Samango Trail

Julia Colvin of Spekboom Tours, a nature-based, ecologically minded, adventure tour company, has spent many months getting to know local landowners and exploring the Dargle hills, so was thrilled when a large group of people turned up to try out her new route – The Samango Trail.

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On a sparkling Saturday morning, Julia led the group from Lemonwood cottages in the beautiful Dargle valley into the indigenous mistbelt forest, to follow a trail that wound through the old trees and dense understorey, then out into the bright sunshine of the grasslands, rich with a variety of wildflowers.

In the forest above Lemonwood

It was hard to say which was more absorbing – immersion in the cool lushness of the Kilgobbin forest at Crab Apple Cottages or walking in the clear air of the grasslands up on a high ridge of Old Kilgobbin and Carlisle Farms that provided panoramic views of the Midlands landscapes below.

Walking down to Lidgetton Valley

Walking slack packing style with a convivial group of people, breaking for snacks along the way, a picnic lunch at Pleasant Places, and stopping at Lythwood Lodge for afternoon drinks, was both relaxing and invigorating. It was lovely way to get in touch with diverse natural habitats, enjoy the fresh air and even drink clear natural water from forest streams.

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Many hikers stayed the night in the farm-style cottages on Blesberg Farm, where we gathered for an evening braai and array of delicious salads on the broad veranda of the gracious farmhouse.

In a presentation in a comfy lounge, Julia Colvin shared with us her vision for Spekboom Tours “We wish to work closely with conservancies to get school groups and communities to also experience the natural treasures that exist in the area.  Previously humans have tried subdue wild places and as a result some people argue that society is experiencing a nature deficit disorder. Exposure to green spaces helps to moderate our mood and improve our attention span. If we see ourselves as separate or removed rather than interconnected to nature, we will lack the compassion and motivation to do what is right for the planet. It all starts with an awe and appreciation for what we have in our own back yard.”

After supper, Wade Whitehead, CEO of FREEME KZN Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, filled us in on the latest releases that form part of FREEME’s ongoing Blue Duiker Reintroduction Project in the Dargle Forest. Raptor specialist Tammy Caine followed up with her well-illustrated presentation on forest raptors in the region, reminding us how the indigenous forests are at the heart of a complex and fragile eco-system.

Early on Sunday morning, everyone gathered at Blesberg farmhouse for breakfast.

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With the farm dogs in tow, we set off through the forested area, crossing a spectacular water feature built by previous owners the Molly and Murray Campbell.

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Then it was over a stone wall and out onto the grassland.  Grasslands cover approximately 30% of SA are are seriously transformed with only 3% of the original area protected. Frosts, fire and grazing maintain the grass dominance and prevent the establishment of trees.

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There were not a lot of flowers in this grassland, but we were pleased to find Pachycarpus natalensis.

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It was hot in the sunshine, but a brisk breeze and the sight of water cooled us all.

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The hills beckoned, so we didn’t linger for long. We spotted three oribi bounding out of sight ahead of us.

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The resident cows were curious about all the unexpected visitors.

r cattleWe were pleased to note that the small grassland streams were flowing, although not strongly.

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We climbed the hill to the lone old oak tree that has provided shade for generations of picnickers.

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Enjoying 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside.  Snow on the mountains to the west,

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Across the valley to Lidgetton, Curry’s Post and Karkloof

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South towards Inhlosane and Boston.

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Scilla nervosa flowering in the spots that the cows can’t trample. A small night adder slithered under a rock nearby.

r scilla nervosaThen we headed down towards the forest at Lemonwood,

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thankful for the shade and fresh cold water in the forest streams.

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Walker Yvonne Spain commented “It was a fantastic weekend. The mix of people was serendipitous. Everyone really seemed to click with each other, and it was a very happy social time. For me, the most commendable aspect of this initiative is that it is sensitive to the surrounding community of farmers/landowners and young people from disadvantaged communities. Your picture of the group around that big tree moved me, as did the knowledge that a percentage of your turnover is directed to developmental organisations. Participants in Spekboom hikes can know that they are really walking the talk and are part of thoughtful eco- tourism.”

Julia hopes one day to connect all the conservancies in the Midlands from the Kamberg and Nottingham Road to Hilton – giving people an opportunity to explore the biodiversity that occurs on private land, and benefiting conservation efforts by charging trail fees.

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Spekboom Tours donates 10% of the profits to local conservancies, makes a point of serving locally sourced mostly vegetarian meals, supports the local economy by using small homestays and allows people to experience a way of living which is sustainable, creative and rooted in environmental principles.

Dargle Conservancy is very grateful for the substantial donation towards the Dargle River Project received from the proceeds of this hike.

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Blue Ribbon uMngeni

The uMngeni was one of the first three rivers to be stocked with trout in May of 1890 (the others being the Bushmans River and the Mooi River).

Four generations of the Fowler family have grown up on the banks of the uMngeni and Andrew Fowler has fished it since the 1980s.  Since 2013, Andrew has lead the Natal Fly Fishers Club doing exceptional work clearing invasive plants along the banks of the uMngeni in Upper Dargle, contributing to improved water resources for millions of downstream users.  On Saturday, a group of river enthusiasts  joined him for a seven kilometre walk along the banks to celebrate his passion for this river and the improvement to the riparian zone.

