Tag Archives: rivers

Finally the Falls!

River Walk Banner Logo small

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

pic 1

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

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

Pic 2

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

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

We started up there

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

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

pic 3

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

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

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

pic 4

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

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

Pic 5

Looking back at the rehabilitated wetland beyond the bridge.

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

River Rockery Pano

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

pic 6

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

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

Pic 7

A clump of bamboo at the river’s edge.

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

Jane Symes

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

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

pic 8

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

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

pic 9

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

Threatened Plant Species – Hydrostachys polymorpha

HYDROSTACHYACEAE: Hydrostachys polymorpha [Vulnerable]

Meet this unusual plant, Hydrostachys polymorpha, a perennial aquatic fern-like herb which is unable to survive without the turbulence of the water. Living life on the edge takes on a whole new dimension with this plant that has found a perfect formula for adhesion, nature’s very own super glue, allowing it to cling onto the rocks and thrive in the white waters which give rafters a thrill.

Hydrostachys polymorpha by Alexander Rebelo

Hydrostachys polymorpha by Alexander Rebelo

This plant is found on the rocks in the fast flowing fresh water within the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, Umvoti and Krantzkloof Nature Reserve and the presence of the species is greatly affected by habitat degradation, river pollution, harvesting for medicinal use and most importantly reduced water flow.

Hydrostachys polymorpha grows up to 400 mm high. The leaves of the plant are basal and remain submerged in water. Leaves are 100 – 400 mm, contain small leaflets that are curled up, which gives the leaf a coarse wart-like appearance. The petiole and axis of the compound leaf are flat and coated with several wart-like outgrowths that are sometimes winged. Pinnae (leaflets of a pinnate leaf) are sub-opposite, numerous, spreading and 30 mm long.

Photograph by D. Gwynne-Evans

Photograph by D. Gwynne-Evans

Hydrostachys polymorpha flowers from May to August. The plant contains a spike inflorescence with alternate and sessile flowers along a common unbranched axis. The spike is erect above the water and dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). The male and female are similar, strong, and occasionally smooth, grow to 300 mm long and occur from the base of the plant. The stalk is leafless, strong, and occasionally smooth. The male flowers have overlapping bracts that are broadly egg-shaped with very small bumps near the pointed apex and recurved margins. The female flowers have bracts that are shaped like bivalve molluscs, 3 mm long and a lip-like tip with a central nerve extending downwards.

The fruit of Hydrostachys polymorpha are flattened, smooth, egg-shaped and hidden inside the bract. The seeds are small and orange.

Remember to report sightings of these naturally occurring plants to Suvarna Parbhoo, CREW programme: KZN Node Manager s.parbhoo@sanbi.org.za


  • Obermeyer A.A. 1970. Flora of Southern Africa 13: 211
  • Sieben, E., von Staden, L. & Raimondo, D. 2006. Hydrostachys polymorpha Klotzsch ex A.Br. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2014.1. Accessed on 2015/06/04

Thukela in Trouble

Many people are concerned about the state of our water resources and rivers.  Judy Bell wrote this article after reading about the discussions at a recent Thukela River’s Simunye Environmental Forum meeting. They should be a wake-up call for us all.

There is a concern that this years’ flow has been the worst experienced in recent years, which is a problem as the Bulk Water Abstraction hasn’t even started yet. The River reserve is 6 cubic metres per second (cumecs) and the river level came down to 5.4 cumecs in September. Concerns were raised that there are a lot of developments coming in and these figures are worrying.  Also noted was the fact that Sappi Tugela Mill’s water abstraction rate is below 35Ml and decreasing – as they are continuously optimising processes; and that there is an off-take of ±7 cumecs for municipal use.

r tugela river

Thukela River from the N3

Judy writes:

This also really disturbing in view of all the water supply allocations for Richards Bay’s developments that will (and already do) rely on the Thukela River and the essential role of the Thukela Bank for the fishing industry up and down the coast and the health of the Estuary.

The same has occurred down the south coast with Sappi Saiccor having to stop production at around the same time due to low river flows – this even before the impacts (which will further reduce flow) from the anticipated Smithfield dam being planned for the Mkhomazi River!

There is a general lack of understanding of the link between rain and the ecosystems that sustain flows of good quality water on the one hand and on the other, the negative impacts we have on these life support systems from inappropriate development in the catchment, including the built infrastructure for storing and conveying water. 

