Tag Archives: farming for conservation

Finally the Falls!

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On Day 5 of the Catchment to Confluence Karkloof River Walk the team was thrilled to be joined by 2 fresh pairs of legs, Mbuso Khambule (new SAPPI Environmental Officer) and Mondli Goba (SAPPI Communications Officer), just in time to pass through some of the SAPPI Shafton plantation areas on the Karkloof floodplain.

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Team setting off. From Left: Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger), Mondli Goba (Sappi), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth) and the photographer behind the camera is Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA)

Our destination for the day was the Karkloof Falls, starting at the pumphouse on Gartmore farm, which as the crow flies did not seem all that far. But we now knew by experience that following the meanders of a river over rough terrain or tall vegetation where there is no path is not likely to be a walk in the park.

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Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA) pushing through the tall vegetation in the wetland

As we pushed through the wetland, we stopped to gaze at the distant Karkloof mountains, home to the river’s source where we had come from 5 days earlier, feeling pleased with the distance we had conquered so far.

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The team felt a sense of pride as we gazed upon the distant mountain

We were excited to see 2 Grey Crowned Cranes fly over us, with their characteristic “mahem” call, en route to one of the bird hides at the Karkloof Conservation Centre. What would Karkloof be without its treasured cranes? We had been treated to sightings of a number of cranes on the previous days as well. In total 11 Grey Crowned Cranes were seen and 4 Wattled Cranes. And it was only fitting that most of these cranes were spotted on farms belonging to “Crane Custodians”.

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Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy) excited to see these custodianship signs.

Custodians are landowners who are formally recognised by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) for their voluntary contribution to the conservation of threatened species on their farms, such as crane, oribi or blue swallows. (Download “Guidelines for Custodianship in SA” here)

By tea time, we had traversed the Shafton wetland and reached the Karkloof River bridge which crosses over the road to Cramond.

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Karkloof River bridge along the Cramond road. From left: Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA), Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Mondli Goba (Sappi)

Mbuso reminded us of the extent of SAPPI plantations that had been removed from the Shafton wetland a number of years ago and allowed to rehabilitate back to natural vegetation – some 186 ha were not replanted due to the existence of this important wetland system.

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Looking back at the rehabilitated wetland beyond the bridge.

The next section of the river was slow moving, noticeably poorer in water quality and showed signs of being at the bottom of the valley’s catchment area, which ultimately receives all the nutrient rich runoff from the various activities along the way. The water colour had changed to a more murky greenish colour, there was a type of sludge on the rocks, in some quieter corners, traces of foam was seen on the surface and the sewage weed could be seen in many places along the river’s edge.

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At the first set of large, impressive rocks above the falls, we did a Mini-SASS test, which showed the water was “critically modified”, confirming our impressions that the river’s quality was now compromised. At this site, a dead bushbuck was found between the large rocks, leaving us wondering what happened here. It looks like it lost its footing while trying to have a drink.

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Doing a miniSASS before heading off on the last section to the Karkloof Falls

The condition of riverine buffer along this last stretch was also compromised due to high levels of alien invasive vegetation (such as the big clump of bamboo shown below, poplar saplings, elderflower and all the other commonly seen invasives we had seen higher up in the catchment). Pastures were unfortunately established very close to the river, and therefore without a wide section of natural vegetation to act as buffer and filter for the runoff, the river is all the more impacted.

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A clump of bamboo at the river’s edge.

Having followed every twist and turn of the river now for 5 days, we felt a certain sadness at the deterioration of the river’s health. However, the sight of the picnic site for the Karkloof falls picked up our spirits. Destination at last! Hooray for being able to pull off our boots and take a break in the shade! Here we were spoilt with orange ice-lollies by our videographer, Jayne Symes, who is putting a video clip together of the river walk. What a welcome gift! Thank you Jane!

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Jane Symes (Black & White Studios) was our hero that day. These ice cold treats were welcomed after a day of scorching heat and little shade.

While catching our breath over lunch, we chatted at length about the problem of litter at a public picnic site like this, and how increasingly popular the Karkloof Falls had become. Would new signage saying “litter free zone” and removing the dustbins help to change people’s behaviour so that all rubbish is taken away by visitors?