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The river rises in uMngeni Vlei on a plateau between Fort Nottingham and Impendle and ambles just a few kilometres before plunging down a wooded kloof. Where it exits that kloof, it runs under a public road, and from there on down for just 17 kms, it is a viable trout stream.  Where it runs under the bridge on the Dargle Impendle road, just moments before plunging over the Dargle Falls, marks the lower end of the trout water.   11km of that 17km stretch, is accessible to the public through the Natal Fly Fisher’s Club (NFFC).  Over the past 30 years, club members have experienced insidious environmental degradation.  Andrew’s mission is to reverse that.

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Andrew tells us “As fly-fishermen, our interest in clearing the river is driven by a desire for a river which is less prone to siltation, more diverse in its aquatic and terrestrial insect population, and is therefore more suited to healthy fish populations. We desire well grassed banks, devoid of exotic invasive species that shade and denude, and better water flows.  Easier going and casting are very much secondary benefits and are not the main aim at all.  We are therefore supportive of clearing all the tributaries, and land in the catchment, and desire a restored grassland landscape with a healthy biodiversity, in which we are more likely to encounter wildlife and birdlife.  The #BRU (Blue Ribbon uMngeni) initiative hopes to extend beyond just the farms to which the fishermen have access, in the interests of the entire catchment and river, and is intended to endure for the long run.  It is our intention to hold annual clearing days in which follow up work is done to control wattle regrowth. Promoting the uMngeni as a great trout fishery, to ensure that it attracts future guardians, is also key to the long term success of our endeavours.”

ra andrew explainingWhile the trout fishermen have their own reasons for making this effort, the result is improved water for 6 million downstream users.  The uMngeni catchment is not very big and huge demands are made on this river for farming, industrial and household use.

A synopsis of NFFC efforts so far:

The volunteer days in 2013 and 2014 saw relatively light work take place with members using their own chainsaws and spraying equipment, removing alien plants from the South bank of the Umgeni, starting on Brigadoon (owned by Russell Watson) and working upstream.

In 2015 about half a km above where the Furth stream enters the Umgeni, NFFC sponsored a team of contractors and Russell Watson provided tractors, staff and TLB, while volunteers joined in the effort to clear 1.5 kms. On a follow up day, volunteers sprayed bramble on about 3kms of river bank.

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In 2016, two more volunteer days were held, where work was continued upstream onto the adjoining farm Furth. On one of those days there were only volunteers, on another a donation enabled a hired team of eight chainsaw operators. These days achieved clearing around 1.2 kms of water, again largely on the South bank.

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In April of 2016, two days were held where a large team of contractors were joined by a DUCT team and Russell Watson’s tractors, TLB and staff. This was funded by the proceeds of Andrew Fowler’s book, Stippled Beauties and Anton and Alison Smith. Over two days, both banks were completely cleared of wattle, and all trees were dragged out of the river channel, leaving a stretch of about a km completely transformed.

In May, schoolboys from Michaelhouse and St Johns College (JHB) were hosted on Chris Howie’s and William Griffin’s properties, where wattle regrowth and bug weed were cleared. Saws, pangas and gloves were sponsored by the NFFC and TWK in Howick, and DUCT supplied chemicals to stop regrowth.

MHS and St JohnsTwo days of clearing with contractors and casual labour took place in late August along the South bank – made possible by a R10 000 donation from the Natal Fly Fishers Club. In October 2016 a volunteer day sprayed bramble for 2 kms along the banks.

BRU clearing on uMngeni summer 2016

Andrew engages riverside landowners as much as possible. He has been very impressed with the work Don McHardy has done clearing the banks of properties near the road bridge across the uMngeni.  He is in discussion with landowners to clear areas on Rathmines and Ross Poultry properties.

Andrew discusses his preferred methods of working.  “A team of labourers with a few chainsaws will be able to do a lot, but will not be able to fell and drag big trees.  Also, those big trees are often best dragged out on the flatter side of the river, even if they were felled on the other side – for this e need tractors and a TLB. We believe it is very important not to fell trees into the river and leave them there to create logjams.  We prefer to drag them free of the floodplain, and if there is a bare steep slope nearby, we lay them across the slope (on the contour) to assist erosion prevention.  In Spring we plan to plant a seed mix of Teff and eragrostis or veld mix in places that have bare ground as a result of felling, to prevent erosion and provide a ground cover that will limit regrowth of wattles.”

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Everyone who joined Andrew to explore the area was most impressed. Penny Rees, who had walked this section with her DUCT River Walk team exactly five years ago, was thrilled at the improvements.  “We couldn’t actually walk on the bank here because it was so thick with wattle,” she enthused.

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This is a dairy and beef farm, so there was much discussion about the effect on the water quality of nutrification from cattle manure and fertilizer used to grow grass.  Pearl Gola observed “If the riparian buffer zones were wider (the legal requirement is 32m) many of the excess nutrients would be filtered out by the natural vegetation before entering the river.” Judy Bell added “By bringing the fences back from the edge of the river, one would also create corridors for the movement of wildlife.”