There is an increase in demand for water throughout KZN (and elsewhere, with export of our water to other provinces) due to increase in population and a move to urban areas.  This in turn drives  development of the remaining open/green/natural spaces, additional dams and inter-basin transfers.  We are now affecting the functioning of the remaining ecosystems responsible for the continuous flows of good quality water.  This will have a further effect on the capacity of these life support systems to provide us with the essential basics for daily living.


Water does not come from a tap!  We cannot continue to transform/develop the grasslands and forests (or allow deterioration from alien invasive plants and erosion) at the current rate, especially the watersheds and the aquatic ecosystems they support, on their life-sustaining journey to the sea.  Investment in ecological infrastructure is essential before we build more dams or transfer more water between catchments to support growth that is unsustainable – there are limits to growth and the availability and quality of water is setting the boundaries, whether we like it or not.

r sheep wetland de beers pass 091

There is hope – It is cheaper to invest in the catchment than it is to build dams and interbasin transfer systems.  Using Working for Water and DUCT’s (Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust) figures, Kevan Zunckel calculated the following and concluded that ecological investment is a no-brainer:

  • ± R40 000/month is needed for every kilometre of river rehabilitation (invasive alien plant and erosion control)
  • improves the aquatic assimilative capacity and help mitigate the impacts of climate change too
  • positively affects the river health and that of those living closest to the rivers and who rely on the resource (usually the poor)
    • It currently costs the eThekwini Metro around R 100 million/month to treat river water to potable water standards (Neil McLeod provided this figure, some say it may be half that – gobsmackingly huge no matter which one is used!)
  • This would reduce the ever-increasing costs of water treatment
  • It would also provide much needed work for people living in the catchment.
  • Avoid loss of dam capacity due to siltation and pollution (they cost a fortune!!)
    • a new dam lost 70% of its capacity in 3 years due to sediments from the degraded catchment
    • some KZN dams can no longer be used due to the silt load and/or eutrophication but were built at great cost (financial, social and environmental).

As a result, eThekwini Metro, Msunduzi Local and uMgungungdlovu District Municipalities have started to invest in ecosystems and this needs to be replicated around KZN by all spheres of government, industry and communities alike.

We have all felt the violence of service delivery protests from community frustration at just a local level.  Can you imagine what will happen when all the taps run as dry as the rivers that supply them?  The back lash from the electricity load shed we are currently (pardon the pun!) experiencing will be piddling in comparison.

We need to ensure that people understand this is a finite resource and everyone cherishes every drop and protects the ecosystems that struggle to provide for our needs.  Please help to inform and inspire your colleagues, friends, family and networks.

Some quick reads:

Mpofana River – Report & Recommendations

The DUCT River Walk team have just completed their exploration of the Mpofana River. This is part of the Midlands Conservancies Forum’s Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Project which includes monitoring the tributaries of the uMngeni river and conducting water workshops for Conservancies.  N3Toll Concession fund the costs of these projects.  For more information about this river see the River Walks blog at:

How do you respond to a community who are facing the future impacts and threats of phase two of the Mooi-uMngeni Transfer Scheme, initiated in the mid 1980’s when phase one of this scheme came into operation, transferring water from Mearns Weir on the Mooi River into the Mpofana, a tributary of the uMngeni?

Today, with phase two (Spring Grove Dam and transfer) close to completion, this community faces the threat of inundation of lowlands and causeways, cutting off access to parts of their farms,


loss of land and damage to buildings through erosion,


decline in the ecology of the river, canalisation i.e. the straightening out and acceleration of water flow and erosion of banks, and future lack of seasonal variation in flow – the highs and lows which are part of the healthy riverine ecology.


From a macro picture the two big threats that affect rivers with transfer schemes worldwide, are transfer of nutrients, invasive plants and other contaminants from the transferring catchment, in this instance, the Mooi River. Transfer schemes are recognised as contributing to the reduction in riverine ecology and reducing the lifespan of dams through siltation.


