Arranged by the Crocodile River Reserve
Sunday 24 August
Dr Adam Bumby of Pretoria University takes the ever popular geology walk through granites, dolomites, stromatolites of Hennops River, Hills and Dales and Roodekrans.
Venue: The Sheds, off Gemstone Road in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy (directions available)
Time: 08:30 for 09:00
Cost: R60 pp. R30 for kids under 12. Refreshments included.
Sunday 14 September
Ride the Rhenoster mountain bike ride
Bookings open in August
Talk to the Trees!
Members of the Tree Society takes us on a walk from the banks of the JukskeiRiver and up and around World's View Hill. In this area there are more tree species in a few hundred hectares than in the whole of the British Isles.
Meeting point in Vlakfontein: To be announced
Cost: R60 pp. R30 for kids under 12.
Saturday 18 October
Plate decorating workshop
Decorate a bisqueware plate or jug for kiln-firing
More details in next VeldTalk!
Saturday 25 October
Artists in the Sun!
A relaxing day for seasoned as well as budding artists - with the Schurveberg and the sweeping grasslands to inspire stunning works of art.
Venue: The Sheds, off Gemstone Road in the RNC (directions available)
Cost: R60 pp; R30 for kids under 12. Bring a packed lunch or order from The Sheds when booking.
Info and cost: www.crocodileriverreserve.co.za
Sunday 2 November
Glorious grasses and spring flowers.
A leisurely walk through the veld with experts Alan Short and Antoinette Eyssell to point out the gems under our feet.
Venue: The Sheds, off Gemstone Road in the RNC (directions available)
Cost: R60 pp and R30 for kids under 12. Refreshments included.
The cows of Netso Farm on the Gemstone Road in the RNC grazed peacefully as they watched 90-odd runners and walkers weaving through the veld. The annual Trail Run fundraiser took place on 21 June, organized by CAD - Christian Against Drugs. “CAD supports addicts and their families through rehabilitation and thereafter,” says Yolandie Johnson, one of the organizers, who lives at Netso.
Added benefits for participants, apart from the fresh morning air, were the sweeping views over the grasslands and the Schurveberg range to the north and chance encounters with the game of the Roodekrans Game Reserve. After the run there was local produce to enjoy - homemade biscuits, boeries, drinks and handcrafts. Join them next year!
The existence of the nuclear facility at Pelindaba nearly sunk the proposed Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve. Last year UNESCO advisers recommended that the application be declined because Pelindaba was included in the map. Years of work by the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group (MBIG) was in danger of landing in the rubbish bin.
Last minute changes to maps and reports excised Pelindaba and the application was presented with adjustments. A meeting hurriedly convened in May had everyone on tenterhooks again because this time the boundaries of the Buffer Zone had to be re-drawn! Officials proposed a buffer area which excluded large parts of RNC, shrinking the “buffer” to the core area of the Cradle of Humankind to a scant three kilometres.
The MBIG team put heads together and presented another proposal - a map put together by MBIG member, Belinda Cooper, which provided graphically a weighting of the conservation value by farm area. This justified an alternative boundary proposal.
“We pulled out all stops to provide reasoned and considered proposals,” says Mercia Komen, another MBIG member. “Belinda’s map helped a great deal because our proposal saw the exclusion of neighbouring conservancies Francolin and Elandsfontein. We could not propose such radical action purely on a whim.”
The International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere met on 10 June for the 25th year to consider applications. Paul Fatti, chairman of MBIG says: “It seems that UNESCO have accepted our application, subject to us getting endorsements for the new buffer zone. We have until the end of September to resubmit.”
The MBIG committee and officials meet again on 4 July.
“You cannot fix stupid but you can replace it and rectify bad planning!” James Williamson was incensed.
He was recalling the tragic accident he witnessed on 4 June on the R512 near Blair Atholl, when Karin de Jager had to be hospitalised with severe injuries and her husband, Romano, was killed.
“They had just dropped their 18 month-old baby with her parents and were on their way home. Just before the downhill stretch to the Home of the Chicken Pie there is a blind rise where the left-hand lane suddenly merges with the fast lane and ends in a donga. This is where their hit the ditch at speed.
“There was no notice of the merge, so anyone who doesn’t know the road well is in considerable danger. When we arrived on the scene the car’s wheels were still turning. That stretch of road is a death trap. This was not the first accident on that spot.”
Lise Essberger, owner of the nearby Lethabo Estate, immediately contacted the roads authorities. Andre Kilian, Deputy DirectorGeneral, Gauteng Province Department of Roads and Transport, responded quickly, He ordered repairs to the shoulder erosion and a check on the road signage such as reflective warning signs.
“The designs and tender documentation for the rehabilitation of this road has been completed, but unfortunately we have not been allocated funds for this project. We will have to monitor this road very closely to check what maintenance is required in the short term,” said Kilian.
By the last week in June the donga had been roughly filled and some warning signs were up. Not ideal, but a start.
