Quietly. Kindly. Respectfully.

“I was swinging on the vines, the flowers were lovely and the air was nice. I miss Papa Ben, I wish to go back.” Olwethu Nzimande

In the past couple of months, we have hosted a number of different groups in the Kilgobbin forest, over and above the monthly walks which Barend Booysen guides. Without exception, everyone has left refreshed, delighted and inspired.  We may get a little used to the wonders of wandering in our forests, but guests are always amazed.

thembilihle kid

The Thembelihle Junior Eco Club had a life changing experience.  Entering the forest the children were astonished at the variety of trees and plants. They rustled about searching for the distinctive black stinkwood trees leaves, ran their hands along the moss covered rocks and recognised yellowwoods (they had planted one at school before heading to the forest).

r yellowwood tree

Sitting quietly in the forest they breathed in the scents, listened for bird calls and drank the delicious water before having a storytelling session about ‘The Lorax’ by Dr. Seuss. On the way back through the forest some lucky learners spotted a green boomslang who soon slipped away into the trees. Rafiki (Barend’s Samango monkey friend) was lolling in the trees and the children were utterly transfixed by the monkey’s beautiful coat. One little boy  whispered ‘This is the best outing EVER’


Dargle Primary School Grade 6 and 7 classes were very excited about their trip to the Dargle Nature Reserve, but first decided on a few rules.

  • To be quiet in the forest
  • To be kind and helpful to each other
  • To respect the forest and its inhabitants.

Barend greeted the group warmly and explained how he and Helen look after the forest and why we need to leave only footprints. Eidin Griffin and Gugu Zuma of MMAEP report on the day:

barend and dargle kids

As we walked along the sun dappled paths, Barend pointed out interesting trees including wonderful yellowwoods in different stages of life from 20 years to 1000 years old and showed us how to differentiate between the various leaves. Everyone was thrilled to spot some Samango monkeys browsing on new leaves in the trees. We sat for some quiet time, breathing in and breathing out all our cares. Mlungisi was amazed at the old trees saying “Wow, you will never find a person that is 200 years old.”

r Mlungisi in forest

Barend had the children really intrigued when he took out his cellphone, played bird sounds and then the birds came to visit! The children recognised different bird sounds and were lucky enough to see two African Harrier Hawks skimming above the canopy.  They got to swing on a liana and investigate mosses and lichen.

r swinginging on liana forest

Eidin said “We had an utterly magic day.” Gugu added enthusiastically “We had so much fun and learnt so much. What a wonderful place. I would like to bring the kids from my Zenzane and Nxamalala Enviro Clubs here too.” The children LOVED their adventure in the forest with ‘Papa Ben’ and have started writing stories and drawing pictures about their experience. Thanks to Dargle Conservancy for giving these children such an incredible experience. Big hugs to Barend for his generosity of time and spirit – the children were especially impressed when he challenged them to catch him and raced off across the hayfields! It would not have been possible to get all the children back and forth without the help of Carl Bronner and Dennis Sokhela.

r kids top of kilgobbin hill

Eugene Moll lead a two day Forest Ecology  and Tree ID Course in October. Eugene, who lives in Cape Town now, loved spending time in the forests he remembers so fondly from his student days and relaxing on the veranda of Crowned Eagle Cottage listening to tree dassies call at night.

Participants were enchanted by his enthusiasm and knowledge and couldn’t believe their luck at having such an expert on hand for a few days.   One thing we all learned was to QUESTION things. To think about what makes a peach a peach, for instance. If we understand the basic characteristics of familiar plants we find in our gardens, we will have a much easier time trying to identify new trees. Everyone was keen to try our they plant id skills using the Keys in various Guide books. Just to confuse everyone Eugene included two samples of Kiggelaria Africana (Wild Peach) – one branch from a mature tree and a twig from a little sapling. They were COMPLETELY different and had everyone puzzled for ages.

r Brian Barend David

Most of the course we spent outdoors under the forest canopy. Each tree has a little space around it if viewed from the air, we learnt. The tree tops brush against one another and keep each tree separate. Eugene prefers to call Podocarpus (Yellowwoods), Afrocarpus, which he feels is a more accurate description. We hugged some really big ones and had heated discussions about ‘the twisted petiole’ of P. henkelii! He also feels pretty certain that none of the trees in the forest are over 500 years old.

r hugging tree

We learnt how specimens of Clausena anisata (perdepis) probably got mixed up with specimens of Hippobromus by the early collectors. The scientific name Hippobromus means ‘smell of horse’, but when the dried specimens were finally described, the smell had gone from the leaves, so there was no way of telling which was which! We felt the stickiness of Protamophila prehensilis and the velvety leaves of Quisqualis parviflora admired Briophytes and Epiphytes, tasted Asparagus stalks and smelt Lemonwood leaves. Naturally, we got down on our knees to find interesting things in the stream, including nematodes and damselfly larvae.

r barend and penz

Kathy Milford won’t forget the course in a hurry. “The most memorable thing for me was the crazy expert peering through his treasured old magnifying glass with a chipped frame, at a little leaf and his saying ‘this must be a Diosypyros whyteana, look at those orange hairs on the edge of the leaf’. That was a special moment, and when I looked through the magnifying glass there were the most beautiful little orange hairs that became larger than life. I felt like Alice in Wonderland! He showed us the most amazing little details on the leaves and trees which would normally have escaped my attention! Wonderful”

r moss

We learnt so many fascinating facts like: Insects are the biggest herbivores and that woody plants (C3) utilise higher levels of carbon dioxide. Eugene demonstrated how to make rope from the bark of Dais cotonifolia (Grewia occidentalis also used for the is purpose), and we learned the vines of Dalbergia obovata  are used to make fishing baskets.  Sarah Ellis “I found Eugene fascinating, with such a huge passion and depth of knowledge. How fortunate we are to have spent time with a man of this calibre. I also enjoyed meeting and chatting to some of the other like-minded people on the course.”