These are some of the issues that came under discussion at a meeting of the Balgowan Conservancy last night at the home of chairperson, Yvonne Thompson, where members heard a summary of the three day Mpofana riverwalk by team leader, Penny Rees.

penny rees

There are so many impacts within the 32m buffer and associated wetlands, potentially affecting the Mpofana such as: the uMgeni pipeline,





buildings; homes and pump houses,


a cemetery under construction,


gardens, pastures,


eroded livestock access points,


rubbish pits,



haybale storage


and alien vegetation including black and silver wattle, bramble, encroachment of timber plantations


and escaped garden species.


It must be noted that any disturbance of the natural riparian vegetation along the river banks will invite the presence of alien species, erosion, loss of soil health and biodiversity. This loss, negatively impacts the health of the river.

It is heartening to note the extensive work being done by the Balgowan Conservancy and landowners along the river to address some of these issues and in particular the eradication of alien invasive species.


A huge congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in this valued work.


It’s been a pleasure walking the Mpofana river and these are some of the considerations that we have held in mind as we made sense of our observations and make initial interpretations of the data collected. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm of the landowners along the route and it is wonderful to interact with such a close community that cares so much about the river and the future of their valley.

intact indigenous vegetation on mpofana

We would like to thank Yvonne Thompson for hosting the riverwalk team, for her kindness, generosity and hospitality in accommodating us in her beautiful home at Caversham Hall.


We wish the Balgowan Conservancy everything of the best as they continue their efforts to ensure the health of the Mpofana River and the well-being of the Balgowan community that act as custodians of this beautiful little river and all its tributaries.

Richard Hunt at Riversfield

Some recommendations to improve the health of the Mpofana include:

  • Tackle newly emerging alien invasive species as part of regular farm work on an on-going basis, prioritising riparian areas.
  • Based on the pending Mpofana Riverwalk Report develop a strategic plan and source funding for prioritising, implementing and coordinating the alien invasive species eradication programme.
  • Target particularly invasive species which are not necessarily common invaders in this catchment, for example, Camphor, Privet and Syringa, Catsclaw before they become a future threat.
  • Prepare a long term strategy for reducing and eliminating invasive garden escapees such as; canna/Indian shot, Japanese honeysuckle, Periwinkle, Wondering jew, London Plane tree, Pyracanthus (Fire thorn)
  • Ensure all new development goes through the appropriate planning process that ensure any application for development within the 32m buffer zone undergoes the necessary EIA and other planning process.
  • As far as possible, limit or reduce livestock access to the river banks and into the river.
  • Develop a plan for the withdrawal and appropriate re-siting of existing intrusions into the 32m buffer.
  • Re-site waste pits to outside the 32m buffer (consider recycling the bulk of landfill at a local recycling centre)
  • Avoid mowing in the 32m buffer, allowing for the regrowth of indigenous vegetation as habitat for riverine species, including invertebrates which are key species for river health.
  • Ensure all dams release some water back into the stream to ensure that the stream remains healthy and does not dry up.  This is usually done by means of a pipe built into the lower section of the dam wall so that there is always a flow of water being released.  These pipes sometimes block and stop functioning and need to be checked regularly.


Some recommendations for addressing the future threats of the Mooi-uMgeni transfer include:

  • Monitor your stretch of your river, measure the size and depth of the channel, take regular photographic evidence.
  • Be in contact with the ECO (environmental compliance officer) for the MMTS pipeline and insist on regular updates and community interaction.
  • Obtain a copy of the EMP (Environmental Management Plan approved as part of the ROD (Record of Decision) and check that this is being followed.
  • Constitute a Water Users Association as legislated within the Catchment Management Agency framework to legalise and protect your water rights and to enable recognised interaction with respect to both the health of the Mpofana and the impact of the transfer scheme.
  • Know and take up your rights with respect to public participation and protection of the environment and don’t give up in the face of the challenges facing the Mpofana and its community as custodians of this river and its significance within the greater context of Kwazulu-Natal.

The DUCT River Walk Team – Penny Rees, Preven Chetty, Pandora Long, Moraig Peden and John Fourie


Penny is Our Eco-Warrior

Midlands Conservancies Forum nominated Penny Rees – the intrepid River Walker and environmental activist – for the Eco-Logic Awards this year. She did not win the title Eco-Warrior, but we are adamant that she should have.

