“I saw a cyclist stopping to pick a nice bunch of pink Pompom flowers next to Cedar Road in Nooitgedacht and I decided ‘That’s it!’ I would do my school study for the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists on this terrible weed.”
Fifteen year-old Christopher Tanton’s project was entitled ‘Pink Death’: a study on the effectiveness of various methods in eradicating the infamous Pompom weed. He walked away with first prize in the Grassland Society of Southern Africa Award for the Best Grassland Project at Eskom’s regional finals this year.
Christopher, a grade nine learner at HeronBridge College in Gauteng, lives in Vlakfontein in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy near Lanseria Airport. He decided to do his study on a subject that is close to many residents’ hearts: how to get rid of the hated Pompom.
“Part of the reason why he opted for the project was seeing the impact of this invasive plant on our lives - the constant fight to rid the veld of it every summer,” says Jaqui, his mother. “The time, effort and cost involved are immense.”
“The most terrifying experience of my life!” exclaimed Shan Muller of Hills and Dales. “Our house was hit by a tornado during the storm that devastated Gauteng at the end of November - a proper twister. The noise was like a jumbo jet crashing into a freight train.”
The trees on the Mullers’ driveway were uprooted and flung across their roof, loosening roof tiles which swept in circles around the house - “like chicklet bubblegums!” - and smashed through windows. “The stable roof was flung over our house and landed outside our bedroom,” Shan recounted the chaos. “I was alone at home at the time, the power was out, there was glass all over the place, the water came through the ceilings and I had five terrified dogs to cope with! The barn roof flew over the electric fence into the farm next-door. Our groom’s clothes were found hanging from trees. The damage done in a few minutes was unbelievable.”
A colleague of the Mullers was travelling on the N14 at the time. “I saw this strange funnel-shaped ‘cloud’, roughly in the direction of Lanseria and wondered what on earth was happening. A tornado was the last thing on my mind.”
The Mullers’ insurance company paid promptly. “There was no contesting the cause or the damage!” said Shan.
While picking up the pieces on their property after the tornado, Shan Muller is collecting dressing gowns for three senior citizens homes for Christmas. “Any gown is welcome,” she says. “New ones, second-hand ones, long, short, fluffy, elegant, needing a patch - I will repair and wash, ready to deliver them.”
Shan’s aim is to collect 100 gowns and she already has 46. “We live near Lanseria and I am happy to collect in a radius of about 20 km - that is roughly as far as Fourways.”
If you’d like to help - and clear out your wardrobe - contact her on 072 245 9756.
A bird paradise
“‘Tinktinkies’ or ‘Klopkloppies’?” Now I know what my grandmother always talked about - Cisticolas!” exclaimed Mercia Komen of Doornrandje on a bird walk on 8 December. “Afrikaans names for birds and flowers are so wonderfully descriptive! We saw the Wing-snapping, the Zitting and the Desert Cisticola. These tiny birds fly so fast that their wings appear to be vibrating. Add that they fly so high that they ‘pop’ out of sight in a flash....almost like magic.”
The bird walk, arranged by the Crocodile River Reserve committee, was led by bird fundi, Anthony Paton, starting from “The Sheds” off Gemstones Road in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy. “This group quickly proved to be adventurous, patient and persistent - a recipe for a very good bird outing,” commented Anthony. “Birding diverse micro-habitats in the Conservancy resulted in a very good list. We recorded 70 species, including an excellent sighting of a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos, which pursued each other in flight, passing almost directly over the group.”
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Establishing a formal Nature Reserve in the south-eastern buffer of the Magaliesberg Biosphere will not change landowners rights in the slightest, says Jenny Stevens, former Reserve Manager of Dinokeng.
“My land is my private land. Government can’t tell me what to do with it,” she added. Jenny was speaking to landowners in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy region on 10 November. She was invited to discuss local landowners’ concerns about becoming part of a registered Nature Reserve, drawing on her own experience in Dinokeng.
Dinokeng is the first free-roaming Big Five residential game reserve in Gauteng.
The groundwork done on establishing a Nature Reserve in the south-eastern buffer of the Magaliesberg Biosphere has been a rocky journey. However, considerable progress has been made over the past four years. Called the Crocodile River Reserve, it includes the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy, plus large areas to the west and east of the Conservancy.
Local landowners understandably want to know what the advantages and possible pitfalls are of signing up for a Nature Reserve. On 10 November the larger than expected turn-out necessitated a last-minute change to a larger conference room at Idlewinds Conference Centre.
“There are three things I want to make clear at the start,” Jenny kicked off. “A nature reserve is a difficult thing to achieve, there are no easy fixes. But, when it comes right, it is wonderful!”
