Tag Archives: lions river

Go with the Flow

Dargle Conservancy supports environmental education at a number of schools in the area including the Lions River Primary school, situated beside the Lions River flood plain.  As there is very little point trying to outdo the professionals at their game, Dargle engages the Midlands Meander Education Project (MMAEP) to conduct lessons and activities on their behalf.  Although things don’t always go according to plan, there is no doubt that lots of learning happens when the MMAEP Bugs are about.

Gugu, Eidin and Nkanyiso arrived early one morning in May to do lessons around wetlands and water.  After checking in with all the kids and teachers they handed out frog masks and set off down to the field below the school to warm up, play leap frog games and get excited! Lydia Comins from SAPPI is also very involved in the school and has been planting indigenous trees, re-painting and removing rubbish. Lydia was keen to come along for the day too. To start, Gugu told the famous Talking Yam story which had the children roaring with laughter.


Nkanyiso did a question and answer activity that helps to assess learner’s prior knowledge and understanding about water and wetlands. It also helps the learners to be able to  identify and analyse environmental problems, improving problem solving and decision making skills. Eidin: “The kids absolutely LOVED Nkanyiso and he kept them on their toes.”  Next they played The Windows on our World Wetland poster shows connections, interdependences, and cause and effect relationships. Many new words were learnt from this activity, including erosion, wetland, delineation, alien plants, invasive plants and pollution.

100_3549Then the highlight of the day – heading outdoors and off to the local wetland to reinforce the classroom learning. At the edge of the plantation, the kids split into two groups and had a race to find as many different leaves and grasses and flowers as possible. At the sound of the hooter everybody returned with their plants- laid them out on some boards and discussed them.

100_3581After a snack, everyone trudged off across the wetland to find the river. It was quite a mission through invasive brambles. The wetland is very overgrazed and therefore more vulnerable to getting invaded.


When the Lions River was eventually found, it was a depressing and dismal sight. Green and sludgy, the banks choked with brambles. There was no way that the planned  search for river creaturesand miniSASS test could be done.  Instead a lively discussion on living and lifeless rivers and how a river SHOULD look and why this one looked so bad, followed. We found examples of alien plants – morning glory and indigenous ones too- Juncus krassii and Phragmites. A couple of learners were able to spot frogs and crabs.

10247501_625864247498258_2684438249713512893_nSaddened, the group headed back across the wetlands and got lost.  Nkanyiso comments “The reeds were taller then us and the wetland was mushy. It took us quite a long time to find a way through but we did eventually manage and we were free.”


They came to a deep squishy black mud stream crossing.  Eidin recalls; “It was only possible to jump if you were a tall athletic limber 13 year old (yes, there was one, but only one!) everybody else began to mill about panicking and eventually rolled up their pants and waded through getting helpfully lugged by a volunteer who stood bravely in the middle of the stream up to his thighs. I managed to get through fairly covered in mud!  A small determined crew found another crossing that involved less shrieking. Either way it was a good adventure and cheered everyone up immensely. Good adventures ALWAYS involve mud! We made a big circle and did a ‘thumbthing’ which involves locking thumbs and saying what we learnt that day.”


Back at school, everyone cleaned up, did a little gardening and plant identification before bidding the MMAEP Bugs a fond farewell. ‘When you are in a wetland, you have to go with the flow!’ concluded Lydia Comins who had a great day with the kids, reeds and mud.

The Lion’s River Report

There are 96 landowners on the 90km Lions River – the same number as all the way from the source to the sea along the uMngeni River. “Lots of landowners mean lots of fences”, laughs Penny Rees, who, with fellow walker Preven Chetty, climbed under, over and through 70 fences on their mission to document the health of the river recently.


Last year, when Penny and her team of DUCT volunteers walked 311 kms along the uMngeni River, it became clear that the tributaries play a major role in its health.  As the Lions River is a major tributary of the economically important uMngeni River, the walk was undertaken in order to assess the state of the rivers health. The findings of the walk will be used to assist in the drafting of catchment management plans and assisting willing landowners to rectify problems and begin taking responsibility for the health of their section of the river.  The walk began on Sunday 22nd September at the source in the hills south-west of Fort Nottingham.Lions route 1

The River starts life as the Elands River and then becomes the Lions, which had everyone confused during the planning stages.  It twists and turns about the Midlands, through many, many wetlands.