Penny has lived beside some of Africa’s most famous rivers Timbavati, Limpopo, uMkhomazi, and now the uMngeni. She first met the uMngeni River as a young intern at WESSA’s Umgeni Valley Reserve in the 1980’s. When she returned to run their Environmental Education Programme a few years ago, she observed a marked decline in river health.Penny2010_0708_104904

Her concern led her to DUCT (the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust), whose mission is to champion the health of our rivers. She soon became an integral part of the team, monitoring the uMngeni River and submitting comments on development proposals.   This is the river that works the hardest in our province of KZN and is suffering as a result. She started to dream about a walk from Source to Sea and developed an action plan to make this a reality.

Mayday for Rivers 2013 - Walking the Lions 372

During May 2012, Penny lead a team of volunteers to walk 311 kms from uMngeni Vlei to Blue Lagoon in order to raise public awareness about the plight of the uMngeni river. This captured the public’s imagination as daily updates were posted on their blog. Judy Bell, Chair, Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) said: “Most of us fear to dream so big, let alone work to realise the dreams to do more for the environment, but Penny did so courageously. The awareness raised has been invaluable to all those doing their bit to improve our planet’s ecosystems. She has done us all proud.”

Penny is quiet

The walk not only highlighted the plight of this important source of water, but gathered data that is being used extensively by other organisations working to protect water and other ecosystems that are our life support systems. Penny compiled a comprehensive report which included 26 miniSASS scores, all the negative impacts (invasive vegetation, erosion, poor farming practices and pollution) and recommended tourist trails along the river banks to improve surveillance and monitoring.

“Interest and enthusiasm for this sort of initiative has spread widely, illustrating what committed and keen individuals can do to make a difference, showing landowners how they can better manage these precious systems and influencing the way authorities are viewing our water resources. Data gathered has illustrated the greatest pressures on these systems. This work could, and is hoped will, become a national initiative undertaken by committed and caring citizens around the country.” Dr Mark Graham Groundtruth

Penny making notes in the Dargle river res

Penny is admired by her peers and environmental organisations for the very important work she does, contributing to the understanding of how theory and reality intersect. “Penny’s commitment is passionate and, impressively, much of her effort is voluntary. Her findings have been a wake-up call and have truly set a benchmark.” Barry Downard, Dargle Conservancy.

During the epic uMngeni walk, Penny realised that the many tributaries have an enormous impact on water quality. Since then, she has explored the Lions and Dargle Rivers and plans to do the Indezi in September and Mpofana in October 2014. Penny is always willing to share her knowledge and has presented numerous illustrated talks, gently pointing fingers at wrong-doers and suggesting remedial action. She hosts regular water workshops in streams and rivers to teach the community how to conduct simple miniSASS tests to monitor river health.

Dargle River Workshop 068

Andrew Anderson, river bank landowner comments “Thank you for showing us that this is not only about the ‘science’ of a healthy river system but equally importantly it is about the people and communities that live along its course. Thank you for the encouragement your bold project is having in urging me to take up the challenge to protect it AND to find ways of engaging with government, on behalf of the millions of people who are indirectly dependent on the uMngeni and her tributaries, to support landowners in conserving and managing its integrity.”

Penny and her team have a dream of a world where everyone understands how essential rivers are for all life on our planet. Preven Chetty is a regular member of the River Walk team: “Penny has been a tireless coordinator and without her diplomatic organising, the team might have been thrown off properties long ago. I feel honoured to be a part of her team. Besides the important data collection, she brings a spiritual aspect with daily water blessings and communion with the rivers. Penny is a true eco-warrior.

Mayday for Rivers 2013 - Walking the Lions 348

Penny received two awards in recognition of her tireless efforts on behalf of our rivers – WESSA KZN’s Environmentalist of the Year and DUCT’s Chairman’s Award.

Kevan Zunckel of Zunckel Ecological & Environmental Services, who compiled the uMgungundlovu Municipal District’s Strategic Environmental Assessment, says “It is interesting to consider the difference in impact between the walks that Penny does and the water quality sampling of an institution like Umgeni Water. We get regular monthly reports based on the latter, all showing the seriousness of the situation, and yet nothing is done. These reports are received by many and yet it’s a bit like the frog in the boiling water. However, with the River Walks there is a far greater personal angle to the outcomes, as well as the fact that the water quality sampling is done as part of the walk and is therefore directly linked to what they observe as they walk down river. For me the most valuable insight to come out of the uMngeni walk was the ability of the river to “heal itself” as a direct result of riparian restoration work. It is on the basis of this finding that I calculated the possibility of being able to restore the entire length of the uMngeni River’s main stem for 10% of Durban Water’s monthly water treatment spend. I believe that this estimate played a pivotal role in persuading the Water Service Authorities and other key stakeholders to join the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership. These walks play an important role in catalysing action towards the restoration and better management of our catchments. I encourage the key role players in the catchments to follow Penny’s example and put as much energy and passion into their legal responsibilities.”

