day of fun and learning.IMG_2184

Nkanyiso did a presentation about the three African cranes using posters and shared that cranes are one of South Africa’s treasures – rare, precious creatures that have to be looked after. These special cranes have lived on our earth for millions of years. Over the ages, people thought about cranes as symbols of being faithful, good parents, bringing good luck and announcement of changing seasons.


As cranes depend on wetland and grassland habitats to breed and feed, everyone played the Windows on our World wetland picture building game to learn more about this habitat.


The Cranes in Crisis poster game helped learners to find out more about the things that cause cranes to become endangered, as well as what we can do to protect them. Learners were really focused and enjoyed this competition activity.


They also played the Crane Feeding game, learning about the dedication of BOTH parents to rearing their young.


“I like the crown crane because it is beautiful” said Amahle afterwards.  Ayanda Lipheyana of the Mpophomeni Conservantion Group asked Nkanyiso to return next holiday saying “More crane lessons really needed as some of the learners had no clue about the cranes.”

Across the dam, in Dargle, the Nxamalala Holiday Club sponsored by Dargle Conservancy met to learn more about biodiversity, and have lots of fun.


Facilitator Gugu Zuma reports:  We made animals using leaves & grass (glued onto paper and drew eyes). Then we played the Habitat card game to discover- where do creatures live? Is it Mammal, Reptile, Bird, Fish or Amphibian?  Sort them into groups and look at where they live and their habitats – what they need to survive.


We ended with the biodiversity web game which teaches about needing other animals (not just about what eats what!). For example, a Baboon turn over rocks on the mountainside looking for insects to eat and this leaves a bare patch where seeds germinate and new plants can grow. From this we can deduce that without baboons there would be much less plant diversity.


”Today I learned a lot. I thought it was a good thing to kill birds but from now on I will never do it again. I am saving the birds for the next generation” Sabelo Zuma

What did you do during the winter holidays to inspire kids to care for our planet?

10 Years of Magic

Once upon a time, a colourful butterfly fluttered down from the forest edge to read stories at a little farm school…

r Bongi the 4X4 Butterfly

In 2003, the Midlands Meander Association recognised that, for the continued success of the route, it was important to initiate projects which included all members of the community. With a budget of just a few thousand rand and a couple of enthusiastic volunteers, the Midlands Meander Association Education Project (MMAEP) was born the next year.

mmaep blue

Then a fortuitous meeting, over a cup of tea with N3Toll Concession (N3TC), created a partnership which has flourished through the years.   “You never know what sharing a pot of Earl Grey will lead to!” laughs Nikki Brighton, founder of the project. Con Roux, Commercial Manager N3TC adds “I was entranced from the start. The project has delivered exceptional results, not only in terms of tangible results, but more importantly in helping schools to take up the challenge to achieve against all odds. The Bugs bring colour and excitement to schools with amazing passion and a touch of their special magic – the essential ingredient for any successful initiative.”

Nomfundo Landscape Resized

The Bugs (as the MMAEP facilitators have become known) are creative, eco-conscious people, passionate about the environment and bursting with love. A unique hands-on approach to environmental education ensures that learners, teachers and community members all participate.

350 boys lebotsa, sihle,lwazi.R

Learning often happens outdoors into the school grounds – planting wildlife friendly gardens and teaching about soil and sunlight, earthworms, energy, weather, water, indigenous plants, invasive species. Giant posters, hand puppets and simple experiments help educators incorporate environmental learning into lessons every day.

r Laila helping Carshalton kid

Believing that traumatised children find it difficult to consider the needs of the natural environment when they are under stress, the Bugs begin each school morning with quiet time and breathing. “The sheer gusto with which you approach your tasks is amazing. No one who has anything to do with you team can walk away unaffected. One has to be impressed, energised and inspired.” Nathi Majola – Principal, Carshalton Primary


Jessica Dreamtime, Project Manager, and her team have recently compiled a colourful book celebrating the MMAEP journey. She says “Our fun-filled days of meaningful environmental education are strengthening community, improving learning and changing lives. The 20 schools now registered in our programme have started integrating environmental education into everyday life. Learners are growing in confidence and capability – understanding our environment and becoming resilient by taking positive action. School yards are being transformed into productive organic food gardens. Children are discovering the joys of reading and writing, all creatures are respected and small things are valued.”

r rhino beetle

The Midlands Conservanices Forum (MCF) believes that in order to protect precious eco-systems and the goods and services that they provide to society, it is important to educate and inspire learners to understand and value them.  Rather than reinventing the wheel, Midlands Conservancies Forum partner with the Midlands Meander Association Education Project (MMAEP) to strengthen environmental learning in the region.