Lions route 2

Passing through Fort Nottingham, Lidgetton, Caversham, Lion’s River and the upper and lower edges of Dargle.

Lions route 3

The walk ended on Sunday 29th September at the Lions/uMngeni Rivers confluence approximately 1 kilometre upstream from Midmar Dam.

Lions route 4

Penny writes about the journey:

When we walked the uMngeni during May 2013, we realised that walking the entire length of a river gives an extremely accurate picture of the state of the rivers health. The after effects from the uMngeni River Walk have included much liaison with relevant authorities, as well as input in many different arenas regarding the management of the uMngeni River and actions to restore that rivers health. It is thus believed that the ground work has been laid for similar input into the sustainable use and management of the Lions River.

The daily routine comprised a 06h30 departure by the walkers each whilst the support crew broke camp, and drove to the following nights overnight point which entailed either pitching camp on the river banks or overnighting with local landowners.  Whilst walking, all impacts were GPS’d, photographed and recorded on dictaphone and regular water tests were conducted. In the afternoons after arriving at camp, dictaphone transcripts and photos were downloaded, the photos were edited, the daily blog written, and the water quality tests checked and recorded.

Preven Penny crossing Lion's River

The following short report is an initial draft report. The full, detailed report, with maps and photos will be made available once all the data has been collated.


Wild animals

Otter and water Mongoose sign was seen regularly from approximately day 3, and Reedbuck and Duiker were seen daily. Porcupine scats and quills were seen regularly. Crowned Crane were also seen or heard regularly, and scats of caracal, jackal and leopard were also regularly seen.

Vegetation and impacts

For only the first 4 kilometres from the source which comprises a vast wetland, vegetation was indigenous and pristine. The stream originates from the wetland from whence it flows underground for +- 1 kilometre, after which the water emerges in a clear pool. The stream winds across grassland dotted with wild flowers, then begins a decent through a small rocky area, with pools and cascades, gnarled Yellowwoods in small indigenous forests and stunted Protea trees on the grasslands above.  Thereafter there were only sporadic areas of un-impacted, natural vegetation along the river.



Once on the “plains” below the source vast wetlands stretch for many kilometres, and the majority of the land use is intensive dairy farming, which has heavy impacts on the river – dairy effluent either pumped directly into the river or the use of the effluent to irrigate pastures.


There is timber planted into the river buffer – at times to the river’s edge.

A section where the river was diverted many decades ago ends in another mini escarpment, where the riparian area is choked with invasive wattle trees, where after the river meanders past natural veld, and then tumbles down over a series of cascades, the entire area once again choked with wattle trees.

This scenario was repeated the length of the river, however the majority of the river is impacted by the heavy wattle infestation, massive log jams and the river shows signs of nutrification constantly: sludge on the rocks and river bed, murky water, invasive aquatic plants flourishing such as Parrots Feather and Water Cress.


Many of the wetlands have either unused historical drainage ditches that have grown closed, or functioning drainage ditches, some very new and very deep. There are also a number of dykes on the river banks.

Below Lidgetton the river is reduced to a trickle due to the extensive extraction upstream.

The water entering the Lions River from the Mooi River Transfer scheme via the Impofana River was extremely silty, and this silt never completely dissipated before the confluence with the uMngeni River. It was only on the stretch of river upstream from Lions River, and also the section approaching the confluence, that the floodplains were in fairly reasonable condition, with only a few small patches of bramble and some small poplar plantations.


River Buffer Zone width

There are many areas along the river where the buffer of 32 metres is not respected – either by the planting of timber or pastures, commercial timber that has self-seeded, dykes and drainage ditches, manicured gardens and lawns, informal settlements, uncontrolled invasive plants such as bramble, wandering jew and bugweed.

photo (3)

Pump Stations

Numerous water extraction pump stations were observed – predominantly in the agricultural areas.

Drainage Ditches and Dykes

The majority of these are most likely historical and many are now vegetated and today have the appearance of small streams. Some seem, however, to be newly constructed. In prior years, farmers were encouraged by Government to drain the wetlands. It is now illegal to make any new drains.


Dams / Weirs

Aside from Umgeni Water’s gauging weirs and one extensive dam approximately 10 kilometres below the source, there are no big dams or weirs on the river.