Describing the decade-long effort to establish Dinokeng, she said: “Some landowners regarded it as a ploy by Government to get us to willingly sign our land over, and believed that once we signed our land over, it would come and hijack the whole project.
“What has happened in Dinokeng is that each landowner has retained ownership of his/her property. They have retained the right to do on that property as they like, as long as they obey the nature conservation rules and the rules of the land in which we live. Those rules are binding on us as they are on anyone else. And it is important that we know those rules and what the limits are.
“I highly recommend you strive for this lifestyle but there is no way that you will get this done as individuals. It will only work if you pool your efforts, your talents and financial resources - if you are a cohesive force. Each landowner is valuable and can offer something to the project.
“Enjoy what you have and why you bought here. You could have bought in a lot of places, but you chose to buy HERE because what the land offers you appeals to you. Keep that, and protect that.”
In the past en years land values peaked and dropped and climbed again, Jenny said. “Property values have substantially increased. Not only because of the Reserve but also because of the economic increase in land value. But being in the Dinokeng Game Reserve has definitely added a status to the properties.”
"A nature reserve turns you into a legal entity and that protects the land in perpetuity. Nature Reserve status gets registered on your title deed which means that you are literally protecting your land for your children and the people coming after you. And even if it has gone through ten owners, they can’t change the land use. So you are creating something that is going to be of value to the whole of Gauteng. For me to know that the effort that went into creating Dinokeng Game Reserve is something that someone can’t take away at the stroke of a pen or a change of legislation, makes me feel good.”
“It is a long road but not an impossible road. Government has done it once, so with you coming in now, riding on our coat-tails, at least there is a path that wasn’t there before. So we can take the lessons we have learnt in Dinokeng and apply them to your area.”
A transcript of Jenny’s talk and the questions that followed is available on www.CrocodileRiverReserve.co.za
Ouch! Procrastinate and pay! On three properties in Hills and Dales in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy more than R20 000 has already been spent this season on the first treatment for the pink Pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum). The alien infestation on these properties has been very high.
The Pompom-growing season started a little later this year because the summer rains arrived late. Landowners could have been lulled into inactivity, but those swho have lived with this scourge of invasive vegetation know better.
For the past three years Mercia Komen, chairperson of the Crocodile River Reserve*, has trained and organized a core team to combat Pompom spread in the Egoli Granite Grassland which covers roughly half of the Conservancy area.
“This year we upgraded the backpack sprayers to 20-liter capacity and a more durable pressure system and the smart new overalls were sponsored by Dr Frik Barnard of Hills and Dales,” she says. The team sports the Crocodile River Reserve logo on the sleeves of their blue overalls so they are easily identifiable in the veld.
“If you don't deal with Pompom your cost and effort will grow exponentially. Also, if you do not treat these listed invaders and you adjoin a property where the owner is being responsible, you will be reported to the authorities for non-compliance. Sentences include stiff fines and jail time - it is an offense to leave aliens untended,” she emphasises.
It is important to use a registered herbicide. A product from the local nursery or hardware is not going to do the job. The recommended herbicide is Plenum, but you need to buy 10 litres at a time. Access, another herbicide, can be purchased in 5 litre quantities. See www.ecoguard.co.za.
“The work done in the Egoli Granite Grassland is on a cost-recovery basis. It is not economical to drive the team far and wide. Each local area should have a team that can easily reach the required properties - it makes the work effort more affordable,” says Mercia.
Guidelines on treating Pompom can be found on the following websites:
“The perfect solution for an over-heated brain and a stressed body at the end of a long year.” This was the comment from one of the piggy bank artists at Petro Lemmer’s paper mache workshop in November.
Under Petro’s expert guidance a group of local women set out to produce masterpieces of piggy banks from colourful scrap paper and glue made of flour. The “artists’” approaches differed considerably. There were the perfectionists who carefully smoothed eight layers of paper onto a fat balloon, and the breezy types who got the pigs’ ears at a slightly reckless angle. And a couple of rebels who decided pigs were out and fish or funny faces were more fun.
The workshop, a Crocodile River Reserve initiative, was held at The Sheds off the Gemstones Road in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy. Situated on the divide of the granites and dolomites, The Sheds overlook the Schurveberg range rising from the grasslands to the north of the Hennops River.
NASA’s Earth-observing satellites have circled our globe for more than a decade, providing pertinent information about wildfires around the planet. Why is NASA pointing its lens back at Earth in search of fire? Firefighters use the information to battle fires, while scientists look at fires’ impact on climate and ecosystems. Two of the flagship Earth-observing satellites are Terra and Aqua, which have circled the planet for the past 10 years.
NASA says these satellites have “detected more than 40 million actively burning fires and observed nearly 10 billion acres of charred land during tens of thousands of orbits.”