Penny’s connection to the rivers is a creative and spiritual one which compliments her environmental drive and pursuit of scientific data perfectly. At the end of the uMngeni walk she commented. “Here Mama River is an old lady – after a lifetime of nurturing and unconditional giving, she barely remembers her journey that started gently in the folds of distant hills. A life which began with sparkling, bubbling energetic youth, turned sour from abuse and hurt. If only we could all give back to her as she has given to us.”

Mayday for Rivers 2013 - Walking the Lions 103

Peter Tompson, Chair of Upper uMngeni Catchment Management Forum concludes: “Penny is a remarkable lady. She has been passionate about environmental conservation all her life, much of which has been spent in passing on her broad knowledge to others. Her passion is, however, well-grounded in pragmatism and good sense, which makes her all the more credible.”

It is clear from this submission the esteem in which Penny is held. We believe she has more than earned the title of Eco-Warrior for the impressive contribution she has made to protect the ecosystems on which over 5 million people in KZN rely on a daily basis.

“He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair.”  Henry David Thoreau


Planet Friendly Holiday Fun

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

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

imisebe kids at crane nursery

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

winter in BBCONR kids walk

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

r mpop winter walk 033

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

r mpop walk winter asanda grasshopper

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

r mpop walk winter aloe maculata

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

r mpop walk winter 027

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

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

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


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


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


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


They collected rubbish bags of from the river banks


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


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


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

r Mpop Kidz Club 878

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

r Mpop Kidz Club badge

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

r Mpop Kidz Club game

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

r Mpop Kidz Club skipping

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

r Mpop Kidz Club eco bricks

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

Gomfidae in Mpofana – Yay!

Brave Balgowan Conservancy hosted a Water Workshop just as the water was starting to get chilly.  This is part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Resources Project funded by N3TC. Priscilla Young wrote this report:

Penny Rees gave us a super talk with video footage of her walk from the source of the uMngeni river to the sea.  Then we then went down to the Dormer Bridge where we went wading into the Mpofana River.  Here we look up streammpofana from dormer bridge

Penny said this was going to be the perfect spot for us to do our testing and collection of species. We are now “Entomologists of the Aquatic kind”! However, this was not a pretty place on the river.

pollution mpofana

We found a nice flat rock to sit on and scrutinise what we found,  lots of rocks and slow and fast moving water – the ideal spot for a miniSASS test.

mpofana 1

Time to get the feet wet – Yvonne, Nhlaka and Penny start ‘fishing’

mpofana feet wet

Nhlaka has caught a “tub” full of “goodies”

nhlakaAnd David too!

david crowePenny, Yvonne and Nhlaka sifting and identifying their catches with magnifying glass to get a closer look.

yvonne nhlaka penny 1All the Yoghurt pots have been emptied onto the platter for examination by the “catchers” and listed by Penny. All sorts of interesting little water creatures were discovered – ready to be photographed and catalogued.

mpofane photo

This fellow was our major find! Apparently quite difficult to catch and find, and I believe the Dargle Conservancy will be quite jealous of this chap! This is his grand name! Dragonfly: Gomphidae Mini SASS Score: 8.25: Natural, unmodified condition. Penny commented“Howzat?! Not often we find such a good score.”


What a fruitful day. The weather was fantastic and Penny came to the conclusion that at this point – The Dormer Bridge – the Mpofana River was really very clean BUT we now wait to see what happens further upstream and when the Spring Grove Dam comes fully into operation.

Penny adds: The Mpofana is a crucial part of the Mooi uMngeni inter-basin transfer as the water from the Mooi River is deposited into this stream. This is already causing erosion, so everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what happens when the increased amount of water is sent down from the new Spring Grove Dam.

