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.


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

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.

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. 

r mcf celebration 2014 penny adrian hugh

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.

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.

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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.


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.


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.


Ginger clearing around the base of a tree.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.




All the Mpop Action

Mpophomeni Conservation Group members have organised and participated in many different activities this past week – ranging from exploring the forests of Zululand, hosting visitors to the township, stroking snakes and flying high to see where Mpophomeni fits into the Midlands Water Catchment.


Ayanda Lipheyana and Lindiwe Mkhize represented Mpophomeni Conservation Group at the Annual CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildplants) Workshop in Eshowe from 30 August to 2 September along with other Midlands CREW members, Peter Warren, Alex March and Nikki Brighton.

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Ayanda reports: The workshop was attended by CREW groups from different provinces and university students from UKZN, UniZulu and Limpopo.  It was very exciting and wonderful to meet all these new people who care about plants. The speakers were experienced and the presentations interesting.  The first presentation was on taxonomy based on Kniphofia identification and the use of keys to find the species of the family.  Professor Braam van Wyk presented on the evolution of the Maputaland plants, talked about BioGeography and suggested reasons like temperature and underlying rock for the richness of species here – there are 230 endemic plants in the area.  In another presentation Braam talked about Grassland Ecology which was so interesting.

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Livhu Nkhuna from the Millenium Seedbank Project talked about seed collection and how we have to keep the seed safely so when plants are extinct in the wild they will be propagated.  Many CREW groups reported back on their activities for the year, the Midlands CREW (very new group) has focussed on inspiring and educating people to make the group stronger. We learnt about ferns from Neil Crouch, geology from Mike Watkeys, the importance of Herbarium specimens with Mkipheni Mgwenya, Alien species with Reshnee Lalla and the Pondoland paraecologist project from Sinegugu Zukulu.

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We had a field trip to the Dlinza forest where we saw blue duiker and learnt so much about the trees and plants. The Philenoptera (Milettia) sutherlandia trees were very impressive and the Strangler Figs.  The Boardwalk was great, with an amazing view from above the canopy.  Albizia was flowering below us. We saw hornbills, sunbirds, white eared barbet, grey Cuckooshrike and many more birds in the trees.

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We also visited grasslands and forest at Entumeni Reserve.  It was a great experience.

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Lindiwe commented: “I am so very happy to have this opportunity. The CREW information was breathtaking for me, now I understand what CREW is all about. The speakers from all walks of life gave us so much information and the fieldtrips to the forest were much fun.  I made unique friends from other places. Everything was super amazing!” 

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The Quarterly Roadshow meeting of the Midlands Conservancies Forum was hosted by Mpophomeni Conservation Group on 5 September.  Visitors gathered at the library for a walk along the Mthinzima lead by Penz Malinga.

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Mpophomeni was established in 1964.  A large wetland surrounds the township and the name Mpophomeni comes from the sound of falling water.

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The wetlands are severely degraded and the Mthinzima stream which runs through the township is impacted by massive pollution, in particular overflowing sewerage pipes, with the mini-sass score dropping from eight where the stream rises in the hills to zero at the road after the township.

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Penz pointed out the issues with surcharging sewers and general degradation of the wetland. Litter and the smell of sewage was evident.

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We enjoyed sightings of Lap-winged Plovers (listed as vulnerable), Longclaws and found a Sacred Ibis feather.

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We headed back to the library meeting room for juice, fruit and the best vetkoek in the township prepared by Ntombenhle Mtambo. Ntombenhle welcomed the group and thanked MCF for their role in fundraising to support the dreams of the “hardworking women of the Mpophomeni“.

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Presentations by MCF were followed by uMthobo Enviro Club who told of their concern for the state of the wetland and then Thandanani’s drama about the importance of taking care of our soil, air, water, plants and animals.  Mark Graham from GroundTruth talked about the ability of polluted rivers to heal themselves (findings from the 2012 uMngeni River Walk) and introduced the soon to be launched online data collection website he has helped develop.