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Karkloof Falls picnic site along the river could be the perfect setting for a litter free zone

There was just 1 section left to walk down to the actual Karkloof falls viewing point and lower picnic site, our end point for the day. We said “bye for now” to the river, with the very last leg of the river’s journey to be continued the following Thursday, 6th April. A team photo in front of the falls was a fitting way to exclaim “WE MADE IT!”.

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We made it! The Karkloof River Walk team have reached the Karkloof falls

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A Winding Watercourse

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After difficult and long days, Day 4 promised to be less strenuous as the team were now truly in the Karkloof floodplain, where the terrain was more open and the river starts its characteristic meanders.

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With Sue Viljoen (WWF) unable to join us for day 4, Simon Bruton of GroundTruth stepped in as a substitute for the day.

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Day 4’s river walk team. From left: Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Simon Bruton (GroundTruth), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), and Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger)

Given the open terrain, by tea time we could see in the far distance the start of a line of trees, the end of which marked our finish point for the day. However, we knew there was still much walking ahead, given the many meanders, oxbow lakes and fences we would still need to navigate.

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On the floodplain cattle became a common sight, along with some of the impacts and risks they can introduce in proximity to watercourses. Eroded cattle crossings, drinking and feeding points (with associated cattle dung and trampling) contributed to water which showed gradual but increasing visual signs of change such as cloudiness, froth and abundant growth of nuisance vegetation, possibly thriving on an increased nutrient load. It will be interesting to see if the laboratory water quality analysis sponsored by Talbot & Talbot confirm the visual observations.

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Sewerage plant along with other signs of deteriorating water quality

Days 3 and 4 were the days of fence crossings. Given the fatigue setting in, humour was found in the different ways each of us may tackle a fence in the least strenuous manner, given our different loads and skills. Some would prefer to vault over and leave pack and kit intact, while others would disrobe all kit, squeeze through and kit up again.

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Ayanda negotiating yet another fence

Given the many meanders and fences, a tree trunk footbridge was a welcome but tricky crossing to negotiate.

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Negotiating the log bridge

Twané showing the muscle required of a river walker.

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After lunch we made a poor call on which side of the river to take, ultimately resulting in the need for a detour around a large mosaic of impenetrable wetland vegetation, which separated us from the river for some distance. Once re-united, water quality samples were again collected.

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At the tar road bridge over the Karkloof River, illegal and irresponsible dumping of waste tar material into the river was noted, posing a significant constriction to flow, and perhaps even affecting flood risk to the bridge, with one of the two culverts effectively barricaded.

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Waste tar material dumped off the Karkloof tar road bridge, introducing river impacts and potential flood risk

In the early afternoon Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea, was again found for the first time since the headwater sections. Numerous alien plants still made their presence felt (particularly bramble and bugweed), but not in the same densities that had been experienced on day 3. Having said that, some large isolated patches of bramble required some cautious retreat and detour.

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Nduduzo taking a water clarity reading at one of the last water quality sites of the day.

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As dusk approached and each camp fence was crossed, the team were joined by relays of inquisitive river walkers who call this beautiful area home.

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No Till Farming

As part of their farm visits programme, Dargle Conservancy arranged a morning at Gartmore farm in Karkloof to learn more about the No-Till method of growing crops. Charlie McGillivray welcomed everyone at the Karkloof Conservation Centre and explained the concepts. IMG_6156 In Charlie’s experience, this method of growing crops builds soil, increases biodiversity and reduces costs – illustrating that farming and conservation can co-exist. Everyone walked through one of the newly fields and went to see how the planter was working. IMG_6162 Kevin Barnsley said “Attendees were able to get a better understanding of the wisdom behind No Till that has been accrued over many years at a commercial level along with the principal of finding a happy medium between successful commercial production and being good custodians of the land from a long term conservation perspective.” IMG_6161 The areas that are wetlands, are kept untouched and host many different bird species. IMG_6158 After tea, Charlie showed a presentation that he and Ren Stubbs had put together. res 20131107_124614 An interesting and enjoyable morning.  If you missed it, learn more about No Till farming here. IMG_6159