Gauteng in winter deserves the name of South Africa’s ugliest province. Vast areas blackened by fires, smoke-filled skies, animals and birds killed in their thousands - many fires started because of someone’s weird compulsion to strike a match and watch the veld burn…
While much effort is put in by landowners in the rural areas to make firebreaks to prevent runaway fires, thousands of hectares are destroyed when fires are started deliberately or through negligence.
Caption: Jaksie Parsons (2½) of Hills and Dales is initiated into the skill of firebreaking by Big Jakes, his father.
Statistics* for fires in Gauteng (between July and September 2013) underline the damage:
*Provided by Deon Greyling, Hartbeesfontein Conservancy
VeldTalk estimates that the number of fires could be far higher than those officially reported. And who counts and reports the wildlife and birds lost?
Photo: Tyrone Mckendry
After a fire in Doornrandje
There is a growing determination to tackle the problem jointly by working together in Fire Protection Associations (FPAs).
An FPA covering the proposed Crocodile River Reserve, which includes the RNC, was launched on 13 April this year.
Nothing underscores our inter-connectedness as much as the environment. Air and water know no boundaries. What happens in one part of the country affects us in another part, for better or for worse. A victory in one is a victory for all. A loss in one is a loss for all. VeldTalk picks up on three issues.
The Princess Vlei is part of a chain of wetlands that runs through Cape Town’s GrassyPark, purifying the water before it runs into the sea. Local residents have been using the area for decades for ceremonies, picnics, fishing and recreation.
For the past 15 years it has been a site of great controversy as it faced the threat of a proposed development: a double volume shopping mall, car park and taxi rank.
Photo: Bridget Pitt
Opposition to the plans grew. Local residents joined forces with several environmental lobby groups and took the fight to every forum they could. Using the media they raised public awareness until the issue became a cause célèbre, with supporters such as Emeritus Archbishop Tutu and the Archbishop of Cape Town.
Finally the public pressure and intensive lobbying paid off. On 23 March the City of Cape Town announced that “social value” of Princess Vlei and the land surrounding land and “its potential for enhanced social benefits” required “a different vision…that addressed the needs of the residents.”
A new open-pit coal mine right next to the fence of South Africa’s oldest Nature Reserve?
Ibutho Coal (Pty) Ltd did not know what an avalanche it would be dislodging when it announced its intentions to establish the Fuleni Anthracite Project next to the HluhluweiMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. “Next to” meaning 30 - 70 metres from the park’s fence!
The Park has been a protected area since 1895 and was proclaimed a Wilderness Area in 1958. Whilst 6.4% of South Africa area falls under formal protection, less than 1% is protected as wilderness.
iMfolozi under threat
Opposition to the mining application was swift. Stalwarts like Dr Ian Player, Magqubu Ntombela, Louis Pugh, Kingsley Holgate, Bantu Holomisa and Ian McCallum made their views clear. The Save our Wilderness Alliance was formed to garner support, lawyers offered their services pro bono and organisations such as WESSA, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Bateleurs joined the battle. Avaaz started canvassing for support via their well-known petition system, reaching 50 000 in June.
“The noise, blasting and vibrations will have a severe adverse impact on this world-famous wilderness area,” said WESSA. “Another critical concern is the strong likelihood that the mine will lead to an increase in poaching in the Park, which contains one of the densest populations of rhino in the world.”
The coal is being exported to China and India at the risk of destroying an extremely valuable national treasure. A full public disclosure of the identity of all potential beneficiaries of Fuleni, not only the directors and shareholders, is being demanded.
Mining has a limited life - what happens to the benefits, such as jobs, when the mine starts being decommissioned at least 10 years before it finally closes?
Acid Mine Drainage, the toxic mix of water and heavy metals that has been pouring out of disused mine shafts on the West Rand and polluting surface and ground water there is now flowing into the Crocodile River. That is the warning sounded by three experts, all speaking in late June.
In a talk at Alpha Conference Centre on 22 June, Stephan du Toit, an environmental scientist who has been studying the growing threat of AMD for many years, presented an alarming picture of the destruction caused by Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) and its rapidly spreading impact.
AMD is the outflow of water that has filled the underground voids left by old mines and been contaminated by toxic metals and salts, including uranium, arsenic and cadmium. With heavy rains and the inflow of water through vacant compartments in these mines the water has been gushing out through several abandoned mineshafts on the West Rand.
In the same week as Du Toit’s talk, two AMD experts, Ms Mariette Liefferink of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment and Prof Anthony Turton of the Free State University, warned that more than 20 million litres per day of untreated AMD was now decanting from abandoned mines on the West Rand, flowing into the Tweelopiesspruit and downstream towards the Crocodile River.
AMD has already contaminated boreholes and dams and affected agriculture on the West Rand. According to research by North West University, uranium is now moving into the food chain.
The evidence of what AMD does can be seen in the damage it causes equipment, said Du Toit, who is also a Green Scorpion. Water pumps corrode within months. Huge gate valves disintegrate. Pipes scale up and become clogged.
But the scandal is that the AMD crisis gripping Gauteng has been in the public arena and documented for at least 20 years. Only recently have concerted steps been taken to address the issue. Very likely these are too little, too late.