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There were plenty of log jams created by fallen wattle trees.  It was very clear how these slowed down the flow and caused siltation upstream.  While in rivers in America indigenous beavers actually build such barriers, here in KZN the streams never had trees along them – simply meandering through grassland, so these piles of alien branches in the river have no positive function.

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All morning, Inhlosane towered above us, enticing us along the banks through rye grass paddocks and grassland.

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Besides all the interesting discussion about trout and water and river health, we were thrilled to observe Jackal Buzzards right overhead, a Bushbuck emerging from the Ouhout thicket and a number of Reedbuck watching us from the top of a hill.

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We were delighted when Andrew lead us towards some rapids and a cooler box filled with ice cold drinks, taking the opportunity to kick of our shoes and paddle in the cold water so loved by trout. Someone even spotted one!

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The citizen scientists among us were unable to resist the opportunity to explore the riverbed rocks for invertebrates (which give an indication of the health of the river).  We turned over stones and found minute prongills and caddisfly larvae.

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Chair of Dargle Conservancy, Nikki Brighton, thanked Andrew for his efforts on behalf of the well-being of the wider community and biodiversity.  “Water does not come from a tap – it comes from the hills and wetlands – the ‘water factories’ – of the Midlands. Much of the original grassland riparian zone is degraded – most often with invasive plants like wattle, bramble and bamboo, which transform the natural landscape and overrun the original biodiversity.  The plants shade the water, change the temperature and the aquatic biodiversity, and dense stands prevent animals accessing the water. When this ecosystem is weakened water quality is affected. Six million people live downstream of the water catchment in Dargle, relying on correct management of this natural resource to provide their daily water. Andrew’s passion for the river has a positive impact way beyond Dargle.”

The Dargle Conservancy have made Andrew an Honorary Life Member of the organisation and presented him with a Dargle Dassie Certificate thanking him for his contribution to conservation.

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Andrew concludes “I am truly excited by what we have been able to achieve on some short stretches of river. The results are fantastic, but we have to be realistic and realise that the stream’s biodiversity will take time to recover fully.  Added to the conservation efforts of WWF in the area, Working for Water’s programme, the Dargle Conservancy clearing along the Dargle River, the River Walk team lead by Penny Rees and the sterling work of DUCT further downstream, there is a real groundswell of support for this river.  This is true conservation, not just banners and bumper stickers. The enthusiasm has been infectious, and many members of the NFFC have displayed commitment and passion.  Having been part of these days, I can personally attest to the camaraderie and drive as the guys get stuck in, dragging logs and cutting branches until their backs ache. I am proud to be part of it.”

Progress can be tracked on the Blue Ribbon Umgeni blog site. 

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Bananas Don’t Grow in Dargle

Well not usually.

However, when uber-gardener Lawrence Qholloi decides to grow bananas (and coffee, mango and casava) – they do! “I am a bit obsessed with tropical fruit at the moment,”  he laughs, plucking an almost ripe papaya from the tree inside his tunnel beside the mist-belt forest.

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Clearly, the forest inspires him.  “It is a perfect system, constantly recycling nutrients, generating huge biomass, and thriving with no inputs besides sunlight and water.”  This resilient natural system is what he aims to replicate through permaculture by creating a food forest.

The trees provide much needed shade for crops that don’t like the heat – so his harvest of black kale has been extended considerably and lettuce can grow even in summer.

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Naturally, beans twine up the four varieties of heirloom maize he has planted and squash covers the ground. Cleverly, each maize variety has been planted six weeks apart to ensure that cross pollination does not take place, and keep the seed pure.  “Lots grows happily in the shade, especially brassicas”, he says, “so one should not be put off food gardening if you don’t have full sun like the seed packets say.”  The biggest challenge in the tunnel has been soil building. Green manure cover crops help, as does the addition of organic matter from the farmyard. Lawrence has also added Beneficial Micro-Organisms (BIM) to help the food forest start building its own soil. To create BIM, Lawrence puts a cup of rice in an old nylon stocking and buries it for a month near natural, old growth forest.  After 30 days, the rice ball has been colonised by mould and other organisms and is placed in a brew of 75% water and 25% molasses for a further 30 days, before being diluted 1:10 parts of water and spread around the garden. Mulch is added constantly to keep the soil covered and allow micro-organisms to work.

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Outside the tunnel, he is transforming an old orchard into a polyculture system.  Pigs have been at work, getting rid of invasive kikuyu grass and now chickens forage amongst the fruit trees, eating insects and leaving manure.

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In small boxes with chicken wire tops, Lawrence has planted quick growing pioneers like buckwheat, lucern and chia that the chickens can snack on without digging up the plants. Chickens will also spend time inside the tunnel beneath the trees clearing out old beds and preparing the soil. “Chickens are originally a forest species, so feel safe in this habitat.  I keep the groups small (less than 12) as they get really stressed in large groups.”

