Tag Archives: forest

Forest, Fireflies and Camping

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tired kids and parents had an early night.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Threatened Plant Species – Clivia gardenii

AMARYLLIDACEAE: Major Garden’s Clivia – Clivia gardenii [Vulnerable]

The Major Garden’s Clivia was named after Major Robert Garden who was a soldier and naturalist stationed in KZN from 1848 to 1853.

These plants are usually between 800 and 1300 mm in height and are known from Ngome Forest to KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. It is harvested for traditional medicine use, which poses a major threat to this magnificent species.

Clivia gardenii by Sthembile Zondi

Clivia gardenii by Sthembile Zondi

The 10 to 12 bright green leaves are in a compact clump at the base. The leaves are long and than, 25–60 mm wide and 350–900 mm long, narrowing to a sharp point.

Individual flowers are often organised into a larger group or cluster, termed an inflorescence.The inflorescence stalk is 300–450 mm long and the flower stalk 25–40 mm long. The hanging flowers are tubular, with 10–25 flowers per umbel (a common point from where the stalks arise similar to an umbrella). The colour of the flowers vary from yellow to brownish red, usually orange-red with green tips, curved and not drooping.

These Clivia flower from May–July each year. Their fruits are berries, longer than broad, one or two-seeded, ripening the following winter after about 12–15 months.

Clivia gardenii by Sthembile Zondi

Clivia gardenii by Sthembile Zondi

If you have seen this plant, please contact Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager s.parbhoo@sanbi.org.za

Reference: SCHEEPERS, G. 2011. Clivia gardenii adopted from Hooker, W.J. (1856) The Clivia Society. Accessed on 2014-08-02.

Summer in the Mist

In the great African tradition of auspicious rain for special occasions, the Midlands Summer Celebration last week was suitably wet.  The Cairn of Old Kilgobbin Farm is right in the mist-belt, beside the forest, a wonderful venue whatever the weather.

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The drizzle did little to dampen the spirits of those who headed off on a forest walk.

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Barend Booysen greeted everyone in his usual charming forest-side manner. Sharing a little history of the area and explaining why the forest is called ‘mist-belt’ (even though it was pretty obvious!)

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The rain hardly penetrates the canopy, so there was no rush to get back.

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A gentle afternoon spent smelling Clausena anisata leaves, collecting yellowwood seeds, hugging the really big trees and puzzling over some species.  Dineo Dibakwane of SANBI commented: “I enjoyed the walk, Barend is the best! It was nice meeting other people who share the same objectives regarding conserving our planet.”

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Other guests began arriving, settling down beside the fire and wondering where the forest walkers were.  They were obviously enjoying themselves, despite the drizzle. Jessica Dreamtime of the MMAEP said “I’ve never given much thought to networking but I saw and felt its power on Friday.”

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Then they emerged through the mist, and were welcomed warmly. Tshepiso Mafole, SANBI said  “It was great to be part of the inspiring and refreshing world of conservationists.”

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The red wine went down particularly well, but there was also plenty of Notties beer and homemade lemon and mint cordial too.

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Many Midlands Conservancies were represented at the gathering and lots of local environmental organisations too.  Janet Snow of Environmental Learning and Teaching observed: “It was inspirational to see the projects conducted with such enthusiasm. It is a true indication of the community of practice in the area – something to be proud of.”

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Hugh Temple of World’s View Conservancy, especially enjoyed the fireside conversations “What a wonderful afternoon.”  he said smiling broadly.  Tutu Zuma of Mpophomeni Conservation Group thought that the best part was the walk in the forest. “An enjoyable networking and learning day.” she said, Nkanyiso Ndlela of KZN Crane Foundation, echoed her thoughts.

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Everyone tucked into yummy food that The Farmer’s Daughter had made – split pea and asparagus salad, roasted sweet potatoes and butternut in balsamic reduction; and tomatoes, pesto and cream cheese.  There were hand made relishes, a selection of just baked breads, fresh organic greens, local cheeses and fruit too. Kevan, Karen and Hannah Zunckel thoroughly enjoyed themselves “What a wonderful afternoon with a lot of special people.”  

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Then Judy Bell, Chair of MCF thanked everyone for coming and especially, for all the work that volunteers do to protect the Midlands ‘water factories’ – the ecosystems on which we all rely.  Judy acknowledged Barend Booysen’s incredible contribution to inspiring, motivating and challenging so many people with his walks and insightful discussions along the way and presented him with a Mad About Chameleons certificate to thank him.