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After many months of anticipation, Asanda Ngubane and Bulelani Ngobese, founding members of the Mpophomeni Enviro Club (facilitated by MMAEP), woke early on Saturday 7 September in preparation for their flight with pilot Craig Wing to get a bird’s eye view of the township, healthy wetlands and local rivers. The Mpophomeni Enviro Club established by the Midlands Meander Education Project in 2008, funded by N3TC.  Since its inception the focus has been on wetlands and water. Their friend Sihle was jolly envious of their adventure.

asanda sihle bulelani mpop res

Asanda is a Grade 9 learner at Mpophomeni High whose favourite subject is Science.  He has shown real commitment to the environmental cause championed by the Enviro Club over many years, attending regularly, participating quietly and diligently.   He is determined to be a scientist when he finishes school – definitely more of a thinker than a talker.   “We need the environment to be taken care of if we want our grandchildren to live a life that is super good like the old days.  Now the world is facing eco problems, but if I can do something then the planet Earth will be the best place to live. By that I mean, I want us all to do something to ensure the planet is good for many years.   Let us be the 21st Century that will be the ‘history for future life’ – we have to achieve that. We can if we work together and tell people why they should look after the wetlands and nature”.

Confident and well spoken, Bulelani also attends Mpophomeni High School.  His favourite subject in Grade 11 is Life Sciences. After school Bulelani is determined to pursue a career in environmental justice.  “It has been ten years since I started learning about the environment which surrounds us and the effect it has on our lives.  Today in High School, nothing has changed my mind about my love for the environment and because of that I have decided to be an environmental lawyer.  Yes, we don’t have a beautiful and healthy wetland in Mpophomeni but we are trying to take care of what we have. It would be amazing to get a view of other more healthy wetlands and rivers. It is always good to meet others and talk about the relationship between humans and the environment and know that the environment is the most important thing.   I do believe that together we can do more.”

Penny Rees is an environmental activist and EIA specialist for DUCT Howick who is passionate about water and river health. In 2012 she led the 311km walk along the Mngeni River from the source at uMngeni Vlei to Blue Lagoon, documenting all impacts along the river.  Her work has had a huge impact in the Midlands and the research has been included in the uMgungundlovu Strategic Environmental Assessment and other important documents.  She was guide for the flight while at the same time checking out the route she plans to take for the Lion’s River walk later this month.

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Bulelani wrote this about his experience:  “My dream of flying came true today. As we took off we left all bad things and worries behind and flew over Mpophomeni, Midmar, Impendle, Howick Falls, Lion’s River and Inhlosane.

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We saw more than 20 dams and Penny told us about the link between the dams. The most good thing was that we saw some of the healthy wetlands which are not damaged in any way by human activities and which can support wildlife like uMngeni Vlei.

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We saw that human activities destroy and damage the environment and break the eco-systems.

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Today I saw things in a much bigger picture and realised that things are not as we see them here on the ground. This was the best experience and if I were to write the history of my life this would be on top.”

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Asanda was just as enthralled by the amazing adventure: “When you are in the air the places look like a puzzle. When we flew over Midmar, Penny told us that Midmar Dam feeds lots of paces with water and explained the difference between healthy and unhealthy rivers. Unhealthy ones have algae in them which is green. This is caused by sewage from the urban areas and dairy farms.

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The most amazing thing which got my attention was that there is a Table Mountain which is not in Cape Town.

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We got an aerial view of Howick Falls and also the new dam, Spring Grove which is not full yet.  We were shown a crocodile farm but unfortunately did not spot a crocodile.  We saw the source of the Mngeni river and the Karkloof falls, Albert’s Falls dam and Inanda dam, All of this was breathtaking. It made me realise that we must protect our environment.”

