Tag Archives: water

Sharing Seeds and Inspiration

“Saving your own seed is so important and so is sharing knowledge with others.” said Ntombenhle Mtambo in her address to participants in the first ever SEEDS izimBewu Film Festival held in Howick last weekend. She added, “We need to help old people in their gardens because we can learn so much from them and we can pass this knowledge to the children.” wpid-session-two-2-jpg The Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) were one of the sponsors of a long weekend featuring international and local thought-provoking films, talks about seeds, rivers and family farming. All intended to inspire positive changes in society and in our relationship to the natural environment and to each other. Nikki Brighton (4) Groups from Venda, Pondoland and the ‘Berg participated in a seed exchange during the opening session titled Seeds of Freedom, to symbolise the important role seeds play in our lives. Sandy Wright contributed ugati gati – traditional coloured maize which she has grown in the Karkloof with the MCG and other participants. wpid-session-two-6-jpg Penz Malinga “This seed exchange was the best thing and I really enjoyed the showcasing of indigenous knowledge.”  Tutu Zuma, who already saves her own seed, is inspired to start a seed bank of traditional varieties – she is particularly looking for a big white bean which she knows as ‘Bom Bom’. wpid-session-two-3-jpg Singegugu Zukhulu of Pondoland talked about traditional methods of food growing, storage and preparation from that area and related some of the interesting names which the various coloured maize has. A speckled brown and cream variety is known as “dog’s gums” in Xhosa. Nevhutanda Nkhetheni, a Venda Chief, talked about the sacredness of seeds and the importance of saving heirloom seed. Ntombenhle “I was so impressed with the MaVenda Chief, we spent a lot of time talking to that group. He told us that they teach young and old not to lose their tradition. I agree, it is so important that we save seeds so people will have an easier life. If we support, care, respect and listen each other we will bring back sunshine to every village door.” wpid-session-two-10-jpg Tutu thoroughly enjoyed the short film made by Howick residents Keran Ducasse and Bruce Hayes called ‘Grass Eaters’. “It taught me that we must plant food instead of grass. It was great to be part of this experience.” Tutu is keen to start keeping bees after watching Queen of the Sun and listening to Jessica Dreamtime’s presentation on the importance of bees in our world. Nikki Brighton (5) Sandy Wright (who is an active permaculture farmer) was really pleased to meet the enthusiastic and energetic members of the MCG and looks forward to working with them in future.

The second day of the festival focussed on water as it was World Water Day. The uMngeni River Walk movie, made by Sphiwe Mazibuko was shown for the first time in public. The film tracks the team’s month long journey, featuring some of the joys and horrors they encountered along the way. Penz Malinga was part of that intrepid team who have had such a big impact on river awareness in our province since. “All the films highlighted the environmental crisis we face and emphasised that we should work together towards sustainability for the future of our planet.” said Penz. sphiwe, penny, pandora, penz, mike by Nkululelo Mdladla film fest Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Program Director of the organisation International Rivers attended the premeire. “I really liked the River Walk initiative and in particular the documentary. It makes the issues real and in a simple way explains the impacts of human activity on the rivers. Well done, good work.”

Ayanda Lipheyana concludes: “The festival was wonderful. I meet different people and I learned new things, especially about beekeeping and the underground house (isisele) where food and seeds can be kept. I was amazed at the way the women greet their elders in the Venda tradition.  Most of the information I received was new to me. It was a wonderful experience.” www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/memmpop.php www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/resilience.php www.midlandsconservanciesforum.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/green-grant-builds-resilience-in-mpophomeni/SEEDS Logo_200 x 80 px

MiniSASS Made Easy!

We hear about miniSASS all the time these days since the uMngeni River Walk made it famous. Have you ever tried to do one yourself? It is not as difficult as you might think, particularly now there is a fun and easy to use website to guide you. Conservancies in the Midlands will all host water workshops this Summer, with Penny Rees providing extra inspiration, and be uploading the data onto www.minisass.org  See last year’s workshop in Dargle where we had heaps of fun getting our feet wet!

getting feet wet mini sass

GroundTruth Water, Wetlands and Environmental Engineering, through funding from the Water Research Commission, have developed the new miniSASS website and database, now live.  The website provides a dedicated home for the miniSASS community river health biomonitoring tool, to promote its use and serve the miniSASS user community by providing supporting materials, instruction, and news of the latest activities that have taken place.