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How does he manage to keep the banana happy during the frosty midlands winter?  The large, leafy top is chopped off and left around the base of the plant.  Next to the trunk a big drum filled with water acts as a solar energy store, warming during the day and slowly releasing the heat at night.  Decomposing compost heaps nearby also help raise the temperature. Clever.

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Lawrence has created permaculture gardens all over the globe, is passionate about turning scarcity into abundance and improving food security through holistic land management.  Should you want advice on your project, that may or may not include bananas, he is just the consultant you need.  qholloi@gmail.com

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Spirit of the Midlands

Ultimate Frisbee – The Beautiful Game

Twice a week a motley crew of Midlanders gather to play Ultimate Frisbee on the fields at Lions River Club in Dargle.  As the sun sets, artists, architects, photographers, farmers, shoemakers, students and IT-types aged between 16 and 56 dash across the 100m field, deftly flicking Frisbees.   Sure, things get competitive sometimes, but never at the expense of fair play, respect between players, adherence to the rules and the joy of playing.

While Ultimate Frisbee might not be a sport that you are familiar with, it is growing fast and may be included at the 2020 Olympics. The game is non-contact, combines speed and grace and at least three women must be included in any team of seven.

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Dedicated player Ryjin van Wyk “The culture of Frisbee is a beautiful thing. It appeals to those who have not played competitive sport before, are not keen on being battered.  The spirit of the game is what counts most, so it brings out the best in people.”   Ryjin was a pro-footballer for a while and remembers how, no matter how good the game was, the moment the whistle blew the teams separated and headed for the change room. In Frisbee, once the game is over, the teams form a tight circle with arms linked and discuss the game.  “Here we tell the opposing team what they excelled at, and the winning team will share tips on how to do better. Then we unanimously choose a man of the match.”

Rjyin van Wyk and Gerrit Blyleveldt - Lions Ultimate Frisbee - by Louis Bolton
Rjyin van Wyk and Gerrit Blyleveldt – Lions Ultimate Frisbee – by Louis Bolton

Self-refereeing? The rules are simple – contact with another player constitutes a foul. There is a 30 second window for those involved to discuss who gets the advantage, and then play continues. No one cheats – even at the top level where there is plenty of money involved.  Once a catch is completed within the ‘end zone’, that is a goal. The first team to reach 15 wins the game.

Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton

Last year, the Midlanders headed for Johannesburg for the Rocktober Frisbee Festival.  ‘We had cotton t-shirts printed with Love Lions and random shorts, but soon realised for a rag-tag farming crew we were pretty good!” remembers Ryjin. Since then, they have attended and organised several tournaments, with sixteen-year-old Lindo Mpangese from Curry’s Post being voted Player of the Tournament three times in a row!  Encouraging youngsters is an important part of the Lions philosophy.  Ryjin coaches a group of 7 to 12 year olds once a week, who are sure to take their place in the competitive team soon.

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The Lions started eight years ago, with stalwarts James Jordan, Nick Crookes, Dael Lithgow and Kim Goodwin as the core. They fondly remember how Justin McCarthy (now deceased) tore his achilles tendon playing his first ever game!  Little doubt that Justin would be thrilled to see how the barefoot team has grown, with over 30 people playing twice a week and teams from across the country eager to come to Midlands tournaments where the fields are beautiful and the people are genuinely good.

Kim Goodwin plays Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Kim Goodwin plays Frisbee by Louis Bolton

In collaboration with the Pietermaritzburg based team The Long Donkeys, they have successfully secured the 2017 Ultimate Frisbee SA Nationals to be held in the Midlands.

Joburg based player, Sally Crompton joined in the fun at the MadHatlands tournament hosted by Lions River and the Long Donkeys recently and thought it was amazing (particularly the local, homegrown, homemade organic, vegetarian feast at lunchtime). “The Lions team has grown so much since the first time I saw them and is one of the few clubs in South Africa with a diverse range of players.  Some talented young players were pulling off the most incredible throws, jumps and layouts this past weekend – Lindo and Sbu have pure natural talent which deserves to be nurtured and Josh, Alex and Michael have a lot of potential. The club has a refreshing creative spirit – one that is both focused on Spirit of the Game, but also on the high-paced talent of their members.  I believe that the Lions and Long Donkeys will pull off something great in a green hills of the Midlands in May 2017.”

Keen for some fresh air and good fun?  Check out their Facebook page Lions River Ultimate or contact ryang.vanwyk@gmail.com

Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton

Aloma’s Mushrooms

After spending 15 years in England, Aloma and Gordon Fleet settled in Dargle, built a solar powered home and looked around for a way of earning an income. “Our 12 hectares is a bit small for keeping cattle,” says Gordon, “So we were pleased to find a mushroom growing opportunity in the Midlands that fitted our farming needs neatly, although we didn’t have a clue about them to start.” All they had to do was build a wooden cabin to create the right humid environment, learn fast and get going.