“Residents along the Crocodile River should immediately start monitoring the water quality in the river as there is no official process in place to do this,” he added. This information could be vital in future when boreholes or water sources could become threatened by the inflow of AMD into the Crocodile River system.
Has the Department of Water Affairs lost control? It seems so.
VeldTalk is fortunate to know many experts and when Anthony from Hills and Dales found an interesting spider in the garden waiting expectantly for its lunch to arrive, we contacted the Conservancy’s Spider Lady, Astri Leroy. “What’s this handsome creature? A quick look in the Spider Book of Southern Africa seemed to indicate that it was an Argiope aurocinta or Argiope australis, but the stripes look different,” we wrote to Astri. “But then, we humans also vary our stripes, don't we?”
“Not this one!” responded Astri. “This is a big fat beautiful adult Nephila senegalensis - one of the golden orb-web spiders. Not the same family as Argiope.”
Patricia Clamp from HennopsRiver also wanted info on an intriguing spider she’d found. “Yours was the Argiope australis which had Anthony flummoxed,” said Astri. “It’s an adult female common garden orb web spider.”
Mercia Komen from Doornrandje spotted a “magnificent spider” in her garden one morning and sent the pic to Astri for identification. “She’s gorgeous!” said Astri. “One of the so-called garden spiders - the banded garden spider (Argiope nigrovittata). I reckon she is good enough to wear as a piece of jewellery!!”
The Crocodile River Reserve’s Events Calendar offers a valuable opportunity for those who want to experience “nearby nature”. And it's right on the doorstep of Joburg, Pretoria and Krugersdorp. See the list of events at the end of VeldTalk - rocks, grasses, trees, flowers, art-in-the-veld…!
They’re cute and they are becoming very scarce. A team of scientists from Wits University has launched the IFAH project which stands for ‘I found a hedgehog’.
Southern African hedgehogs (Atelerix frontalis).have hard spines, a dark underbelly and a white band on their forehead. They are 15 - 20cm long and weigh 280-350g. They are nocturnal and roll into a tight spiny ball when threatened. They feed mainly on insects.
“That was the best walk ever!” Really? Best walk - looking for scorpions? Vanessa Reynolds of Doornrandje was adamant. “My two girls couldn't stop talking about how much fun it was, and how informative.”
About three dozen people joined scorpion expert, Jonathan Leeming, for the annual Scorpion Walk in the RNC on a sunny morning in May.
“What really impressed me was how Jonathan took his time, waiting for even the smallest child to catch up,” said Vanessa. “I've been to walks where the guide just forges ahead, leaving the slower and smaller ones behind. Jonathan made it such fun for the children.”
“The turnout was excellent - we must make it a regular calendar event,” said Jenny Cornish, owner of The Sheds from where the Scorpionistas set off. “It was a most entertaining and informative walk, even if I can't remember the names of all the critters found under the rocks!”
Vanessa added a footnote: “I have a request: Could parents be asked to teach their little ones not to destroy our plant life? One of the littlest boys was reprimanded by some of the adults as he was bashing a beautiful aloe to pieces. After taking part in the wonderful "Know your Veld" walk in March, it was heartbreaking to see.”
There’s lots of information on Jonathan’s website: www.scorpions.co.za.
VeldTalk gets many stories and photos about the creatures found in readers’ gardens or houses. Or beds! Such as the lizard that made his home under a fridge until a house snake tried having it for lunch. Or the genet found perched comfortably on a sittingroom pelmet. Or a boomslang under a pillow. Or a goat in the pantry…
The deep linkages that are often forged between humans and wild animals are intriguing and often enriching. Sam Wingate of the Oori Private Nature Reserve in the RNC, tells of a unique encounter he and Connie Jager had with a giraffe and her baby.
“One late afternoon, while we were walking in the Oori, we noticed a giraffe and something that looked like a small antelope next to her. We soon realised it was a baby giraffe, wobbling unsteadily on its feet. The umbilical cord was evidence that this baby hadn’t been around for more than a day. Time stood still in a few magical moments as we watched. Then we left, not wanting to put pressure on the pair.
The next morning, as we walked the same route, something made me look back to find the mother giraffe walking purposefully towards us, her calf nowhere to be seen. She stopped, hesitated, looking agitatedly towards us and then back. I had a strange instinctive feeling that she needed help but could hardly believe this was happening. As we slowly approached her, she turned around and headed back about 300 metres, leading us to where her calf lay.
By this time it seemed clear that we had been summoned for help. I saw the calf weakly struggling to get up but realised that if I approached the calf, I could be in danger of being attacked by the mother. She sensed my fears and backed off, allowing me to approach her calf. My attempts to get this 100 kg baby onto its feet proved difficult but eventually it stumbled a few paces and fell down again. Mama Giraffe and Connie looked on, Connie hoping and praying that I would perform a miracle.
Alas, I could do no more. A friend contacted a vet but the poor mother lost her calf. To this day she still approaches us when we meet and seems to relish the sound of our voices as we coax her closer. Sometimes she even follows us for several hundred metres before returning to rejoin her group.
Could this be a trust that is worth nurturing for the future? What is certain is how much more there is to learn about wild animals and accept that they have more emotion and intelligence that we give them credit for.”