The most important feature of the new website is the interactive map and database, which allows miniSASS users of all ages to explore their catchment, find their river and then upload their miniSASS results.  In this way, a public-access, interactive map of river health across Southern Africa will develop, with results continuously contributed by users as citizen science.  Users can explore all results, compare and contrast river health across catchments and in relation to land use activities, while connecting with others who are sampling rivers in their community.

mini sass geospatial database

Reasons for the changes in river health over space and time can be explored based on the land uses and other activities that can be observed on the interactive satellite map, supplemented by knowledge of their community.  Communities can use the information and knowledge to illustrate the plight of their rivers, and investigate pollution sources.  Land users such as farmers can monitor and self-regulate the impact of activities in their farming community. The more data the better, as communities and even authorities can look at trends, changes and potential pollution sources and solutions.

what have we found.res

An example of this is the 2012 uMngeni River Walk, where the team collected miniSASS samples along the way. The map below is an extract from the miniSASS website showing the 2012 river walk miniSASS results.

mini sass map

The results show the generally healthy condition of the catchment in its upper reaches, with deterioration around urbanised settlements and below major dams.  The collection of miniSASS data during the walk is a perfect illustration of citizen science, where a group of volunteers with no formal training in the aquatic sciences undertook a source-to-sea assessment of the river health condition of the uMngeni River.  Annual replication of this initiative and expansion to other rivers nationally, provides great potential to monitor and highlight issues affecting our rivers in Southern Africa. The diagram below represents the results graphically.

mini sass health data

The miniSASS website aims to take river watching to a new level, where river health data can be contributed by all in a fun and easy way, and with the results accessible to all.

Go to www.minisass.org  and register using the Register link in the top right corner (you will receive a confirmation email to activate your account). Once registered (and logged in) you have access to the miniSASS results upload tools on the map page

mini sass register

The website provides the correct methods to do miniSASS as well as hints and tips for getting ready for sampling, river categories and a miniSASS checklist. Field sheets are available for download, where you will find the information and score sheet, identification guide and dichotomous key for miniSASS.

identifying things.res

View previous project reports that have used miniSASS, other educational resources and literature references for miniSASS. The blog shares the latest miniSASS news, where miniSASS has been done and all the projects that miniSASS forms part of. These correlate with the new miniSASS Facebook page now available, called Minisass – Mini Stream Assessment Scoring Technique.  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Minisass-Mini-Stream-Assessment-Scoring-System

Use the ‘Contact us’ form or send an email to info@minisass.org with your feedback or comments. We would love to hear from you!

mini sass welcome

Key features

On the right of the home page you have easy access to the most recent observations which are clickable. Click around and see where you end up.  Hover over buttons and links for help boxes. Also on the home page are two awesome features, the “Nunu of The Month” and the “miniSASS Blog”. The blog reports on trips, walks and miniSASS collections by miniSASS users.  http://minisassblog.wordpress.com/

The websites’ many pages tell you how to collect a miniSASS sample, the things you will need, how to keep safe when collecting, as well as the explanation of terms used within miniSASS.

On the map page you will see the data upload buttons on the left, with help text beneath. Before adding data play around with the tools and familiarise yourself with the layers and the zooming functions.

mini sass layers

The Google terrain background layer shows you the physical geography of the area whilst Google satellite is useful to identify activities and land use in the catchment. The Google road map layer shows map features like roads and cities, with the Rivers and catchments layer only showing the rivers, streams and catchments but at greater detail. To upload your data, you can either click on the site by panning the map or enter the GPS co-ordinates manually. You are also able to add new observations (sample results) to an existing site, to create a history of results. Please take careful note to fill in all the sections i.e. the river type, date and the GPS co-ordinates.

As you tick the miniSASS invertebrate groups that were present in your sample, the miniSASS score is immediately calculated for comparison against your own result. On selecting save the miniSASS result is immediately represented on the map as a colour-coded crab icon.

mini sass data input

The website has various resources for download, and which will be added to over time. School and other projects using miniSASS can be submitted to info@minisass.org for upload to showcase results and illustrate what can be achieved. Treverton College have got the ball rolling with a report on their “source to sea” walk of the Mkhomazi River earlier this year.

We trust that every school, agency and organisation already using miniSASS around the country will use the website, contribute their miniSASS river health results, and promote it to others.  In this way, a public-access, interactive map of river health across Southern Africa will develop, becoming a valuable resource to illustrate the plight of our rivers, promoting action.

For more information or to provide feedback please contact the GroundTruth miniSASS team: info@minisass.org  033 343 2229  Anelile Gibixego, Simon Bruton, Mark Graham

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/

P1230425 crop

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.

Getting Wet During Lessons!

The uMgenyane Conservancy, along the Hilton College Road, has many, many seeps and springs which all eventually lead to the Mngeni river in the valley below.


It is fitting then, that they decided to use their allocation of the Midlands Conservancies Forum funding for Environmental Learning and Leadership (secured from the N3 Toll Concession) for a water focussed fieldtrip for Hilton Intermediate School, into the valley.

coral tree

The learners and teachers were very welcoming and well prepared, as usual. They couldn’t wait to go down to uMngeni River to do a Mini SASS activity. Nkanyiso Ndlela (facilitator for the MMAEP)  met with the teachers and discussed the programme for a day. They shared the sad story of the possible closing of the school very soon. They are very worried about some of the learners that they know really need special attention in class, so they hope they will get full attention at the schools they are going to.

