Conservancy Covid-19 Response

The vision of the Dargle Conservancy is to strengthen its effectiveness as an independent organisation, and in coalition with other like-minded people and bodies, to work proactively to achieve a greater Midlands area that is wisely managed by all to ensure long term environmental sustainability.

The recent Covid-19 Crisis has demanded that Dargle Conservancy expand its activities to include assistance for vulnerable communities affected by Lockdown and loss of income.   For over a decade, Dargle Conservancy has supported initiatives in local schools and communities which aim to increase awareness of the importance of caring for the natural environment and the creation of vegetable gardens.  There can be no doubt that when communities are stressed and hungry, there will be a negative impact on wildlife and nature.

Zuzokuhle (Zu) is situated beside the road between Dargle and Howick. Tucked between the motorway and the railway line in Tweedie, it is a small settlement of dwellings creatively built from scrap wood from the local pallet factory. While there are advantages to living close to the town of Howick, life without basic services is pretty challenging at the best of times.  Convid-19 and the Lockdown, meant that many sources of employment dried up and vulnerable people became even more desperate.  Through local networks it become clear that many people had suddenly lost their income generating opportunities (from recycling, car guarding) and needed help.

Dargle Conservancy set about supporting this community by providing basic provisions and toiletries. Local farmers have contributed too. Manny Salgado delivering cabbages and butternuts and dozens of eggs from Kevin Barnsley. Gugu Mungwe, a young woman passionate about her community, who has lived at Zuzokuhle her entire life, is the connection to ensure that the food aid is distributed to those who need it most.

Along the Petrusstroom Road in Dargle, residents of Nxamalala Village have also been affected. Many homeowners here rely on casual employment, hawking snacks at the local school or seasonal work on farms. For lots of children, the meal provided by the school feeding scheme, is their main one of the day, so with schools closed, they are hungry.  Dargle Conservancy committee member Gugu Zuma says things are hard and people are starting to panic. “Shops are so far away, even if you have money it is a challenge to get groceries now. Luckily, some of us have food gardens which are helping, and we are sharing our groceries with those who need it.”

The Dargle Conservancy Covid-19 fund is also supporting vulnerable families in neighbouring Impendle, where many depend on social grants supplemented by occasional work, and hundreds of children rely on the meal they receive at school. “With no way of earning even a small amount of money, families are desperately waiting for their child grants to come in May,” says Impendle resident Zandile Sikhakane, “Thank you to all members of Dargle for supporting these families. I was so touched by the words of Miss Thembi Ndlela. She said ‘I don’t have the words to say thank you for the food. Me and my children we were going to drink water and sleep with only water if this organization didn’t save us. Please pass my thanks to them. I cry when my children say they are hungry.’

 In the Hlelolusha area, Nomvula Mnikathi is extremely concerned about all the children who are not getting a meal while the schools are closed. These two women are helping identify families in need and distribute food parcels with assistance from the Dargle community.

Plenty of pledges from members of the Conservancy, and a generous donation of R20 000 from the St Andrews Dargle Community Church to the relief project, has meant that more families (over 80 so far) are receiving some help. Thank you.

Lynne Garbutt (treasurer of the Dargle Conservancy) has never been involved in anything like this before but is using her corporate skills to get organised rapidly, raising funds as needed and making sure the produce gets to the right people. “Much to my surprise, I am really enjoying this and meeting such interesting people,” she says.

Should you wish to support this community particularly, contact Lynne Garbutt 082 457 2583, or make a donation directly to: Dargle Conservancy, First National Bank, Howick Branch code: 220725, Acc : 622 1187 9236, Ref: Covid19

Dargle by Numbers

The Annual Game Count was resurrected in our valleys and hills in late June this year.  This time of year was recommended by Ezemvelo because much wildlife congregates on the pastures that farmers have planted (and perhaps irrigated) so they are easier to spot.  We didn’t realise that it would clash with a rugby match or that many people prefer to watch wild men on TV to wildlife on their farms!  Next year, we will host it on a Friday instead.

r game count night fracktaviasta 035

Between 5pm and 7pm, Dargle, Lidgetton and Lion’s River residents wrapped up warmly and headed onto their properties to see who shares it.  Some sat quietly in the forest with a flask in hand, while others packed the kids in the car and drove along farm roads with eyes peeled. Afterwards, many people came down to the Lions River Club where EKZNW Honorary Officers, Alan Jack and Caroline Leslie were collating all the exciting sightings and Jeremy Barlow was serving scrummy soup and sherry.

r game count night fracktaviasta 020

25 properties participated. Reedbuck, Bushbuck, Oribi, Duiker were the main sightings, with most people concluding that numbers were lower than usual.  Some lucky observers spotted a mongoose, a serval and a genet. Only 5 jackal, 4 porcupine, 2 rabbits and 11 bushpig were seen – we hope there are many more out there.

r game count night fracktaviasta 018

At a presentation on Saturday morning, Neville van Lelyveld pointed out the three types of poaching that occur in our area Subsistence, Commercial and Syndicate and explained the differences.

frack free foto booth dargle 037

Brian Jones of SA CAN updated us on their work with anti-poaching and gave everyone who attended a free three month trial of SA CAN services.  Remember to call them with any incident of poaching – they cannot respond to all of them, however it is important to build up a record and if they observe a lot of activity in Dargle, they will focus their attention here.  083 799 1916.  You do not have to give your name.