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Eidin Griffin of the MMAEP also thanked Barend for his kindness and generosity in leading two school groups recently and introducing them to the Kilgobbin Forest magic, saying “The children  wrote about their experiences and all of them had an amazing and inspiring time.”  She read a few of the children’s delightful comments from the Eco-Schools portfolio they have compiled.

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Local press gives environmental stories lots of coverage so we were thrilled that the Meander Chronicle and Village Talk joined us too. Phillippa Gordon editor of the Meander Chronicle said “Thanks for a fab interlude on Friday.  As usual – great people, great venue and a sparkly spirit giving it kick!”

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Judy concludes “It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to people, to hear their tribulations and successes and, especially nice to be able to welcome the newly formed Rosetta Nottingham Road Conservancy. Everyone works so hard, so it is good to have an opportunity to just relax and celebrate our efforts. Thanks to Dargle Conservancy for sponsoring the food to go with our drinks and everyone for participating with such enthusiasm.”  Long may the Summer Rains last. 

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See more photos of the celebrations on these Facebook pages:

 

Pea Pyramid, Chicken Tractor, Yellowwood Inspiration

The Mpophomeni Conservation Group arranged a visit for supporters to the Khula Shanti Sanctuary and Food Garden in Boston recently. Thanks to the Global Green Grants Fund and N3TC for sponsoring the inspiring day.

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Carol Segal reports: We were given the most glorious sunshine day to enjoy the splendour of Khula Shanti Sanctuary. A group of 15 beautiful beings arrived at the Pickle Pot Café. We introduced our staff and our dogs.

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We refreshed ourselves with fresh spring water, infused with lavender flowers, mint and orange slices and munched on just baked carrot and banana bread.

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All systems charged, walking shoes on and time to explore the forest. The forest walk was an enlightening success, the feedback at the end of the day revealed that this was a first time experience for many of our visitors.

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We had the opportunity to observe and talk about biodiversity, planting in guilds, forest mulch, eco-systems, habitats and conservation. The abundance of Podacarpus trees in the Khula Shanti Forest sparked discussions on national trees, animals and flowers. The idea of a national tree was new knowledge for some visitors, and many took to spotting all the Podacarpus along the walk.

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Deep in the heart of the forest is a solid, cool rock face – time to touch energy as well as observe example of the use of rocks in nature and how we can integrate them into food garden design. The moss and lichen growing on these rocks provided classic photographic material and also more discussions around habitat and biodiversity. As well as the unanswerable question. “how do trees grow out of rocks?”

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Our precious finds for the day were some fresh samples of duiker droppings, porcupine droppings, as well as a magnificent feather which we are almost certain belonged to an owl.

Ntombenhle shared some valuable insights on bugweed removal and the problems of alien invaders in our natural forests. Carol comments “she bubbles energy and optimism which was contagious for the group.” Tutu loved learning about the importance of rocks in the garden and left inspired to rehabilitate the eMashingeni forest at the top of the Mpophomeni valley.

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We took the walk slowly and allowed individuals to absorb and receive what was required from nature as it was apparent that for many the experience was fresh and new. Moses said “I grew up in Jozi, so today, walking in a forest was a whole new experience for me. I have never done that before. Walk and listen and look at the forest. It was good. This is a new era for me, I am blessed to have met MCG.”

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The forest walk is a fairly steep incline for some, so many were pleased to see the cheerful welcome of the bright and happy floral food forest garden. We spent the first 10 minutes of our time in the garden, walking around silently, observing feeling the Khula Shanti Food Gardens.

r Mpop khula shanti climate Sept 275 - CopyWe then opened discussions around what new knowledge could be taken from the food gardens. The cucumber and pea pyramid, the chicken tractor, rock pathways, circular beds, companion planting, Vermiculture, compost making, comfrey tinctures, mulch and tea trees are only a few of the discussions we shared.

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“It is important to have a place to sit in your garden. To enjoy the work you do, and to watch the work of little things.“ said Ntombenhle

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Skhumbuso dug his hands into the compost heap and filled them with rich moist compost teaming with red wriggler worms. Everyone was pleased to hear that goat and horse manure is fantastic for the compost heap.

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Nqobile was most impressed by the idea of worm wee. “I still don’t believe what I saw. The chicken tractor, the indigenous forest. This is the first time I have seen these things and it is wonderful.” The Khula Shanti Chicken tractors were the source of much curiosity and questioning. “I’m going to try this at home” she said.

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It was encouraging to observe the contagious enthusiasm and tangible inspiration while people were browsing, grazing, sniffing and tasting the sensory explosion of the food garden. Questions around seed saving, seed-plug propagation, succession planting were answered. Gertrude liked the idea of using old cans to grow plants in “Tomorrow I am going to collect all the scrap around my place to use.” she said.