We all gathered in a classroom where learners in their small groups were asked to write down their knowledge regarding the importance of water and wetlands. They presented well and the answers were correct. Learners knew a lot about wetlands and how to be water and wetland wise.

r IMG_0858

I introduced the healthy wetland eco-system game, which focuses more on wetland biodiversity and food chain. Learners went crazy in this activity shouting and supporting each other in their groups. I explained to them that the group that designs the poster full of wetland biodiversity will be the top group.

r IMG_0847

All did well, but the Lions made it to the top, the Leopards and the Young Tigers came second. We discussed the water animals that are sensitive and insensitive to pollution, the importance of biodiversity, looking after our wetlands, streams and educating others.

Nhlanhla, the Hilton Nature Reserve conservationist, was ready to drive us down to the uMngeni River.  Along the way he shared his knowledge about nature and conservation, spoke about how nature connects us all, pointed out trees in the reserve and also talked about life in the wild. The learners kept asking interesting questions along the way and he gave clear answers.

r IMG_0882

We arrived at the uMngeni River which looked wide and clean with a lot of plants. I introduced the WOW Catchment Action poster to show the learners how the water gets caught from the mountains, flows down to the streams, wetlands and into the ocean. I asked them to point out the negative and positive impacts contributed by the societies to the streams and wetlands before the water get to the ocean. Then we focussed on the negative impacts because the learners knew about being water and wetland wise.


I introduced the Mini SASS activity and provided hands-on wetland books and gave instructions to the learners on how and where to investigate different kinds of creatures. Learners were all over the wetland searching and having fun in the water.


After a limited time learners came back to identify creatures they managed to catch – damselfly, frogs, backswimmers, crabs and shrimps. In their small groups they calculated their findings and then the whole group’s result, showing that the river is in a good condition.

r IMG_0908Teachers were a great help in guiding the learners throughout the programme.  Afterwards, we had a drive in the Reserve and saw giraffe, zebra and impala.

Highlight: Sphelele (Hilton Intermediate old boy) said that he didn’t realise the beauty and the benefits of having Nature Reserves, while he was staying at Hilton.

Teacher’s comments:

I must say the presenter really delivered a wonderful lesson and I well learnt a lot, besides the enjoyment of playing in the river. Learners realised that the existence of minute aquatic life is living proof of the good ecology condition of uMngeni River at that point. Nicholas Maisiri teacher

It was a lovely day today, we had been hoping for good weather.  The learners loved it, falling in the water while finding all the nunus. Nkanyiso did very well and learning really happened. The kids were attentive, keen and enjoyed themselves. The mini sass score was very acceptable and it was nice that the river was looking good.  Joan Quayle teacher

Today’s lesson was very successful. The learners really learnt while having great fun. The learners were interested and stimulated. Well done! My only criticism is that the lesson was in Zulu, although this I am sure helped their understanding of the subject.

Hilton mini sass lesson

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

r lions river vlei

Celebrating Cranes, Water and Wetlands

Members of the Dargle Conservancy are custodians of an important water catchment on which millions of people rely. Dargle Conservancy believes that it is important to inspire the next generation to value the biodiversity of our valley and has for many years supported the creative environmental work of the Midlands Meander Association Education Project in Dargle schools. This year Dargle Conservancy has sponsored lessons around water issues and also lessons on Cranes to celebrate their 10th anniversary. The Crowned Crane is the Dargle Conservancy logo.

It was an exciting day at Dargle School on 14 August as Penz, Tutu, Annie and Eidin of the Midlands Meander Education Project arrived to celebrate Water.  We started off by gathering the whole school together for Water Safety with Annie, which had the kids engrossed. Many children swim in the local rivers so it was great to see them learning about simple techniques to save lives.

r dargle school water safety lessons. jpg

We then split up. Tutu took the Grade 4 & 5’s to learn about compost heaps (they had done water and cranes the week before – see below) Penz took the Grade 6 and 7 learners off to Kimber’s Dam and the stream nearby to do a Mini-SASS test.

r dargle school dam

The learners were divided into two groups, one to study the animal evidence and one to study the plants. Armed them with field guides, they went on a self-discovery course along the wetland.

r dargle school looking

They had lots of fun while threading lightly on the soil to be careful not to trample anything valuable to their data collection. When they came back, the animal group was happy to report sightings of black ducks, a dead reed buck in the water, mongoose droppings and cow dung amongst others. The plants group noted incema, sedges and other aquatic plants. Using the information gathered, we constructed a food web.r dargle school in stream.

Further down the road we reached the spot where the dam drains into a stream and here we did our mini sass test. We found lots of caddis fly casing on the rocks, whirligig beetles, tapeworms and water striders. We also learned why there were bits of orange in the wetland and in the river. The score proved the stream to in a largely modified, poor condition.

r dargle school mini sass.

Eidin took the Grade 2 and 3 classes. We read ‘Tyrannosaurus Drip’ which is a very water related story about peace-loving and war-mongering dinosaurs. We then played some wild water hula hoop games and talked about cranes and other creatures that live around water.