The Stock Theft Unit of SAPS is now dealing with poaching and wildlife crime, so a really good idea to report to them as well: Warrant Officer DN Kay 083 778 0864.  Save these numbers in your phone now.

Later, on a chilly, moonless evening, Jenny Goddard was part of a small but intrepid group who joined Neville and Hayley van Leyleveld on a 2 hour guided game walk on the Sinclair farm.

r game count night fracktaviasta 040

“Unfortunately the wildlife decided not to play ball, and other than hearing a group of reedbuck calling to each other in the dark, our only “sighting” was a stray cow that gave us a massive fright when she appeared in our midst from no-where!  Neville’s interesting anecdotes, the information he gave us on poaching, and his immense knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Dargle kept us intrigued during the walk. We certainly came away very much the wiser.”

On Sunday morning, Katie Robinson hosted a Track, Scat and Snare walk on Lemonwood.

track scat walk

Due to recent logging activity there was not much animal movement so the group proceeded through the boundary fence onto Iain Sinclair’s property.  First we came across Jackal scat that contained scrub hare and vlei rat fur enabling us to see clearly its natural diet. To everyone’s excitement we found Great Spotted Genet tracks and scat and later, a print in the mud from a Marsh Mongoose – two creatures not often observed.  We also found Bushbuck, Reedbuck and Spurwing Goose tracks during our walk on a really lovely sunny day.


Many thanks to Neville and Hayley van Lelyveld for their enthusiastic efforts to make our Game Count weekend a




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.

Holiday Fun at Nxamalala

Dargle Conservancy organised a Holiday Club at Nxamalala village on the Petrusstroom Road.  Gugu Zuma ran it with enthusiasm and imagination!dargle holiday club nxamalala 011

The kids were so happy to be involved as it was the first time they had ever had a holiday club. Thobani Gumede said “It is the first holiday that I do something meaningful. Usually we just play soccer.”

Nxalalala kids gather for holiday fun

On Wednesday the focus was on Farming – comparing industrial and family farming and discussing the importance of healthy food. Everyone was surprised to learn that healthy food is that which you grow in your garden, rather than that you buy at the shop.

dargle holiday club nxamalala 015

Most commercial vegetables have been sprayed with chemicals that are not good for your body. Now everyone is keen to make an organic garden to keep their families healthy and pass this message onto their friends.

dargle holiday club nxamalala 014

On the second day we discussed the water cycle and water pollution before heading down the road to do a miniSASS test in the uMngeni River.

Nxamalala kids head to the wetland

We found some insects and worked out that the river was in Poor Condition which is not good for drinking. Mhloniswa Ncele was surprised “I always thought that moving water was clean.”


We also explored the wetland. The kids knew a lot about wetlands from school lessons and have made a commitment to look after the wetland in Nxamalala. Sabelo Zuma found a frog “I always thought that frogs were dangerous, but now I am not afraid to touch and hold them.” Using candles and watercolours, everyone drew pictures of things they observed in the wetland.


On Friday, we made mandalas using leaves and flowers that we picked around the houses.


This was part of an Anger Management lesson. The basic principles being: expect the best, think before reacting, ask for a non-violent path, care for others and respect yourself. All these are transforming powers and I taught the children how to apply these in their own lives. We used these words when we created the mandala. The boys were so amazed to know that there was a way to solve a problem non-violently through good communication.


This was our last lesson and everyone enjoyed it. Peni Hanbury, Jenny Fly and Nikki Brighton supplied sandwiches, juice and fruit each day. “They asked if we could please have a regular Enviro Club in Nxamalala.” concludes Gugu.

dargle holiday club nxamalala 001

Splashes & Stoneflies in the Dargle River

We think our river is pretty special and hope to encourage everyone alongside it to take care of it.  Earlier this month, members of the Conservancy and friends gathered for a Water Workshop. It was a glorious, sunny summer day. Penny Rees was delighted to be back one of her favourite places – the Dargle River on Howard Long’s farm Craigdarroch.

Water Workshop 017

This spot was chosen because it is one of the few parts of the Dargle River that is in good condition.

res Dargle River Workshop 093

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

Dargle River Workshop 001

We then headed out to the river, passing large bulls getting ready to be shown at the Royal Show and hearing about the history of the farm.

Dargle River Workshop 017

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

stone fort 1

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

Dargle River Workshop 025

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

res Dargle River Workshop 019

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

Water Workshop 009

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

Dargle River Workshop 029

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

res Dargle River Workshop 034

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

Dargle River Workshop 067

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

Dargle River Workshop 068

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

Water Workshop 015

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

Dargle River Workshop 073

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

Water Workshop 019

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

Dargle River Workshop 069

Everyone had fun splashing in the river and learning about all the interesting creatures which inhabit it. The dogs had a ball! Thanks to Midlands Conservancies For

res Dargle River Workshop 028