Early on the morning of Saturday 9 January a posse set out from Bonathaba Farm in Hills and Dales and headed westwards.
It was the annual Horse Picnic organised by the Anguses of Bonathaba and this time they went west past Koppie-alleen. “It was a stunning ride,” wrote Dalene van der Merwe of Doornrandje. “The veld was absolutely beautiful – thick waving grass, lush copses of trees and veld flowers everywhere. I could not take my eyes off the sweeping views over Hennops River and the Schurveberg to the north.
“We got back tired but happy and were served a delicious brunch under a huge Karee tree next to the Anguses' house. There was even bubbly! It was a great ride and a good ‘kuier’ afterwards. When is the next one?”
Ignorant? Stupid? Blind? Selfish? Arrogant? Please tick the appropriate description if it applies to you regarding Pompom.
Called the “worst kind of invasive alien plant” which could take over “the entire grassland biome of South Africa” (Kay Montgomery, The Star, January 9, 2010), Pompom is alive and thriving in the Conservancy. It also grows in vast pink swathes along our national and provincial roads, which gives some people a self-righteous excuse to decide that they are going to ignore it on their own properties.
For eight years the Conservancy has written about the issue (see the RNC's Karee Chronicle February 2002: When Beauty becomes the Beast) – informing, threatening, pleading with residents and authorities – whoever would listen. Not many did.
At the same time I want to thank and salute all those people in the Conservancy who have spent thousands of rands and uncounted hours eradicating the pest on their land – only to have it infested by their neighbours' untreated Pompom.
For the past three years the RNC has had small teams treating Pompom (Lynne Clarke, Mercia Komen and now Niko Knigge) with some success. Several residents have also donated money and labour to assist work along our local roads and to help neighbours.
On Saturday 23 January the RNC committee met with three officials (National Department of Water Affairs, Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) and National Department of Agriculture) in an effort to find a way forward.
This meeting produced several positives:
Morwa Ntsoane, one of the GDARD officials, complimented the RNC on its alien removal programme. “You have outstripped all other areas I have visited in Gauteng in the way you are tackling this crucial issue,” he commented. Encouraging feedback, but the battle is ongoing.
Help! For info, advice, where to get herbicides, how to mix them, do's and don'ts, go to www.rnc.za.net. (Pompom's scientific name: Campuloclinium macrocephalum.)
A useful tip: One of the birders visiting the RNC in January, Renate Reiff from Faerie Glen, had an excellent (non-avian) tip for treating isolated Pompoms. “Take a length of plastic drain pipe, put it over the plant and spray the herbicide inside. It limits the area affected by the poison and protects surrounding plants,” she said.
The flower head of the dreaded Pompom
What is considered a fair fee for Conservancy membership? To date the RNC fee has been R700 a year.
After much debate among the RNC committee, Gordon Hooper of Bateleur Khanya Research Solutions offered to do a professional survey to get feedback from RNC residents. Responses came from every area in the Conservancy. “Great initiative,” said one respondent. “This is only way to truly know what people think.”
|What is regarded as:||Results (average)|
|Expensive but still worth it||R709|
|Too expensive, not worth the price||R983|
|Priced so cheaply that I worry about quality||R200|
There we have it: the general view is that R500 pa will be a very acceptable membership fee. So – R500 a year it will be! The Corporate Membership will depend on the nature and size of the business. A monthly fee will be R50.
Membership forms for 2010 will be sent out to current and potential new members by the end of January.
Comments from the survey varied:
There was just one negative comment, from a Kalkheuvel resident: “I personally do not believe a bad take up of members is related to fees, but rather to the value related to the fees.”
Many thanks to Gordon Hooper and Lucette Louw of Bateleur Khanya for their work and patience! See their website: www.bk.co.za.
Bathabile Primary School in Doornrandje is getting an unique addition – an “organic” classroom built with adobe bricks and strawbales. (See details in the November 2009 VeldTalk.) This is a project sponsored by members of the RNC and SEED (Schools Environmental Education and Development) to create something that will serve the school, set it apart and create a symbol for alternative building methods.
But, it needs to be funded, so the RNC has launched “Donate a Strawbale” to raise the money needed to buy materials for this “first” for a government school. The response to date has been heart-warming – 142 bales at R25 each have been paid for by people local and from as far as the UK and Germany.
A lot more is needed to make this classroom a reality. Niko Knigge of Doornandje, who is project managing the building, is arranging a fundraising film evening to keep the ball rolling (see the Conservation Calendar).
The foundations for this strawbale and adobe structure have already been thrown and the plinth will be built by the end of January.
Please contribute to this project and donate a strawbale (or a dozen...). Payment can be made to the RNC account: Rhenosterspruit Conservancy, FNB Fourways (Current account), Branch code: 251 655; Acc no: 620 926 378 79. Remember to put “your name/straw” in the reference line so we can add your name to the bricks of the classroom!
Every now and then an email circulates showing horrible wounds purportedly caused by violin spiders. A recent newspaper article also reported a teenage boy from the East Rand dying, possibly from a “spider bite”. It's enough to make many people grab a can of Doom and spray anything with more than three legs.
“That's rubbish,” says Astri Leroy of the Spider Club of SA. “It's simply impossible that a spider bite could have caused the boy's death. As for the much-maligned violin spider – it is NOT a serious problem in South Africa. Violin spiders are regarded as rare spiders by our arachnologists, with very few specimens found in houses,” she says.
Research supports her statement. In the South African National Collection of Arachnida, which houses more than 140 000 spider specimens collected over a 40-year period, only 120 specimens are violin spiders. Of these 120 specimens, only 11 were collected inside buildings. Their rarity is confirmed by surveys undertaken over the past three years as part of the South African National Survey of Arachnida (SANSA).
“Of the more than 10 000 specimens identified annually, very few are violin spiders,” says Astri. SANSA has a 'virtual museum' containing photographs of spiders mostly found in and around houses. “Of the appoximately 2 000 photographs received to date only 10 were of violin spiders, and five of these were photographed at the same locality in the Free State,” she said.
So - when the next scary email arrives, delete it. Or forward it to “Same locality, Free State”.
Note: Astri's next Spider Walk in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy takes place on 27 February - see details in the Conservation Calendar.
And how does one recognise a violin spider?
"They have 6 eyes, arranged in pairs in a semicircle unlike most spiders, which generally have 8 eyes. Immediately behind the eyes is a violinshaped marking on the anterior portion of the cephalothorax, with the neck of the violin pointing backward and narrowing down to a center line extending almost to the abdomen. This is a conspicuous mark, and has resulted in this and related species being called "violin spiders." The immature stages closely resemble the adults except for size and generally having a slightly lighter color." ~ www.entomology.ucr.edu
Astri Leroy has provided a photograph of the Violin spider in South Africa. She says "Our African species do not have such a conspicuous violin shaped marking [as the one pictured here from the US] but do have rather nice wavy pattern on their abdomens. Colouring differs between species locally but most a rather nice golden-brown colour and are .. slender"
Note the distinctive pattern on the head from which this spider gets its name - Violin. This is NOT as a South African Violin Spider. The image by "Steve-O" on a discussion forum