A couple of weeks ago, with the Grade 4 and 5 classes, we explored the water cycle, drew it, danced it and rapped it! A lesson on cranes followed – the three types of cranes found in South Africa, their habitats, eating habits, how they mate for life and love to dance. Three of the children had seen cranes in the wild. We decided to make two crowned cranes using recycled cardboard tubing, old posters and bags.   Two beautiful giant crane puppets went outside to dance in the school grounds!

crane puppet cropped

It was a great morning of learning and play and the children were excited about getting a crane sign for their school.  What did the learners think about the lesson?

‘I liked making the cranes, we painted and cut up old bags, we stuffed the head with dried grass and taped on the beak.’

‘I didn’t know that cranes could dance! I thought people are the only ones dancing’

‘The flying and dancing was nice everybody was having fun’

On Wednesday 14th August Nikki Brighton from the Dargle Conservancy arrived to present the school with honorary membership of the Conservancy and talk to them about the work of the Conservancy and the importance of learning about and caring for the local environment.

r dargle school banner.

The Grade 4s raced off to get their two Crowned Crane puppets and the whole school danced with them around the playground.

r giant crane and kids cropped. JPG

Educator, Maureen Mabizela nailed the Dargle Conservancy to the gate surrounded by excited children.

r dargle school member sign

Eidin took the Grade 5, 6 and 7 classes and introduced them to the concept of fly fishing, a popular tourism draw card to the area. We compared fly fishing to fishing with bait which quite a few of the boys have done. Then they were asked to find pictures of trout in fly fishing magazines. After this they learnt what a ‘fly’ is and talked about what fresh water fish eat from season to season. Then Eidin brought out the famous ‘Duckworth Dargle Delight’ – a fly that was created especially for the area.

r duckworth dargle fly

They thought this was fantastic! They have been doing lots of beading at art class so could really appreciate the finesse it takes to make a fly. They were also keen on doing some fish art as some the pictures of fish really inspired them. During my next lesson we are going to be learning to cast and also make some great big insect and fish pictures.

r dargle school and eidin

The kids comments:

‘I liked this lesson, I didn’t know that this fish (trout) is not from South Africa’

‘I am looking at all the insects now to see if I can make a fly’

‘Maybe I will go fishing’ said one of the girls (the girls had never fished before but got quite interested).

Along the valley in Impendle, Nkanyiso Ndlela was doing lessons focussed on Wetlands.

Nhlabamkhosi Primary School was a long 2 km walk from the taxi rank. The Grade 7 class knew that they were going to learn about wetlands, but they had no idea about the beauty and the benefits of them.  Nkanyiso introduced himself, Dargle Conservancy, Midlands Meander Association Education Project and the programme of the day, before dividing the learners into groups.

I started asking questions regarding wetlands and asked them to write anything they know about wetlands. They all said “wetlands are useless, smell terrible and they bring dangerous animals like snakes to the communities.” I was so surprised!Nka impendle class fix

Just next to school there is a big wetland with cattle grazing, beautiful white egrets following the cows and there are people making bricks from wetland soil. I did a short presentation and spoke about what they see every day happening in the wetlands – we discussed biodiversity and the food chain. I used the Windows on Wetlands poster to show negative and positive impacts on wetlands and how catchments work.

We went out to a wetland where each group had to investigate, identify and record what they found. They identified birds, bird nest, ukalumuzi which is a medicinal plant that help cure flu, uxhaposi which is very delicious imifino. During the process of investigation they asked lots of questions.

nkanyiso @nhlabamkhosi fixed.

We then went back in the class room to discuss the findings where I introduced another activity called Healthy Wetland Ecosystem which focuses on wetland biodiversity. In groups, they had to design a poster full of biodiversity by drawing things which they think makes up a healthy wetland. This activity kept them running and screaming. I assessed all three groups based on the biodiversity in the poster, the group that had lot of biodiversity won, which was the yellow team. There was happiness and disappointment so to end, I explained to them that a winner is a learner that has learnt something and will pass on the knowledge to family and friends and respect wetlands. All promised to do this and everyone was happy.

Teacher, P Mdlalose commented: “The lesson was well organized and gave the learners clear understanding and knowledge about wetlands. This lesson links to natural science, where the learners learnt about different habitats, animals and ecosystem. The presenter was very good.”

Nka wetland game fix

At Novuka primary school the next day, things were a little different (and the walk to get there and back was even longer!).

Learners knew wetlands are habitats for plants and animals, provide useful plants for human beings like, incema, ithembu, ingcobosi for weaving basketry and sleeping mats. When I asked how they knew so much, they told me that they learnt about wetlands in their natural science lesson and they pass wetland on the way to school where they see birds like, ugilonki, hammerkop. The boys said they hunt umthini (water mongoose) in that wetland. I focussed on biodiversity and negative impacts people have on wetlands.

After the break we went to see a wetland not far from the school. We came across three green snakes called ivuzamanzi. Learners were excited and all wanted to see a snake, no one suggested harming or to killing the snake. The principal who was with us, reminded the learners about the importance of snakes and what they should do when they see a snake. We discussed the impact that a farm house next to a wetland (where they farm cattle, goats, pigs and chickens has on the wetland.  They dispose of waste in the wetland, part of the wetland is burnt. We were lucky enough to reach in a part of a wetland where there were lots of birds and plants. We returned to school and played a healthy wetland ecosystem game and discussed what should we do to protect our wetlands.