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Penny concluded: “On my two previous visits to uMngeni Vlei – at the start of last years river walk, and earlier this year, we watched a Martial Eagle soaring above us and the vlei. I had the privilege yesterday to feel like that beautiful eagle, as I flew above the vlei in a tiny single engine, 4 seater plane, courtesy of the Bateleurs. Flying up from Maritzburg and following the river to the vlei, put everything into perspective as we sailed past stretches of the river that I recognised from May last year.  On turning to head for Oribi airport, I was sad that this wonderful flight was nearly over, and there are no words sufficient enough to thank both the Bateleurs for donating this flight, and Craig Wing our pilot for an awesome time soaring with the eagles.”


Bateleurs  is an organisation that “flies for the environment” – offering free flights to environmental organisations that could benefit from an aerial perspective. www.bateleurs.org  The Midlands Conservancies Forum organised this opportunity for Penny, Bulelani and Asanda.


Pat McKrill, The Snake Man,  is always a hit in Mpop.  This was his second visit this year – organised by MCG and sponsored by N3TC. A crowd  of excited kids gathered under the plane trees at Nokulunga Gumede Memorial as Pat unpacked his boxes.

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He explained clearly where snakes live, what they like to eat and how they do not want to harm humans except if provoked.

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With interpretation by Tutu, Lindiwe and Ntombenhle everyone learnt that when they see a snake the best thing to do is Stop and Stand Still.

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There was lots of interest in touching a snake although sitting still while one slithered under your legs was pretty challenging!

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Pat unpacked a cornsnake and a very beautiful big boa constrictor.

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Passersby stopped to see what all the excitement was about.

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Mpophomeni Conservation Group certainly are the change they want to see! 170 people belong to their Facebook group and they are about to launch into Twitter as well.  Join their group on Facebook – Mpophomeni Hills – and help spread their environmental message.

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Dargle Nature Reserve – Almost There

All four landowners whose properties will form part of the Dargle Nature Reserve have completed the final documents and they have been sent to the MEC for signing.   Barend Booysen (landowner) and Gareth Boothway (MCF Biodiversity Stewardship Manager) are obviously delighted at this progress.Gareth Barend signing res.

Gareth says “The establishment of the Dargle Nature Reserve will contribute to the long term protection of the Critically Endangered Midlands Mistbelt Grassland and the Vulnerable Eastern Mistbelt Forests of the Midlands.  These vegetation types are known to contain a great diversity of plants and animals, some of which are endemic to the Midlands.  The Nature Reserve is placed with in a highly productive landscape on privately owned land, providing the ideal habitat for  a number of iconic species.  Take a walk through the forests and grasslands and you are likely to spot Oribi, one or two of the Crane species, Cape Parrot and Samango Monkey. It is fantastic to see private landowners making this invaluable contribution to conserving KZN’s biodiversity, increasing the green footprint in our country.”

butterfly on plectranthus

Many years ago the Dargle Conservancy, through the vision of Andrew Anderson,  began working towards having a large area of private land officially proclaimed as part of the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme to protect areas which contain critically important habitats. Due to changes in personnel and lack of capacity,  it has been a long road.  Unfortunately along the way, a number of landowners have pulled out,  so the original area of 2000ha has reduced to 890ha.  We are confident however that once this segment is completed, it will grow.  A number of neighbours have already expressed interest in being part of Phase 2.  Andrew comments “The future of biodiversity conservation is in the hands of the landowner. Accolades must go to the landowners who have made such a bold and forward-thinking contribution to conservation in South Africa.”  

Dargle meeting at Old Kilgobbin

Kate Robinson, whose 100 hectare property, Lemonwood, forms an integral part of the Reserve said “I am thrilled to be part of this, as I firmly believe we have a duty to take care of natural resources for future generations.  This means that no one will be able to come and build 20 cottages in this lovely patch of forest, ever.”  

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Part of Dargle Farm, owned by Graham and Vicky Griffin, will also be protected.