General water quality observations

The occurrence of aquatic water invasive plants such as Nasturtium officinale (Water Cress), Myriophyllum aquaticum (Parrots Feather), Lagarosiphon muscoides (fine oxygen weed) are all a visual signal that the river water has excess nutrients, be they from agricultural fertilizers or dairy effluent. Without these excess nutrients, these plants would not flourish the way they do. These plants can smother entire sections of the river, blocking all sunlight which has negative effects on the  river ecosystem. In addition many use up the oxygen in the water, thus robbing aquatic creatures of the ability to breathe. Lastly, they smother natural vegetation and take over completely. Their only advantage is that they are utilising the nutrients to grow, thus assisting in the removal of some of these nutrients. The Water Cress is seen by some river ecologists as the lesser of two evils – it is shallow rooted and utilises the nutrients in the river bed as opposed to for example algae, which robs the water of oxygen.

Sadly there are insufficient un-impacted lengths along the river for the river to ever heal properly, which is possible given a long enough length without impacts. It should be kept in mind that with too constant a source of contamination, a tipping point is reached whereby there is so much contamination that the river is unable to heal – and this is certainly the case with the Lions River.


Mini Sass

Mini SASS is a very simple and enjoyable way of determining the health of the river, and the results give an overall picture of river health that is often missed by laboratory tests, for the pure and simple reason that a lab test, if taken say a week after a chemical contamination, may not reveal any chemicals whilst the Mini SASS gives an overall picture of the rivers health at any time. With Mini SASS, aquatic insects are caught, identified and classed according to tolerance levels of pollution and a simple scoring method results in an accurate picture of river health.


We were unable to conduct many mini sass tests, due to the fact that the majority of the river is naturally deeply eroded with vertical banks of 2 or more metres. Not only did this make accessibility difficult, but meant a lack of rapids and riffles which are essential for mini sass. Of all the tests we did conduct however the highest score indicated that the river was only in Fair condition (moderately modified), and the majority of tests indicated a river varying between very poor to poor condition (largely critically modified).

Read the daily account at: www.umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com

Midlands Conservancies Forum secured funding for Monitoring Tributaries (as part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Infrastructure programme) through N3 Toll Concession.  N3TC is funding Water Workshops for all Midlands Conservancies in the next few months. Penny plans to do presentations to the communities along the Lion’s River (and other Midlands rivers) – to share problems the river is experiencing and the things landowners can do to alleviate negative impacts.

photo (16)

Water Workshop in Lidgetton

On the day before the DUCT River Walkers were due to arrive along the Lions River in Lidgetton, locals gathered at the Community Hall for a workshop on Water and Wetlands presented by Nkanyiso Ndlela.   Balgowan Conservancy sponsored the event and Yvonne Thompson (Chair) delivered fruit and snacks.

Everyone was excited to join the workshop, chatting and laughing, and although some didn’t know what the workshop about, they decided to attend and find out.

r water workshop lidgetton river walkers 026

Nkanyiso introducted himself, Balgowan Conservancy, DUCT and explained the purpose of the River Walk which took place along the uMngeni last year and was happening on the Lions right at the moment – to observe and monitor the negative impacts on our streams and wetlands. He did a presentation on the importance of protecting our water and wetlands and introduced the Catchment to Coast game.

r water workshop lidgetton river walkers Nka

Participants were divided into two groups to encourage them to work together and interact with one another.   There was much excitement as cards were identified and passed along to build the picture. Everyone was encouraged to look carefully at each card and try to understand what was happening. The cards clearly show the beauty and the benefits of water and the impacts on our catchments.

r water workshop lidgetton river walkers 013

Nkanyiso reports:  After the game we spoke about the negative impact done by human beings and took the nearby stream and wetland as an example which they see every day. The wetland next to the stream is cultivated and possibly the farmer uses chemicals to grow the crops, so when it rains they are washed  into the river. The stream is full of litter. I mentioned that we might have a huge problem in future if we don’t take action now.

The participants asked questions like “What should we do if the municipality does not collect litter?” I suggested that it is best to report to the local municipal offices in Howick. We discussed the importance of addressing water and wetland issues that we may not be aware of but will have a huge negative impact in our life.