Mr Khambule, the educator commented “The lesson was very effective, learners actively involved and interesting. The lesson was linked to A&C, LO, NS and SS. They learnt about biodiversity and conservation.”  Last year Dargle Conservancy funded a visit from the Snake Man – Pat McKrill to this school – looks like he made a big impression.

Kids find nest Nka fix

At Corrie Lynn School, Eidin Griffin started the Crane Day off with the tiniest people in Grade R. She reports: After warming up with dancing, counting and colour games I brought out some pictures of the three types of Cranes found in the midlands and we looked at each type. One or two of the children had seen a crowned crane before, which was nice. We talked about where they lived and what they eat and how they dance.

r corrie lynn 058

After this we went outside and paired up and practiced our crane dancing. We then went back to the classroom and settled down to draw crowned cranes. The kids and their teacher carried on with this and I headed to the Grade 1and 2 classroom. I did a fairly similiar lesson with these grades except we focussed more on the word ‘habitat’ and looked at what sort of food a crane prefers to eat. A crane menu!

r corrie lynn 066

The kids happily pulled out their drawing books and drew cranes with their favourite food surrounding them.

r Crane Day Corrie Lynn

Nikki Brighton arrived at the break and set up her Dargle Conservancy banner much to the interest of all the kids.

r corrie lynn 044

She gave a talk about the work of the Conservancy and presented the school with an honorary membership of the Dargle Conservancy.

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I then took on the Grade 3and4s and we looked at cranes and decided to make a big collage. I spread out some material and the children got cutting out animals, birds and insects from magazines. We grouped carnivores, herbivores and omnivores in clusters and labelled them and stuck them on the banner. We found ‘habitats’ such as grasslands, mountains, sea, forest and beaches and grouped them. We had new words such as ‘prey’ and ‘predator’ and glued appropriate animals beside them. It was a VERY busy banner but looks fantastic hanging in the classroom and helps in pictures to describe these terms easily.

After this I took a deep breath and plunged into a series of crane banners with the Grade 5,6 and 7s. They each chose a crane and in groups drew and painted it on big sheets of red material.

r Cranes Grade 5 Corrie Lynn

They look fantastic and everybody was surprised and impressed by their work. They will be displayed at the MMAEP Annual award ceremony on 28 November.

r Crane Banner Corrie Lynn

After all this I was deeply relieved that I live only 2kms up the road as a long drive would have floored me!  Everybody had fun and learnt new things about cranes, their environment and themselves.

r corrie lynn 048

As part of the Dargle Decade Celebrations this month, Tanya Smith of EWTs African Crane Conservation Programme gave an inspiring presentation on Cranes in the Dargle and Beyond to Conservancy members. Lesley and Ian Thompson said “We thoroughly enjoyed last night and were impressed with Tanya’s passion and knowledge.”  Ann and Mike Weedon commented “We really enjoyed Tanya’s talk.”

tanya talk on cranes res

Dargle is definitely Crane Country.

Environmental Young Achiever Award for Penz Malinga

At a glamorous occasion in Pietermaritzburg last night, Penelope Malinga was a winner in the KZN Youth Achievers Awards – organised by uMvithi and aimed at exposing young people to positive career, educational, entrepreneurial and recreational opportunities – in recognition of her ‘selfless efforts in making a difference in KwaZulu Natal’.  Penelope was nominated in the Environmental Category by the Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF).

penz and award. cropped. adj. JPG

Judy Bell, Chair of the MCF “We are very proud to be associated with the Mpophomeni Conservation Group, which Penz is a founding member of.  Credit is due to the inspirational people who started this initiative to motivate others to consider environmental issues.  It is right that Penz has been recognised by this Award. We look forward to even more exciting things in the future from this exceptional group. ”

Penelope describes herself as a self-appointed guardian of wild places, tree and bunny hugger.  She recalls the inspiration, “one day a friend introduced me to the uMngeni River gorge below the Howick Falls, it was like nothing I had ever seen, heard, or felt before.  I knew I was home.”

penz at gorge. res. JPG

Last year she was part of the team who walked the length of the uMngeni river, inspiring many to take up the cause of protecting our rivers.  Penelope particularly enjoys working with the youth, passing on her passion for wetlands and a respect and connection to our precious rivers.

Penz malinga helps identify water creatures.RC

Penny Rees, fellow river lover is very excited about her achievement. “Penz – from the days that we walked the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve with kids in tow, to your work in Mpophomeni pulling the community together and healing the streams, from your Zulu dance lessons, to duck diving in muddy pools, from all the grey hairs you gave me climbing down holes and up huge boulders, from the uMngeni River walk, to witnessing your singing debut, we have walked a long road together (sometimes quite literally!)  I cannot tell you how happy I am for you and how proud I am – you SO deserve this award – go forward from this day with your held high.