In 2009, in a bold plan to strengthen the food web, 40 Rock Hyrax (Dassie) were reintroduced into an area that was once home to a thriving population on the Dargle Farm. The Dassie is the most important component of the food web that is missing from parts of the Dargle and as this is strengthened, the Conservancy hopes other rare species will return.  Since then, Graham has introduced two more groups to improve the gene pool and reports that they are often spotted, are settled and breeding.

Photos By Trail Camera

Old Kilgobbin Farm, owned by John and Carl Bronner has areas of grassland and forest and many springs and streams – important source of water for millions of downstream users.

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The Booysens of Kilgobbin Cottage were the first to offer regular walks in the Midlands. this programme has now grown to include 12 walks. Barend must be thanked for his commitment over many years hosting those who don’t usually have access to the countryside. The walks serve to inspire everyone to cherish biodiversity and to understand the eco-system services which these areas provide humanity. Visitors relish the opportunity to get up close to some of the special trees, which include: towering Yellowwoods, ancient Lemonwoods and majestic Prunus africana, and to marvel at the ferns and mushrooms on the forest floor.

Kilgobbin forest walk.KAREN EDWARDS RES

Chair of the Dargle Conservancy, Nikki Brighton commented. “In the Dargle we take our role as custodians of an important water catchment and some of the most vulnerable biodiversity in South Africa seriously.” 

What is the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme?  Click here to read about the MCF BSP

View of Inhlosane from waterfall -Barry Downard.RES

Winterskloof Wildlife Sightings

Eileen Rasmussen and Judy Bell compiled this report of Summer in the Mist.

Could the mizzley overcast skies be carrying less moisture at last? Looking back through my rain records for the past 27 years, the four months from August through to November for this period show an average of 387 mm rain falling in our garden.  This year, it is a whopping 710 mm.  The previous highest was 2007 with 568 mm. I am told next year from February or so onwards, will be the start of another very dry spell, so we should enjoy it while it lasts.  As always where the weather is concerned, time will tell.  It certainly has been much cooler than usual and the clicking or chirping frogs, together with the noisy croakers have been quieter as well.  Usually the misty quiet is filled with a variety of clicks and chirps from our pond near the front door.  There have been a number of “hearings” of the Buff-spotted Flufftail, the notoriously noisy, but shy bird that has the haunting, hooting call usually during misty nights.  There has also been an unconfirmed hearing of the Red-chested Flufftail – the call is similar to that of the former, but the Red-chested flufftail’s hoot is less than a second in duration, while the buff-spotted’s hoot lasts for around 3 seconds.  Please listen out for this and let us know which one you hear, where and when.

The sun did manage to find its way through the cloud recently and a variety of birds were also able to enjoy the pleasant warm
sunshine. They seemed delighted to be able to splash in the shallow section of our pond, and then sit and preen themselves on overhanging branches.  A Brown-hooded Kingfisher dived into the water several times for a wash.


The local monkeys were taking an interest in the area at a resident’s front door and they thought the troop was considering a new way into the house.  It turned out they were enjoying the resident snail population.  Now that was useful for a change!  Our free ranging chickens used to go through periods of being more interested in earth worms – perhaps this is due to the type of food naturally available at certain times.  Don’t forget “a fed monkey, is a dead monkey”, so please avoid (intentionally or otherwise) feeding them human food – take care with your rubbish bags left out on the verge, to prevent them from getting them addicted to junk food from that source too.  We have seen some wise households waiting to put their bags out on Fridays, which helps to reduce the litter spread around too.

Howard Richardson from World’s View sent in this photograph of a Natal Dwarf Chameleon which was seen in his garden in World’s View.  These creatures are deemed to be critically endangered.  They are susceptible to being munched by domestic pets, as well as snakes.  The biggest threat however, is from the development of their habitat.

worlds view chameleon

The African Paradise-Flycatchers are back – they are internal migrants, having short trips inland during winter, returning with the warmer weather. Early one morning around 3 a.m., one of our external beams was triggered by  an African Wood Owl had broken the beam and settled on the gumpole post, waiting to see if anything worthwhile was around. It seems to be a convenient height as it is about 1,2 metres high. Several birds use it during the day and a piece of sheet metal has had to be positioned to keep the beam lens clean!   These owls sing as a duet, with the male and female answering each other.  Have a look at Roberts Bird book – they show the calls in a graph form, which makes it easy to identify which owl is visiting without having to get out of bed!