Walking home afterwards, Volunteer of Lidgetton (VOL) member, Sithembile Duma overheard some of the kids chatting. “They were talking about the small river they passed and saying how dirty it was and how they would not drink for it. So it opened their eyes a little bit.”

r water workshop lidgetton river walkersThembi. jpG

The following morning the community were invited to meet the DUCT River Walk team for a  Mini SASS activity.  Thulani, Sitembile and their VOL friends are  “Working to make Lidgetton a Better Place” and were very interested in learning more.


Penny Rees and Preven Chetty, met the group at the river where they shared their exciting journey and took a water sample. They explained clearly why they doing what they doing.  We walked along the stream through the wetland till we reached the waterfall and we picked a nice rocky place to do a Mini SASS activity just above the water fall.  The result showed that the river was very polluted.


Read Penny’s account of the walk through Lidgetton http://umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/day-6-dont-count-your-fences-before-you-have-crossed-them/

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Sithembile requested a workshop for the Volunteers so they could help to teach others, particularly the the youth, in Lidgetton about water issues.  “These two activities were very interesting and useful” she said, “People don’t know how their pollution will kill animals and harm other people. We need to open their minds so they can be able to say ‘eish, what I am doing is wrong’.  We need water more than anything else.”


Stembile has offered to do regular water testing on the river through Lidgetton, to monitor changes in the river health.

Walking the Lion’s River

The Midlands Conservancies Forum believes that protecting the water catchment on which millions of people rely for their daily water is absolutely critical.  An approach to N3 Toll Concession earlier this year, confirmed that they too care about the well being of communities alongside the N3 Route and were keen to support efforts to raise awareness of the plight of our rivers. The Mayday for Rivers team, lead by Penny Rees who walked 311 kms along the Mngeni River last year, begin to explore the Lion’s River this weekend.  Documenting their journey, recording alien vegetation and other impacts, to produce a complete picture of the health of the river.

r Lion's River

Penny Rees commments: “The campaign in May 2012 made it quite evident that the Mngeni river has many negative impacts along its length. The team have reported on these impacts, and made recommendations of possible intervention actions that can be taken to resolve and remove many of the impacts. However they observed that many of these impacts originate in the Mngeni tributaries, and it is thus essential to be able to identify negative impacts on the tributaries. Without this knowledge, working purely on the Mngeni River, will be ineffective.  The methodology will be precisely the same as that of the 2012 Mngeni River walk. We will record by means of photograph, Dictaphone and GPS all impacts seen and in addition will conduct regular water Mini SASS tests. After the walks, reports will be compiled on our findings, in the same format as the main 240 page report on the uMngeni River walk undertaken in May 2012 and we will also compile reports for landowners.”

r Lion's River

Due to development and growth of invasive alien plants in the catchment, the flows in our rivers have dwindled and the pollution load increased.  With the removal of, and damage to natural ecosystems that filter pollutants, attenuate floods and release water during drought periods, the quantity and quality of water in these rivers has been affected to the point where there is no longer any assimilative capacity.  The result is water that is severely polluted by sewage as well as runoff from agricultural and industrial developments and rivers that alternately flood or dry up to a trickle of their former flows.  This affects our ability to adapt to climate change and the requirements to provide food and work for our burgeoning urban population.

After walking the Lion’s River, the team intend to make this information available to landowners and other stakeholders and then  proceed to the other tributaries as time and funding become available – Karkloof, Dargle, Furth, Indezi, Gwenspriut, Symmonds Stream. Rietspruit, Mpofana and Yarrow.

The N3 Route is the major ‘artery’ to Durban, pivotal to economic and social development.  The Mngeni River and it’s tributaries (the KZN Catchment) are often called the ‘lifeblood’ of KZN and the connections between these two visual symbols of prosperity and well-being make this an ideal partnership.  Particularly, as N3TC is a major sponsor of the world renowned Midmar Mile and shares a concern that the viability of the event could very easily be threatened by poor water quality.

This project provides a unique opportunity for N3TC to be directly involved in Conservation alongside the N3 Route and contribute to protecting essential ecosystems services and biodiversity.  The MCF provides an inspirational example of collaborative conservation and community cooperation and has the potential to be replicated in other areas between Cedara and Heidelberg where N3TC is involved.

Follow the River Walkers on their blog: www.umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com or on our facebook page: facebook/midlandsconservanciesforum

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