For those who only know Penz via the uMngeni River Walk blog – she is an impressive young woman who approached me back in 2009 or 2010 for employment for her prac. year as a Nature Conservation student. Since then, her love for Mother Earth, her enthusiasm, ethics and sense of justice, her ability to work with folks of all ages and from all walks of life, and her sense of fun and radiant smile (resulting in our Mayday nickname for her – Chakide) have been an absolute pleasure to witness, and I look forward to many more years working together with Penelope Malinga – Bayete!”Penz looking up

Penelope is a positive role model, unafraid to speak up on issues of animal rights, fairness, racism, feminism and environmental causes. This means she is not always understood in her community. penz  brady and disney 051 res.

Little sister Nonthokozo says “People often refuse to help her with testing the water, but now I think they will see what a difference she is making and help.”  Her mum, Thembeni, adds proudly “She always loved nature, I remember her coming back from school completely wet and saying she had fallen in the river.” Penelope adds “Ja, people think I am a little weird, but it is my ‘weirdness’ which won me this award!”

nonthokozo penz mrs malinga crop

At the Award Ceremony, the Environmental category was announced last, causing Penz’ heart to thump when her name was called out.  “I was getting ready to start clapping for the winner when they said it was me. I have never won anything in my life and yet tonight I am KZN Young Achiever in the environment category. Aweeeemah!”

Penz concludes: “I am proud of living in Mpophomeni and want to do all I can to alert people to the fact that we need to look after the small river, uMthimzima that runs through the township and into Midmar dam. Our actions have a big impact on the water quality of millions of people. I think this award might be a platform to make an even bigger difference.”

Penz in Mpop

“I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Earth I walk on, the water that
replenished my spirit, the Sun for lighting my way during day and the moon and stars by night, also the air that found a home in my body becoming a soul.”

Penz hugs felled gum

Read more about  Penelope and the other exceptional Mpophomeni women of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group at :



join their group on facebook ‘Mpophomeni Hills’  or come along and meet them at the next MCF Road Show which will be held in Mpophomeni on 3 September.

Fracking – In the Midlands?

After an inspiring presentation by Francois du Toit CEO of African Conservation Trust and Founding member of Sustainable Alternatives to Fracking and Exploration,  to Dargle Conservancy members and friends this week, Penny Rees writes:

As the saying goes – “Coming soon to an area near you”  Fracking: anywhere with shale deposits and there are plenty in KZN.

Fracking is the extraction of gas from between layers of shale and is punted as a ‘green’ alternative to petrol and diesel.  It is anything but.  The process uses numerous toxic chemicals mixed with sand and water that is blasted underground vertically and horizontally (up to 3kms) into the layers of shale to fracture the rock and thus release the gasses.

night fracking

I was brought up on the adage “when in doubt, don’t” and to me, this adage applies to the issue of fracking as there are no guarantees that our water resources (in particular) will not be severely impacted.

The fracking belt in KZN:

  • Lies against the Drakesberg (amongst other areas) – the birthplace of our rivers
  • Crosses three major rivers – the Tugela, the uMngeni and the uMkomaas. The Greater uMngeni River Catchment is of strategic significance to South Africa as it supports the third largest economic hub in the country, namely the City of Durban, through the supply of water necessary to deliver water and sanitation services for social and economic needs. Can we risk these rivers becoming contaminated?

fracking map


Arsenic, Chlorides, Radon, Radium, diesel oil and benzene are some of the ingredients blasted into the shale.

  • Up to 200,000 litres of chemicals used per frack

The chemicals are either:

  • left behind underground to filter into our ground water and water courses and could enter aquifers (=contaminated borehole water)  or
  • pumped into slimes dams on the surface which are either left to evaporate (with the risk of overflow in our high rainfall area) or have the sludge removed to sewage works for disposal.

Picture1.pnglimes dams

  • Sewage works in SA are not coping with current loads (in the USA sewage works are cancelling fracking contracts as they can’t cope with the loads)
  • Sewage works cannot remove the toxic chemicals
  • Sewage works return treated water to rivers


Current projections are that by 2030 KZN will run out of available water. Apparently the miracle answer for fracking is sea water.  Salt water entering our aquifers and rivers?  In the USA drinking water of some entire communities is contaminated and fresh water is trucked in – by the fracking companies.

  • Up to 20 Million litres water used per frack
  • Each fracking well uses enough water to fill 12,800 swimming pools
  • Each well pad has up to 32 wells: that’s 640 million litres of water per well pad.
  • Currently the uMngeni River supplies 1,000 million litres of water per day to the Midlands and Durban, so each well pad will use up the equivalent of just over one days supply of water to the above mentioned areas – and there will be thousands of well pads.
  • Don’t forget the abovementioned sewage works…

fracking wells


  • Up to 150,000 kilograms sand is used per frack
  • Where will this be sourced? Sand mining of our rivers is already out of control
  • South Africa has a dismal record of environmental law enforcement – if the authorities can’t even control 50 odd sand mines along the uMngeni River, or contain acid mine drainage (in KZN as well as the Witwatersrand) how will they monitor what is happening at the fracking wells?