This is a list of what was caught/found in the River and we now have to monitor on a regular basis. Hopefully more people will join us in the next in the Water Workshop. It really was a lot of fun!

  • Flat worms: Planaria
  • Fresh water shrimp
  • Stonefly: Perlidae
  • Minnow Mayfly: Baetidae
  • Other Mayfly: Heptagenidae, Tricorythidae
  • Dragonfly: Gomphidae
  • Bugs / Beetles: Gyrinidae, Veliidae
  • Snails: Ancylidae

Penny Rees and her team of DUCT River Walkers will be exploring the entire Mpofana River in October this year.  Read her version of the day’s events.

mpofana water workshop

Splashing in Dargle on a Summer’s Day

Saturday 8th March dawned a glorious, sunny day as Penny Rees headed out to one of her  favourite places in the Dargle – the Dargle River on Howard Long’s farm Craigdarroch.

r Dargle River Workshop penny rees

This spot was chosen for the MCF/Dargle Conservancy Water Workshop because it is one of the few parts of the Dargle River which are in good condition.

Water Workshop 017

Penny reports: After tea and scones made by Howard’s wife Cheryl and daughter Jennifer, I showed everyone a slide show on the Dargle river walk which took place in January this year.  There was lots of discussion about how to clear invasive plants in the riparian zone and ideas and experiences were shared.

Dargle River Workshop 001

We then headed out to the river, passing spectacularly large bulls, who gazed at us from a shady spot, and hearing about the history of the farm.

Dargle River Workshop 017

The old stone storage shed that had been built by the original Scottish settlers (the Sinclairs) to double up as a fort if the need should arise.

Water Workshop 003

Above a cascade, Howard pointed out a large sheet of flat rock that was the ford (in the old days) – the only access to the farm! This must have been either terrifying or non-negotiable during heavy river flows!

Dargle River Workshop 025

Howard told us how they drank the water from this Dargle stream until about 10 years ago. He has been clearing wattles and other invasive plants along the tributary gullies which feed into the stream for many years.

Water Workshop 008

“Once you take out the wattles, the indigenous vegetation comes back. It is a 100 times better than it was, but obviously, each year you have to keep going back and clearing.”

Dargle River Workshop 067

“This river is only 18kms long,” he added “Surely, if we work together we can restore it to it’s natural state?”  Wyndham Robartes shared his experience of successfully clearing the riparian zones on his property using goats rather than chemicals.

Water Workshop 019

We crested a hill and there lay the Dargle River, clear bright water bubbling over rocks passing beautiful river banks with long waving veld grass that alternated with patches of forest.

Water Workshop 006

Penny explained how to do a miniSASS and armed with plastic containers, we were rearing to go.

Dargle River Workshop 048

Getting our feet wet was an absolute pleasure as we hunted for the invertebrates in the river – we found stout crawlers, prongills and damselflies and plenty more.

Dargle River Workshop 064

Once again (as during the River Walk in January) we hit the jackpot – Stonefly.

Water Workshop 015

The mini sass score for the days was 7.1  indicating that the river was in good condition.

Dargle River Workshop 083

A lively discussion followed on the roles that the different invertebrates have in the river ecology – from the slow moving planaria that favour shaded quiet waters to the frenetic riffle beetles that rush around on the surface of the fast flowing water.

Dargle River Workshop 076

Rose Downard found the morning  really interesting.  “Quite amazing what a difference it can make to the miniSASS score to find a Stone Fly, yet every insect has a part to play, including the humble snail. I think it would be wonderful if the whole of the Dargle River could be cleared of alien vegetation and restored to a healthy river again. It is an important part of the Dargle and should be treated as such.”

Dargle River Workshop 029

The Water Workshop was Wet, obviously.

As part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Programme, Penny Rees will be conducting water workshops in all Midlands Conservancies.  She reports on the first one:

I was pretty apprehensive as I drove up the Curry’s Post road into mist which grew heavier the higher I went!  Would anyone arrive in this weather?P1290018

To my delight, the answer was Yes. Seven adults and four teenies weren’t going to be put off by a bit of mist and drizzle and duly arrived at the charming Old Haliwell Country Inn.


After a short slideshow on the catchment, of which this stream is an integral part, we headed off to do the mini sass,


spending a pleasant time pottering in the stream, discovering all sorts of interesting creatures.