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Racks hold hundreds of bags of straw inoculated with mycelium and the spores of oyster mushrooms.  After about a week they start to ‘pin’ (sprout). Although the temperature is controlled and humidifiers keep the room damp, the outside weather does affect their growth. When it is too hot they can dry quickly and are sprayed with extra water, or have frozen 2l bottles join them on the shelves to keep the air coming in cool and, when it is cloudy, rainy and misty (very common in Dargle) they grow like crazy.

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Aloma tends the needs of the mushrooms. “They are like art, just marvellous to observe. I really love it when they start pinning and the tiny mushrooms poke their heads through the slits in the plastic bags, looking like Mohawk hairdos!” Every morning, afternoon and evening she checks the racks and chooses the best clusters to pick, before they go wavy around the edges and begin to scatter their spores. Oyster mushrooms cannot be picked individually, or the cluster will die. Each cluster has 8 – 40 mushrooms, some of which ‘die’ off to give space to others. Each bag should produces up to 1kg of mushrooms over 10 weeks, which means she spends a lot of time in her grey gumboots, blue gloves and funky mask amongst the mushrooms. Once the inoculated bags have finished producing, the straw is tossed on the compost heap.

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The Fleet’s sell their organic mushrooms to a central distributor and are also regulars at the Dargle Local Market where their just picked and utterly delicious mushrooms are very popular.

Contact Aloma on 061 099 4037

Frack Free Midlands

The Lions River Club in Dargle was completely overwhelmed as 400 people arrived for the Rhino Oil & Gas Exploration Application Meeting on Tuesday 3 November. After only 11 people had come to their morning meeting in Taylor’s Halt, this was a bit of a shock!

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The visitors were greeted by a spectacular array of colourful posters and banners made by Midlands learners. Every inch inside and out of the building was covered. They were offered fresh delicious Dargle water (a precious resource) and homemade cordial. However, they had brought their own bottled water with them.

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As the crowd swelled, demonstrators shouted Angifuni fracking and Fracking No Way and toyi toyied in front of the building. Thandanani Luvuno and Nhlonipho Zondo performed a short energetic drama saying an unequivocal No to Fracking. Nicole Schafer and Jane Symes filmed the action and proceedings, interviewing students, farmers, activist and artists.

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At 2.30 they tried to start the meeting. They had no PA system, not enough chairs and hundreds of people could not even get near the windows, let alone into the room. “This is a shambles and disrespectful. Many of us have left our jobs and farms to attend the meeting and we can’t even hear what you are saying.”   The woman chairing the meeting, really battled to get any order and explain the objectives of the meeting: to share information and listen to objections and concerns. Shouts of ‘we don’t want to see your presentation, just go home’ were followed by ‘we reject the process unanimously.’

Bobby Peek of groundWork asked why there were no representatives of PASA, DWS, Dept of Agriculture present. Matthew Hemming of SLR told us they were invited, but he could not do anything if they did not come. Comments flew – including: “This is not a democratic process – we cannot endorse a meeting that is illegal, we do not consent. Our democracy has been outsourced to consultants! Fracking is a violent assault on all of us.” Someone shouted “Hands up if you do not agree to fracking” The entire hall and everyone outside, put hands up – 100% show of hands and lots of spontaneous clapping. Who wants fracking? No hands went up – THERE IS YOUR ANSWER.”

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There were high levels of frustration in the crowd – about not hearing what was being said and wanting to speak but not getting a chance. Some people were worried that if we walked out of the meeting in protest that we would lose our opportunity to be heard, others worried that if we stayed it meant we were supporting the whole fracking issue. Some people were very emotional and shouting, while others asked for quiet to be able to ask questions and have answers. Some people walked out. Quite a number of people arrived late, had a look, got annoyed about not being able to hear anything and left. Penz Malinga commented “I think the people from KZN, especially farmers and conservationist are going to stay firm on their NO to exploration and stop at nothing until they are heard. Some people didn’t hear a thing, standing outside. The consultants are going to have to find another way to listen to the concerns of the people.”

The Chairperson admitted that they had not expected so many people and that all meetings have been met with negative response. More shouting! “Stop the process now, stop wasting our time. Another meeting will waste more time. It is not a public participation process if we can’t hear.

Ben Goodwin pointed out that only a privileged few were present – those with access to the internet and information and the ability to take time off work to attend – were excluded. What about the small rural villages? Will they have any opportunity to defend their livelihoods? Why were the meeting notices were only in English mainstream newspapers? Malvina van Bremem asked where representatives of Ingonyama Trust were. One of the many school children present suggested that they hold their meeting in a school hall “It is our future, we are the next generation and this affects us most.”

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Robin Barnsley, who represented the 46 000 farmers who are members of Kwanalu, expressed deep concern that people were leaving in disappointment at not being able to participate. “Go away, prepare yourselves properly and come back.” Eventually they agreed that they would arrange another meeting at a bigger venue. Some serious questions were asked, but they were mostly overshadowed by the crowd who repeated relentlessly “We know that exploration will lead to fracking and we don’t want fracking. Have some manners and just leave us alone.” Barend Booysen pointed out “We are all active, concerned citizens around here and well informed on environmental matters, we have done our research. You came to present and to get a response, we all understand the process and outcomes. We have made our response clear – We are utterly against mining!”