The water and sand has to be trucked in:

  • Up to 2,000 litres diesel used per frack
  • 130,000 truck visits per well pad for the water and sand alone.
  • The gas has to be trucked out to refineries or pipelines.

Promises of oil companies & Government

Jobs & Poverty alleviation

  • In USA, 400 wells employ only 66 staff.
  • Wells are monitored by satellite from a distance, and a small crew of highly trained staff travel from one well to the next.
  • Boasts made by oil companies of 43,000 jobs with revenue of $7 billion in fact turned out to be only 17,000 jobs and #3.1 billion.
  • We could create 145,000 jobs from sustainable energy if we went that route instead.

Reduction of greenhouse gases

  • With all those tanker trips carrying water in and gas and waste out?
  • Methane is a by-product of fracking and is many times more harmful than carbon dioxide in contributing to Climate Change.

Energy reduction

  • If SA were to stop all coal powered power stations, and burn only shale gas, the difference over the next 50 years would only be 1% in carbon emissions.
  • There is no indication that coal mining and coal fired power stations will be scaled down as fracking intensifies

Exploration rights have been granted. The gas companies are already flying all over our countryside to identify possible sites.

Once these sites have been earmarked, there is only one way to test if there is gas or to estimate viability and that is to build a well – and frack!  If viable, they will then apply for a permit to frack. (picture of the Midlands pre-fracking, from Inhlosane, by Jethro Bronner)

View from top of Inhlosane by Jethro Bronner.res. JPG

The west coast of South Africa has offshore gas estimated to last 200 years.

One of the largest gas deposits on earth had been found off the coast of Mocambique, and the pipeline to bring this gas to SA is in process. So why do we need fracking as well?

France, the Netherlands and Germany have a moratorium on fracking – why?

In the USA some states, 75 local authorities/cities and 7 counties have banned fracking as has Switzerland and France – why?

Poland and China do frack – their environmental record is dismal!

Australia fracks – but here’s the thing – their shale formation is apparently different, so their levels of contamination and problems are vastly reduced.

Research the topic – educate yourself, and then make your own decision on where you stand. I’m standing by my motto of “when in doubt, then don’t.”

fracking oil-gas SAmap sml.

More information

Invite Francois du Toit to give a presentation on fracking to your community. ceo@projectafrica.com

Or have a look at

uMngeni Vlei – Wetland of International Importance

uMngeni Vlei Nature Reserve, where the uMngeni river rises, is a 600ha wetland situated in the Impendle Municipal district between Dargle and Fort Nottingham. Wetlands are areas where water plays the dominant role in determining plant, bird and animal life within that environment.

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The RAMSAR Secretariat announced this month that the government of South Africa has designated the uMngeni Vlei Nature Reserve located at about 1,840m asl in the Drakensberg Alpine Centre biodiversity hotspot, as its 21st Wetland of International Importance. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. aerial of umgeni vlei

“We are excited by the news that our special place in the Midlands has achieved Ramsar Status.  This will help to protect the source of the uMngeni River, which provides a continuous supply of clean water to people living here and all the way down to the coast.” says Judy Bell, Chair of the Midlands Conservancies Forum, “We cherish this site and hope this international recognition will inspire everyone to protect our essential ecosystems with more vigour, so that we never have to choose between conserving these life-support systems and development.”

umgeni vlei in winter

uMngeni Nature Reserve (958ha) which surrounds the Vlei protects important ecosystems including Drakensberg Foothill Moist Grassland, Eastern Temperate Wetlands and Drakensberg Wetland vegetation and Highland Sourveld grasslands.  These contain endemic and threatened fauna and flora including Merwilla natalensis, Kniphofia brachystachya, Kniphofia breviflora, Oribi antelope, all three crane species, ground hornbill and ground woodpecker, yellow breasted pipit and blue swallow.

1 umngeni vlei kniphofia water res.crop

About 50% of South Africa’s wetlands have already been destroyed or converted through draining, the building of dams, incorrect burning and overgrazing, invasive alien species, waste disposal, water abstraction, agriculture, urban development and inappropriate land management.  Nowadays, the value of the eco-system goods and services they provide humanity is being increasingly understood.  A healthy wetland has richer species diversity than other eco-systems and plays an important role in traditional Africa culture. They store water and release it at a steady rate through the year and they also have the ability to clean polluted water, are havens for wildlife, provide useful materials and offer fishing, recreation and tourism opportunities too. Very often, wetlands are the birth place of rivers and streams, as in the case of uMngeni Vlei. They also help protect people and homes from floods by slowing down the flow of water through the landscape.   Small wonder then, that there are many efforts in process to protect and restore them.