r looking up

Oriah and Kei Ellis used the opportunity for some outdoor learning.  “The tree ecology course was a great experience – learning about the different shapes of leaves, learning through the interactions with others, and how to simply identify trees.  I also enjoyed taking a walk through Barend’s forest, eating cookies and making new friends! ” said Oriah afterwards.

r kei oriah sam

Jenny Fly commented “I enjoyed every minute of it. Eugene is such a nice man, so knowledgable with his trees and so happy to help us mere mortals along the way. I certainly learnt a lot and need to get into the forest far more often to get really familiar with all of them.”

Julie and Richard Braby, who live in Underberg, enjoyed their time with other people as passionate about plants as they are. “We felt we were in another world for those two days and were sad to get home. The venue was fantastic. The talk and very good food at Tanglewood in the evening in the company of Dargle Conservancy members, was wonderful.”  Barend Booysen, who is custodian of the section of forest we spent time in, had a marvellous time. “I really thought I knew this forest backwards. I have been humbled by all the things I have never noticed before and my head is spinning with all the new information. I learnt so much. What a delightful man.”

r lets look that up

N3Toll Concession, who fund many projects in the Midlands, including in a number of Conservancies, have visited twice this Spring too.  First, we showed off some the Midlands treasures to a film crew and members of the media who visited our special part of the planet.  In the Cairn of Old Kilgobbin they enjoyed a country style lunch prepared by Nicky Farqhuarson of Tanglewood, and then a walk in the Kilgobbin forest.   There is nothing quite like drinking water straight from the stream, listening to Knysna Turacos call and watching Samango monkeys swish through the tree tops, when you usually spend your days dodging traffic in the city.

Anita Heyl commented: “Oh, my goodness what a special piece of paradise. If I was Winnie-the-Pooh this would most definitely have been my part of the forest.”

forest walk Penz

TV journalist Blain Herman captured the midlands magic in the short video that aired on SABC recently. Watch our 15 seconds of fame here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3yIKpWoRxs

forest walk Barend

Then, on a magical, misty day, shareholders of the N3TC Board arrived in anticipation of a picnic in the forest!  Con Roux Commercial Manager of N3TC said “The mist made it all the more special. We were fortunate that it wasn’t pouring with rain.”

N3TC Board forest walk 024

After an interesting stroll along the old logging path, we all returned to the Booysen’s verandah and fireside for lunch. We didn’t think that the urbanites would really enjoy sitting on a damp log with trees dripping all about them! Lunch was all handmade local Dargle produce and went own well.  Chantal Wood of Future Growth commented “I had such wonderful time and have been raving about your lunch. What a great bunch of people.” Bothwell Hlaba of PIC also had a good time “Many thanks for hosting us and showing us the great work that you are doing conserving our forests and the ecosystems. I really enjoyed the forest walk and the picnic.”

N3TC Board forest walk 100

Thanks to the N3TC for supporting these important environmental projects and the ecosystems on which humans rely, we hope you’ll be back to wander in the forest again soon.

In the great African tradition of auspicious rain for special occasions, the Midlands Summer Celebration in early November was suitably wet.  The Cairn of Old Kilgobbin Farm is right in the mist-belt, beside the forest, a wonderful venue whatever the weather. The drizzle did little to dampen the spirits of those who headed off on a forest walk. The rain hardly penetrates the canopy, so there was no rush to get back.

r IMG_3849

A gentle afternoon spent smelling Clausena anisata leaves, collecting yellowwood seeds, hugging the really big trees and puzzling over some species.  Dineo Dibakwane of SANBI commented: “I enjoyed the walk, Barend is the best! It was nice meeting other people who share the same objectives regarding conserving our planet.” Tshepiso Mafole, also from SANBI added  “It was great to be part of the inspiring and refreshing world of conservationists.” Tutu Zuma of Mpophomeni Conservation Group thought that the best part of the afternoon was the walk in the forest.

r dineo tutu tshisepo

Then they emerged through the mist, and were welcomed warmly.  The red wine went down particularly well, but there was also plenty of Notties beer and homemade lemon and mint cordial too.

r mcf celebration 2014 jiba

Many Midlands Conservancies were represented at the gathering and lots of local environmental organisations too.  Janet Snow of Environmental Learning and Teaching observed: “It was inspirational to see the projects conducted with such enthusiasm. It is a true indication of the community of practice in the area – something to be proud of.”  Caroline Leslie, Honorary Officer for Ezemvelo “Thank you so much for the lovely time shared by fellow enthusiasts.  The wine was splendid, the food was outstanding, the venue was breath taking but most of all was special times spent with special people.”

r mcf celebration 2014 eidin crystelle greg pam

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

r food and crowd

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

r mcf celebration 2014 judy eidin

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

r mcf celebration 2014 barendJPG

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

Dargle Conservancy thanks Barend Booysen for passionately sharing his time and knowledge to inspire others to care about our forests, and Carl Bronner for generously offering her gorgeous venue for all our functions.

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