Dave Pullin insisted, as did a few others, on knowing who Rhino Oil & Gas was – who are the shareholders? Phillip Steyn told us quietly that it was a privately owned company with two SA directors – himself and Patrick Mulligan. They took over a shell company and changed the directors. The parent company is Rhino Resources based in Dallas, Texas. He assured everyone that they had the finances and skills to complete this process. Comment from the crowd “If you handle fracking the way you handle meetings…we are all in for trouble.”

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Francois du Toit of ACT was firm “I have questions I do not want to be fobbed off or tick boxed. How did this procedure happen so fast? How does a young inexperienced COO get a licence to explore 18 million hectares? 90% of that land can’t be fracked due to the fracking regulations which prohibit drilling within 5 kilometres from the an existing municipal water well field and identified future well fields and sources, within 500 metres of borehole or the edge of a riparian area or within 1 kilometre of a wetland.” Bruce Haynes added “If less than 10% of the area can be mined, why are you wasting our time worrying about such huge area You are unnecessarily involving vast numbers of people and polarising them – this prohibits meaningful, calm debate from taking place. Extend your time frame! The gas has been there for millions of years, it is not going anywhere.”

The audience wondered how this had been sprung upon us so suddenly – where were the parliamentary debates? What about our Constitutional rights? Bobby Peek explained Operation Phakisa – a government plan to fast track mining as a development mechanism.  How do we show the government that we are not interesting in gas extraction? We were advised by SLR to write to the Ministers and to PASA. We managed to get PASA’s telephone number 021 938 3500, although not a contact person. Richard Kelland “This is not a silo issue. It is an issue of national importance involving not only the departments of Minerals, Energy, Water, Environment and Agriculture, but the entire cabinet, a full Parliamentary process, and the entire national community. We are the custodians of this land and its resources and environment for future generations. We have an obligation to mobilise on this issue. This is a national referendum issue if ever there was one, after thorough and exhaustive research and public participation.”

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The consultants noted that there was 100% objection to the process and agreed to send out the minutes of the meeting to everyone on the register. We didn’t observe anyone taking minutes, but perhaps they were recording.

Afterwards an exhausted and battered looking Philip Steyn was surrounded by people with questions. “You are an ordinary person, like us. You are young. What are you thinking? You know this could lead to something that we will never be able to undo.” He was urged to invest instead in renewables. UKZN hydrology student Asandile Mqulo said “You can see in his face, he has had enough, he feels awful.” Philip answered many comments with “No comment” and “That’s your perception” but didn’t really share any info.

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The early end to the meeting did mean we had an opportunity to buy the visitors a drink, and talk more calmly about the process as the sun set. Matthew Hemming was adamant that SLR would follow the process and if they found sound environmental reasons why it should not go ahead, that is what they would recommend. We couldn’t really understand why they had bothered to even start. Fossil Fuel Must Fall.

Bruce Haynes pointed out the paradoxical economy we live in – that we all drove cars to get to the anti-fossil fuels meeting. Charlie Mitchell “We need to convince the government to reduce energy consumption, to invest in renewable and sustainable energy at all costs, this will brighten the developing face of our country and prevent them from having to face the real wrath of the people who live here.”

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The next day they headed to Mooi River, where once again they were ill prepared and received a grilling from the farming community. It was pointed out that the venue was far too small and it was proposed that the meeting be reconvened at a larger more appropriate venue – Weston College offered the use of their facilities. Questions were asked why the meeting was so unrepresentative – there were only white people present – this was a major concern. It was pointed out that local black communities had been informed about the potential benefits that the gas industry could provide (Jobs and cheaper fuel) without being made aware of the risks involved. SLR responded that notices had gone out in Zulu as well as English.

Studies have shown that the area is under water stress (particularly the Mpofana system), so where is the water for fracking to come from? Rhino refused to respond. When asked how much water is tupically required per well in fracking operations, Rhino refused to answer. e 08 2

When asked if they understood the negative implications of fracking, they said they did, but they were involved in exploration, not fracking. SLR pointed out that they are paid whatever the outcome, so they had no vested interest in the outcome.

The view was expressed that the community did not want fracking or any process that would lead to it and that they may need to violently defend their lands if this project progresses.

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In Greytown, The SLR organisers once again totally under-estimated the local interest and had only 100 chairs. About 15 minutes before the meeting was due to begin, there was a large influx of attendees, so tables were removed and chairs shuffled forward to accommodate another 100 people. Still the walls were lined, with all standing only space occupied. SLR asked if everyone could hear? No, the people in the passageway, entrance rooms, verandah and street couldn’t hear. (At least another 300 people)

Vigorous consultation ensued between the members of SLR and some members of the community.  The suitability of the venue was highly questionable and declared unsafe for the numbers attending. A representative of SLR admitted this and said there were 2 options: The meeting could be held in 2 sessions, from 2.30 – 4.30p.m. and another from 4.30- 6.30p.m. OR the meeting be closed and a more suitable venue be located, with date and venue advised, in due course. SLR agreed that a second meeting be arranged, advertised with adequate notice, to allow the communities attendance.