1 umngeni vlei wetland res.crop

Vaughan Koopman, wetland ecologist with Mondi Wetland Programe attended a ‘High Level Inception Workshop’ during February hosted by SANBI and eThekwini Municipality to explore partnerships and synergies for water security and service delivery through investment in natural infrastructure in the greater uMngeni catchment.   He commented “I was interested to learn that at least 4.5 million people live in the catchment of the uMngeni system and that 80% of the KwaZulu Natal GDP is produced in in catchment.”

vaughan in umngeni vlei 021.res

Fortunately, uMngeni Vlei has not been transformed and is still able to fulfil the role of a well-functioning wetland supplying water to the uMngeni River and, in turn, to everyone who lives and works in the catchment.  The formal protection of this vlei is a big step forward in conserving water resources for all the species which rely on it.

pycreus niyidus.res. JPG

RAMSAR designation will ensure long-term commitment from the landowners to maintaining the wetland’s health and help Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to manage the protected area. We all need to reflect on the benefits that wetlands provide and do all we can to ensure our water resources are healthy and well cared for.

river to umngeni vlei .croppng

Green Dams? Alternatives?

Tony Carnie wrote this article for the Mercury on 3 April:

Three of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest water storage dams are in danger of becoming so green and smelly just six years from now that Umgeni Water and Durban’s water department will have to invest more money to get rid of the foul taste and odour of rotting algae in tap water.

This is the warning from environmental scientists in a report to the uMgungundlovu District Municipality about the increasing load of sewage and agricultural pollution flowing into the Albert Falls, Midmar and Nagle dams, which supply drinking water to Durban, Pietermaritzburg and other urban areas.

Albert Falls Dam

The report, by Kevan Zunckel and Roger Davis of Isikhungusethu Environmental Services, says the volume of nutrients and phosphorous from municipal sewage treatment plants and overflowing sewers in informal settlements has increased dramatically over the past 10 years.

Phosphorous loads had increased by 85 percent at Midmar Dam, by 132 percent at Albert Falls and 668 percent at Nagle Dam in the past 10 years. If these trends continued, Midmar and Albert Falls would be classified as eutrophic by 2019, while the water in Nagle Dam could reach hypertrophic levels. Eutrophic describes visibly green water bodies with high levels of nutrient pollution, where algae proliferate and then rot.

If phosphorous and chlorophyll levels continue to rise in these dams, this could also lead to the occurrence of “problem species” of algae – such as toxic blue-green algae – that create taste, odour and filter-clogging problems and push up the cost of purifying the water so it is fit to drink. “It is predicted that by 2019 raw water abstracted from the critical water supply of the Durban Heights water treatment plant will show an 89 percent
dominance by these problematic algal species.”

Some early signs of nutrient pollution levels could be seen in the uMngeni and Msunduzi rivers, where water hyacinth and other water weeds had choked up parts of the rivers and every year the Departments of Water and Environment Affairs, Umgeni Water and the Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust have to spend more time and money clearing paths through the weeds.

Midmar Dam was also polluted with sewage from the nearby Mpophomeni low-cost
housing settlement.  Although Mpophomeni occupied less than 3 percent of the dam’s catchment area, it produced about 51 percent of the Escherichia coli (E coli) and 15 percent of the phosphorous load in Midmar Dam. “This impact was predominantly the result of defective and surcharging municipal sewer systems within settlement areas,” says the report, which is part of a draft strategic environmental assessment of the vast uMgungundlovu District Municipality. Four years ago, a study showed E coli levels as high as 660 000 units flowing into Midmar Dam, way more than the safe target level of 130 units of E coli.  These problems were likely to get worse if the proposed Khayalisha low-cost housing development was built near Midmar Dam.

Mpop overflowing sewers

In the Umgeni and Mooi river catchment areas, excessive nutrients were also pouring into water storage dams from farm fertilisers and the dung from dairies, piggeries and cattle feedlots.

Municipalities were another major source of water pollution because of poor sewage management. For example, the sewage treatment plant at Howick was operating close to full capacity, with the result that raw sewage had to be dumped and diverted into the uMngeni River during storms and high rainfall to avoid overwhelming the treatment works. The Darvill treatment works in Pietermaritzburg were also operating close to full capacity, which created sewage pollution problems in the Msunduzi River when it rained heavily.  There were similar problems at the Mooi River and Albert Falls sewage treatment

Almost half the land in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality had been transformed and degraded by farming, industry and human settlement. Zunckel and Davis make the point that water was a strategically important resource and the Durban-Pietermaritzburg region was the country’s second most important economic complex. Water was in short supply and the region faced a looming crisis. The imminent completion of the new Spring Grove Dam near Mooi River would provide only a temporary solution.

The time had come for municipal planners in the 9 500km uMgungundlovu hinterland to pay more attention to protecting the province’s vital “water factory” in the Drakensberg-uKhahlamba mountain range. Rather than investing in huge new dams, decision-makers should first protect the province’s vital water catchment areas from degradation, Zunckel and Davis said. The costs of building a dam, a sea-water desalination plant, a water-diversion scheme or a recycling plant would translate into about R10 for a cubic metre of
water, compared with only about R2 for the same amount of water if catchment areas were properly maintained and protected.

building dam wall