The Olive Thrushes have enjoyed breakfasts of flying ants recently and with so much choice, the supply has tended to exceed demand. Our canines also enjoy the ants and snap away happily. They don’t seem to be unhappy about swallowing the wings either – it all seems to go down the hatch.

One evening around 10 p.m., our dogs were barking furiously on the steps leading up to the bank  adjacent to our driveway. They were keeping their distance, but their agitation was evident. In the torchlight, a porcupine was spotted. He or she must have come up from the lower garden. Both dogs have learnt from experience not to tangle with these prickly visitors. Soon after we got our younger dog, she made contact with one and has not forgotten her discomfort and pain and now keeps a safe distance. They are now content to alert the whole neighbourhood with their barking but make sure they do not get too close. The quilled creature was guided back towards the natural vegetation.  The odd crab has crawled along towards the back door and even a centipede was found.


A group of Swee Waxbills recently enjoyed the seed on our uncut lawn – listen out for their calls after which they are named. Does one keep the grass cut or leave it for the birds to enjoy?  Perhaps a compromise is to cut less frequently so that they can enjoy the seed buffet. The grass is certainly is not as rampant as previous years – there has been so little sunshine to encourage growth.

A Long-crested Eagle recently had the close attention of two Fork-tailed Drongos, with much chattering and mock attacks.  I always find it amusing to see these little chaps sending bigger birds packing. While out walking recently, a Southern Black Flycatcher was heard singing,  also a “pretty georgie” (the Cuckoo), only he or she was actually a Chorister Robin-Chat, when sighted. The Chorister robins are known to be great mimics of other bird calls, so don’t be fooled – try and spot the source of the call to make sure.   The cicadas are also miffed with the weather and have not reached their intense pitch of previous summers.


The photo shows a giant leaf of the Streptocarpus polyanthus (?) plant, which is a member of the African Violet family
growing naturally on the rock face, which is enjoying the moist conditions in the forest this season.  These plants used to be prevalent in our Mist-belt Forests but seem to have been replaced by ginger which loves the same conditions.  If you find them in your garden please let us know and cherish them, as they are special residents of our Valley.


Has anyone recently seen Guinevere, our Crowned Eagle chick?  She is now about 15 months old and was ringed some months ago.  If you have seen her, would you be kind enough to send me an e-mail please, saying where she was seen, time of day etc.  Shaun, the student monitoring her is keen to be kept updated with sightings of her.

Derick Hull asks if anyone else has seen the Red-throated Wryneck in Winterskloof – he has!

Biodiversity Stewardship in Winterskloof:

We are keen to develop a programme to get our natural spaces (forests, grasslands, streams and wetlands) conserved.  To do this, we will be working hard to influence potential partners (such as eZemvelo KZN Wildlife, uMngeni & uMgungungdlovu Municipality) to work with us to create a biodiversity stewardship agreement for the undeveloped spaces.  We hope to get zero-rating for these, in return for keeping them free of invasive alien plants and barriers to the wildlife.  This work needs energy and champions, so if you would like to add your assistance to the team, please let us know.  We can only do this if everyone agrees and participates.  It will create linked corridors for wildlife and release more good quality water in the Dorpspruit, which is desperately needed to dilute the pollution downstream.  Our Valley is the watershed for the Dorpspruit and is thus important for the Msunduzi/Mngeni River system.  We will keep you informed of discussions, meetings and any plan we draft for comment.

Does anyone know what these tiny red mushrooms are?