It seems that the stream is situated on an old dolerite dyke, making for some amazing rock formations




Our youngest assistant came kitted out with a pink net and matching gumboots.


and a couple of the bigger lads found a caterpillar in the grasses beside the road


We all got together to pool our catch, then carefully identified each of the small invertebrates, scored them on the score sheet – and came out with a surprising score indicating that the stream is in Poor Condition!


On looking around we observed that upstream of our test site on this pristine looking stream is:

  • A dam
  • Cattle pastures – we saw algae and sludge on the rocks, a sign of possible excess nutrients in the water, possibly from the cattle
  • Timber plantations (a pine plantation uses between 3,750 to 180,000 litres of water per hectare [the debate stems from differences of opinion] which the stream thus does not receive)
  • A heavy infestation of invasive Brambles and Bug Weed on the banks of the stream


With these taken into account, a low score wasn’t so surprising!

On the way home, the men hopped out to investigate some Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker) flowers poking their  inflorescences up above the long grass as the mist rolled in.


A short picnic lunch in the mist alongside a dam had a surreal atmosphere and was a tranquil end to the day.


To those who braved the water dripping from todays skies as well as in the burbling stream – thanks for joining me. I think I can safely say that apart from our feet, we remained dry and had a great morning.  Also thanks to NT3C for funding the workshop and the Midlands Conservancies Forum and Curry’s Post Conservancy for arranging the workshop.

If you couldn’t make the workshop today, we will be holding our next Water Workshop in Dargle on 8th March 2014 – please contact Nikki info@dargleconservancy.org.za  if you would like to attend.

Are You Coming to Curry’s Post?

Penny Rees spent the day finding the perfect spot to hold a Water Workshop on Saturday 25 January in Curry’s Post.  Part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Programme currently funded by N3TC.  She recounts the trip, and tempts you to join in the fun and enjoy some lovely Summer countryside.  Sarah Allan, Chair of the Curry’s Post Conservancy had earmarked a couple of potential sites, and together they spent a wonderful few hours finding the right spot.

I was reminded today of my old “anthem” by John Denver:  “Country Roads, take me home, to the place where I belong…..” as I wound my way along forestry tracks and besides bubbling mountain streams in the search for the perfect miniSASS spot

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (51)

The first stream was too much of a wetland below an earth dam wall,

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (1)

the second ran through a tiny valley dotted with Asclepiads

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (8)

and pink Watsonias

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (10)

and was oh so pretty, all set about with tree ferns, but too small and a bit difficult to access.

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (11)

We drove on, through the timber plantations – the green corridor formed by their beautifully kept buffer zone clearly evident.

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (16)

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (33)

A couple of other stream sites had beautiful cascades

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (18)

stunning pools

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (23)

and pretty neighbours – but weren’t what I was looking for.

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (25)

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (27)

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (31)

We found just the right spot eventually, and turned for home, satisfied at our choice (and no, there is no picture – you will have to come and join us on Saturday, or read the blog afterwards).

We took a short cut to Sarah’s house, winding our way on a track that in places only Sarah could see…

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (39)

and in others – well, let’s just say I had to use my imagination in the long grass!

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (46)

We stopped to enjoy the evening beside a dam whilst frogs chirped, two Yellow-billed Ducks glided by silently, a Long Crested Eagle flew into the trees on the opposite side of the dam, and a Gymnogene landed above our heads, with her youngster shrieking pathetically for attention nearby.

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (37)

When the drizzle began we headed for home along the aforementioned grassy track, up the hills, through gates and timber

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (41)

until we seemed to reach the top of the world.

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (44)

As I got out of the vehicle to photograph this gorgeous Brunsvegia natalensis a warning whistle went up from three Mountain Reedbuck standing silhouetted on a nearby hill.

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (48)

As I drive back to Howick, I reflected on what a perfect couple of hours we had spent, and how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful place. My reverie was shattered as I entered Howick and was brought back to earth.

Currys Post 21-01-2014 (54)

If you would like to join us on Saturday, please contact Sarah on 076 578 2941

11h00 Presentation on findings of recent Lion’s River walk and hands on opportunity to learn how to do a simple miniSASS test to determine water quality.  Fascinating and fun too – for the whole family!   Bring your own picnic lunch.