An elderly lady spoke about the disrepsect the organisers had shown to the community. The whole exploration issue was centred around ‘money’ yet the organisers could not spend a little more for a more suitable venue. She was applauded by all present.

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Ms. Theresa Edwards (of the Greytown Municipality) invited the organisers to coffee and biscuits in her office to discuss a more suitable venue and date.

The meeting dispersed peacefully. It was a small Victory in what will be a long Battle.

Joy Alcock “It is my humble opinion that the ripples of understanding are slowly spreading out, to the furthest homesteads and rural communities. They are already experiencing the worst drought within living memory, their livestock are dying in droves.

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It was wonderful to see stern faced and serious farmers, (also facing extreme hardship), sitting alongside the young, bright-eyed (and unemployed) people of the Umvoti district. We are simply not prepared to risk the natural resources, our livelihoods and our children’s futures into the hands of people who cannot even organise a simple meeting.”

“An unequivocal success for our community. I think Rhino had no idea of the groundswell of opposition and will have to rethink at least their presentation techniques,” said Annie Waterhouse. They completely underestimated the depth of passion in the green hills of the Midlands.

no fracking eidin and malvina

You are urged to send your comments on the Rhino Application to SLR Consulting before the deadline of 12 November. We must insist on a full Strategic Environmental Assessment for the ENTIRE AREA and mapping of all current and future water sources.  Send emails to: mhemming@slrconsulting.co.za . You can download the background information document here. While you are in activist mode Please sign the petition too.

 

FRACKFREE KZN

Big River Little River

We all know where the Dargle River begins – in the grassland slopes below the road to Fort Nottingham, of which Will Griffin is custodian.

source of dargle river

Where the Nile starts, is another story. Jethro Bronner is at the Nile right now, having driven his little blue Alfa Guilietta all the way from our Dargle River to the Longest River in the World.

jethro baobab

The Nile has two major tributaries, the White Nile and Blue Nile. The White Nile is considered to be the headwaters and primary stream of the Nile itself. The Blue Nile, however, is the source of most of the water and silt. The White Nile is longer and rises in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, with the most distant source still undetermined but located in either Rwanda or Burundi. It flows north through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and South Sudan. The Blue Nile begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and flows into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where Jethro is.

The northern section of the river flows north almost entirely through the Sudanese desert to Egypt, then ends in a large delta and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Egyptian civilization and Sudanese kingdoms have depended on the river since ancient times. Most of the population and cities of Egypt lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan, and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along riverbanks.

jethro alfa on the nile

The Dargle River was named by Irish settlers who arrived in the valley in 1840 and felt the area looked much like the Dargle, County Wicklow near Dublin.

Inhlosane taken by Jethro Bronner

Although some of its journey is through beautiful original grassland, much of the riparian zone is degraded – often with plants like wattle, bramble and bamboo, which transform the natural landscape and overrun riparian zone biodiversity. For grassland streams, like the Dargle, these invasives shade the water, change the temperature and the aquatic biodiversity, and prevent animals accessing the water. When this ecosystem is weakened water quality is affected. As the Dargle is a tributary of the uMngeni River, which provides 6 million people with water, this is cause for concern.

Jethro’s Journey supports our river bank rehabilitation programme.

jethro dargle car sticker

You too can help protect our water sources and ensure there is delicious Dargle water for all. Water is everywhere; in coffee, pizza, cabbages and strawberries.  Did you know that making just one pair of jeans uses of 10 000 litres of water?

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Six million people live downstream of the water catchment in Dargle, relying on correct management of this natural resource to provide their daily water. Water does not come from a tap – it comes from the hills and wetlands – the ‘water factories’ – of the Midlands.

kilgobbin stream crop

This campaign aims to protect our water sources by encouraging everyone to make a donation to restore the rivers flowing through Dargle (and eventually to Blue Lagoon in Durban). Dargle Conservancy has a programme to clear the riparian zone of the Dargle and uMngeni rivers. R100 clears a metre of the river and keeps it clear of invasive plants. How many metres would you like to protect? How many glasses of fresh, cold water will you drink this week?

There are two options to make donations:

  • SMS ‘DONATE DARGLE’ to 40580. SMS costs R20 per sms on all SA Networks – free minutes do not apply.
  • Or go to the Dargle Rivers webpage and you can make a quick, easy, more substantial  donation through GivenGain.

Invest in your water supplies by making a donation to restoring this ecosystem. Probably the most important thing you will ever do.  Giving generously to show your support for Jethro’s epic drive to the Dargle River in Ireland after which our Dargle is named would be pretty good too.  Follow his progress: www.dargletodargle.com  or http://www.facebook.com/jethro.bronner

r dargle river winter july 2015 035

Chris Slater of Croft farm

When Chris moved from the city to a defunct chicken farm in Dargle he didn’t intend to become a farmer. However, there were barns, fields, staff and a processing room, so he thought he’d see what he could do with the resources at hand.  Within a few years he was producing such delicious chicken under the Croft Farm label that he won the coveted Best Producer in the Free Range category at the Eat In DStv Food Network Produce Awards.

r chris slater of croft farm chickens

Now there are two week old bundles of fluff huddled under the heating lamps on a chilly day and a couple of hundred adult chicks pecking at the earth in the sunshine nearby.  Chris has learnt what works best by trial and error. “Lots of the big commercial producers laugh at me trying out new ideas – like growing mealworms, or letting the chickens roam freely.  I remember being told that chickens don’t like to go outside – that’s nonsense!  They are originally forest creatures, so dislike the blazing sun, preferring the shade of the barn on really hot days.”