To ensure that the magic lasts forever, the MMAEP has engaged in regular reflection and strategic planning, developed its educational methodology and resource base and, of course, made hundreds and hundreds of magic hats.

Here’s to a flourishing and colourful partnership for the next decade! http://www.mmaep.co.za

r magic hats at kings

Boston Tags Along

Soon after the group from Shea O’Connor Combined School arrived at Entabeni Environmental Education Centre in Hlatikulu, Boston, the Crowned Crane, wandered in to say hello.

r boston says hello

Shea O’Connor has, for the second year, ‘adopted’ Boston by contributing towards her keep at the centre. While school mates have met Boston before, it was the first time for these 32 learners.

r group photo with bostonThey were astonished at how beautiful she was, how soft the black feathers on her head were and enjoyed stroking her crown.

r boston is beautiful

Sibo Dlamini, Entabeni activity leader, thanked the school for adopting her, saying “She will lead a great, healthy life now. Thank you for all you have done for the environment.” Welile Duda, Samkelo Sikhosana, Nicholas Nxumalo (principal) accepted the certificate from Nicky Willmers (Entabeni) on behalf of the school.

r Welile duda, Nicholas Nxumalo and Samkelo Sikhosana receive Boston adoption certificate from Nicky Willmers

Welile commented “I always heard the others at school talking about Boston. Now I know her too.” Sandiso Ndlovu added “I think we must put Boston in the back of the taxi when we go home. She can live with us at school.”

r mvulani and boston

The intention of the weekend, organised by Midlands Conservancies Forum and funded by N3TC and Entabeni, was to build a really strong team of environmental activists for this school who have participated in the WESSA Eco-Schools programme for the past 10 years.

Activities and games included solving puzzles,

r nail balancing

Working together as a team,

r balancing on hands

All the while having a lot of fun and laughs and bonding as a group.

r laughing

Zafika Yengo “The staff at Entabeni really love their jobs, they are patient and have so much knowledge. The games were brilliant and educational, we had so much fun.”

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Meals were nourishing, vegetarian ones appropriate to the environmental ethos of the excursion. Everyone tucked in enthusiastically and came back for seconds.

r lunchtime

Ever the comedian, Thembelani Sithole said “I have never eaten vegetarian for three days. I am still alive and strong. I was able to adapt.”

Boston is always keen for a stroll, so joined the group as they headed off towards the wetland to learn more about the Hlatikulu environment.

r boston walk

Boston never passes up an opportunity to dance with one of the boys.

r Sboniso dancing with Boston

There they discussed the importance of rivers and wetlands for humans and other species. Learners were particularly interested as they have a small wetland in the school grounds which they are working hard to restore and protect.

r at river

Afterwards, Boston lead everyone down to the Crane Sanctuary to learn all about the two other species of South African Cranes – Blue and Wattled.

r boston at crane pens

Liisi Lehemets, Entabeni facilitator (recently arrived from Estonia) was most impressed  “These kids are really smart and already know so much. They are actually interested in what we are teaching, which is amazing. Their questions are really good. I had so much fun.”

r boston phumelelo

An Obstacle Course is an essential part of any team building experience as participants need to assist one another to overcome the various challenges. Boston and Welile checked out the obstacles.

r boston welile

The Entabeni facilitators pointed out that outdoor and adventure activities are inherently risky. However, the presence of risk creates meaning in the experience and facilitates learning by focussing the attention of the participant on the ‘here and now’, and helps them to develop an awareness of the abilities of their body and mind.