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The day still in full bloom, we sat down and chatted about marketing strategies for food gardens, how and where to sell organic veg. Carol demonstrated her food box scheme and shared ideas, obstacles and visions her experience. Ntombenhle made some notes about Marketing their produce:

  • Tell people what you have to sell
  • They will order what they need
  • Wash the veg and pack nicely in a box
  • Pack different things together
  • Make a name tag for that person, make it pretty
  • Make sure you add R20 so you can make some money
  • Start small
  • Sell to weddings, tuck shops, neighbours, schools

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We divided ourselves into two groups to pack 2 food box orders – went back up to the garden to select, pick, wash and prepare the orders. This was a fun and hands on activity which could be further expanded in the future. For many visitors new learnings were – variety of vegetables and herbs, presentation of vegetables before selling them, pricing and packing, where to sell and who to sell to.

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When discussing the possibilities of starting a food box scheme, Carol shared the obstacles she has faced and also reminded the group of the importance of co-operatives as well as the danger of over-promising and under-delivering. We shared ideas around how to successfully start a business and start small rather than big to ensure a steady supply as well as to be reliable in quality as well as quantity of produce. The food box packing demonstration was well received, everyone participated and much was learnt, including how to pick and eat peas before packing them.

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Finally, time to feast. We shared briefly about nutrition and the importance of eating foods from our gardens and raw food first.

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The idea of salads and salad sandwiches, for lunch was not received with glee by all visitors. Carol did overhear the request “Is there any peanut butter and bread to eat?”

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However, the majority of participants tucked into the lunch with gusto and enjoyed the harvest from the garden. Kwenza commented “That kind of juice food we ate was delicious and healthy. Now we know about organic gardening.” Stembile added “I really enjoyed eating the lunch; my taste-buds are still dancing”

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We closed our day with a feedback session on what new learnings had been received and where people would like to go to from here.

Some comments made in the feedback session were:

“I never thought you could plant flowers in a vegetable garden”

“I am so surprised how clean this place is, I have never been to a place like this, where there is no litter”

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Ntombenhle was delighted ”This workshop helped the group to know and understand what we are trying to do on the community garden site. They now have a good picture of what is going on. I am glad that we are not alone anymore.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Winterskloof Forest Walk

On Sunday 3 November, members of The Winterskloof Conservancy, along with neighbours and friends walked through an area of indigenous forest, which is systematically being cleared of alien invasive plants, most notably Ginger.

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The intention was to show the changes occuring within the area that has been cleared, compared to that which is still invaded by Ginger. Picture below illustrates this – cleared on the left, infestation on the right.

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Ginger clearing around the base of a tree.

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The stream (which was barely noticeable before the ginger was removed) is flowing strongly.

IMG_6144The re-emergence of indigenous plants is very encouraging – Plectranthus sp, Clivia miniata, Streptocarpus and Sellaginella kraussii amongst others.

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Andrew James, of The Indigenous Nursery at the Botanical Gardens, kindly shared his time and extensive knowledge of indigenous plants with us and led us through the forest, sharing information throughout the walk.

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Clive Bromilow, expert on Alien plant species, was also with us, so we got the lowdown on the “baddies” too.

The old railway line runs through the property, with two reservoirs for the refilling of water for the steam trains still in existence. IMG_6140

Dressed stone walls, beautified by tiny ferns and verdant moss abound – a fascinating blend of history and natural beauty.

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What a sharing of information – we had an incredible morning!

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We were entranced by the appearance of the elusive Narina Trogan, resident in the forest. Scarlet Crested Loeries made themselves conspicuous in a magnificent, giant Forest Cabbage Tree, as did the delicate, beautifully coloured Paradise Flycatcher, flitting through the understory. The bird life is prolific, but fairly difficult to spot as the growth is rampant. Time and patience are required, but definitely rewarded.

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The walk was followed by a demonstration by James on propagation , a simple, cost effective way of replanting a cleared area. Clive had his great book available and signed copies for us! A bring and share lunch was enjoyed by a happy group who stayed on for the afternoon, laughter and strengthening friendships the order of the day!

The walk was well attended and very inspiring, we will certainly host more such walks and encourage continued clearing of the aliens in Winterskloof.  Read about the efforts of the Green Bobbies, a Winterskloof Conservancy initiative.

https://midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/green-warriors/

https://midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/green-bobbies-get-going/

http://www.hiltonvillage.co.za/attractions/winterskloof-conservancy/view-details