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Chris is certain that a better life means there is less mortality (lost profit) and better tasting chicken too.  He mixes the feed himself and to cope with the congestion the birds sometimes get, puts Eucalyptus oil in their drinking water. When the inevitable slaughter day arrives, Chris prefers to use small scale abattoirs that use old school manual methods.

r croft farm chick 020

“I’m an internet farmer, I learn and try new things all the time,” he says. This is an advantage in a rapidly changing world where methods passed down through generations don’t necessarily work anymore.  Chris was recently given some big spotted pigs – Duroc cross Hampshire – so he is giving pig farming a go.  “They are real escape artists, especially when the acorns are falling,” he laughs, so he is sturdily fencing four areas with a central shelter for them to live happily, grubbing about without disturbing the neighbours. He turned a couple into sausages recently, they were a real hit.

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He also produces delicious eggs under the Fresh Start label. While Chris enjoys spending time with his chicks, he is always eager to try new things and has begun brewing craft beer with a likeminded entrepreneurial friend, Pete Foulis, in a converted chicken shed!

If you get up with the birds, you can find Chris’ produce at the Karkloof Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. http://www.croftfarm.co.za

Dear Forest

Thank you for welcoming us.

We thought it was funny at first when we heard we were going to be visiting a home but we soon realised that a habitat is a home and just as we would never barge into someone’s home uninvited and behave badly, we should do the same here.  We did some deep breathing at the edge of the forest to become more aware of our surroundings. Then we entered the magic gate into your home!

r entereing forest

We enjoyed walking slowly through the trees – smelling, looking, feeling and discussing the changes in temperature, humidity, plant structure and the environment. There were tall ones and short ones. We thought we got lost and wondered which way to go, but quickly found our path again. The treasure hunt was so much fun! We had to find something young, something old, something dead, something growing, something affected by humans, something affected by animals – this gave us time to explore with all our senses and to look at things really closely.

r Forest outing Dargle 27 May

We found seeds, feathers, snail shells, interesting fungi and lichens. When we got to the stream we went habitat hunting finding places where spiders were nesting, interesting burrows in the stream banks and places were civet and mongoose had come to drink. We saw a yellow frog, a Knysna loerie, a beetle with black spots, a white butterfly and bees. Others found bush-pig tracks and porcupine quills and a tiny nest.

We headed further along the path gazing up at the huge trees and speaking quietly. Many of us had never been in a forest before and we realised how different a forest ecosystem is from the grassland ecosystem where our school is.  There were many different colours of green and some of the trees were so big. We noticed how good the soil is because of all the organic material falling and decomposing on the ground.  We saw that there is a lot of biodiversity in this place – something we had only heard about in class before. We remembered that it meant “lots of living things”, but seeing for ourselves really helped us understand the difference between ecosystems and what biodiversity really is. They are difficult English words!

r hugging tree

At the next big clearing we settled down and closed our eyes, listening to the forest. Sitting quietly on the forest floor we observed the secrets of the forest and wondered what was behind the bushes? We thought about the important part this forest played in our ancestor’s lives, providing trees to build houses. We heard our hearts beating, birds singing, Samango monkeys in the tree tops and felt so happy, safe and peaceful.

r quiet in forest

On the way back, we returned all the treasures we had picked up to their home – the forest.  We did take just a few Cape Chestnut seeds to grow and promise to bring them back to plant one day. We discussed how protected areas such as this forest are needed for the wild animals to live and hide, breed and roam. We all agreed that it is very important.

We had a magical time exploring – discovering and experiencing the ancient forest for ourselves. The fresh, cold water from the spring tasted delicious.  We hope you heard us saying thank you when we emerged from the dark forest.

We also want to thank the Midlands Meander Education Project for taking us, the Dargle Conservancy and Midlands Conservancies Forum for raising the money from N3Toll Concession to make it possible. Thank you Katie Robinson and Barend Booysen for taking care of this special forest, we won’t forget our visit.

Love from the Grade 6 and 7 learners at Dargle Primary and Corrie Lynn School

r Forest outing Dargle 27 May

The Dargle Conservancy supports environmental education in our local schools through an annual grant to the Midlands Meander Education Project.  This project co-teaches creative and meaningful environmental lessons in schools across the Midlands. Encouraging independent thinking and positive action, wise resource use and creating a deeper connection with nature and each other.  

Dargle Primary visited Lemonwood forest on 27 May, and Corrie Lynn Primary visited Kilgobbin forest on 24 June 2015. This is a compilation of the accounts of both excursions. Thanks Shine Murphy and Gugu Zuma for facilitating the trips.