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Sbonokhule Sithole laughed “This obstacle course got my brain boiling!”

r tree

Londeka Ndlovu loved the challenges of the obstacle course “It got my body working and I enjoyed the fresh air.”

r helping one another

Then in the afternoon, there was a classic debate: the Lifeboat Scenario – who would YOU choose to come along? Fiona McCrimmon, facilitator for the Midlands Meander Association Education Project who works with this school, was really impressed at the depth of understanding and robustness of the discussion.

Mncedisi Dlamini said “We have all learnt to communicate better this weekend, to get to know people’s “other sides”, and learn to respect our differences.r boston lifeboat

Hiking is a real delight at Entabeni. Water bottles, binoculars (donated by N3TC) and cameras were gathered for the walk.

r binoculars

Heading for the mountains,

r climbing

Discussing rocks and tracks and scat along the way.

r geoff talks aboutthe mountains

Discovering underground tunnels in dry river beds

r cave

Drinking water from mountain streams

r drinking from stream

Leaving only footprints and shadows

r shadows

Taking plenty of photographs (thanks Sue Hopkins of Future Growth for the camera),

r taking photos

of the wildflowers

rr everlasting

and wild animals

r buck

and the bushmen paintings, along the way.

r bushmen paintings

Leader, Geoff Ntshangase, who has been an environmental activity leader at Entabeni for many years commented “These kids are wonderful, so respectful and asking lots of questions. I really appreciate that.”

r healthy stream

Tafadzwa Bero “it was really interesting to experience things we have learnt about at school, like the fact that the temperature drops the higher you go.”

r hiking ouhout

We felt we were on top of the world!

r on top of the world

Phumelelo  Madlala commented  “This trip was so adventurous and educational all at once!” Vuyani Mtoto observed “People have definitely grown this weekend, discovered new talents and become leaders.”

r under rocks

Chill time before supper was taken up with soccer games, dancing and chatting to Boston. Watch a short clip of the spontaneous performance here. https://vimeo.com/101422150

Around the roaring campfire in the evening, toasting marshmallows, there was plenty of celebration of days well spent.

res campfire

Phumelelo and Thembelani performed an impromptu drama in the firelight about the importance of protecting wetlands. “I am a farmer and happy to plant my crops in the wetland so I don’t have to worry about watering them.” boasted Thembelani. Phumelelo retorted “Do you have any idea about the damage you are causing? What about the other species who rely on this wetland, and the people living downstream?” Fabulous!

r phumelelo thembelani

The last morning was spent consolidating the learning, participating in the Entabeni Olympics and talking about Taking Environmental Action.

r hands

Everyone had an opportunity to talk about the weekend’s experiences, giving postive and negative feedback. Ayanda Zuma said “I have seen things with my own eyes and learnt a lot. I would suggest installing a solar geyser to improve the hot water situation.”

r tafadzwa, ayanda, mcf

Brian Mlotshwa wrote a rap poem to mark the occasion:

It is said that the first cut is the deepest

and the first taste is the sweetest

I say the first stay is the nicest.

I could see people smiling and learning while hiking

My lifestyle, my perspective on things is changing

It is Nikki and others, that I am thanking.

Unbelievable that a world can be changed by something so tiny

A word, an action, a fight

From someone whose actions are tight

Mind-set so straight, smile so bright

Makes me want to say – you are so right.

r boston and group

Before leaving, everyone had an opportunity to sit quietly for 30 minutes to reflect on the weekend. “It was great to escape from phones, TV and polluted air for a while.”

r thembelani quiet time

Sli Mhlanzi “This has been an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.” Lungelo Zondi added “It was a wonderful experience that I hope we will repeat.” Wanda Cebekhulu expressed the wish to visit again this year and is determined to do some fundraising back at school to make it happen.

Principal of Shea O’Connor, Nicholas Nxumalo, was very impressed. “The learners have grown and shown real maturity. This programme was accessible and relevant, with very professional facilitators. We are proud to be associated with Entabeni and Boston. We are not only visitors; we are part of the Entabeni family now.

r welile and nicholas

Nicky Willmers concluded “You have made our jobs as facilitators so much easier. We have learnt from you and appreciate your enthusiasiasm.” Thank you to Entabeni for their generous contribution to making this trip possible and to N3TC for funding the MCF Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme.

r bostonSala kahle Boston, sobonana futhi.