Late Friday afternoon, 4 June, Lynette Wood from Northern Farm phoned in great excitement. A National Geographic team was shooting a documentary next to one of Northern Farm's dams, of a man who'd survived a hippo attack but had lost his leg in the process. As they were packing up a hippo suddenly surfaced in the dam near them, gave a great yawn and disappeared again. “The filming team nearly freaked!” says Lynette. National Geographic declined to give us a photo, unfortunately.
A week later Domingus Gomes-Sebastiao, manager of the quarry next to PPC, came across two adult hippos and a baby in one of the quarry's dams. These have also disappeared. Then, to add a cherry on top, Mark Rabie, who lives near Northern Farm, writes: “On 8 June at 2:30am I was woken by the dogs going ballistic. I went outside and shone the torch in the direction in which the dogs had run. I could have sworn I saw the back end of a hippo moving up the track. I put it down to imagining things! Is this hippo still around?!"
Gauteng conservation officials have been notified of these appearances. Nobody can come up with satisfactory explanations as to where the hippos come from, nor where they disappear to. Maybe they are escaping from the dark-red sludge of a dam in the Krugersdorp Nature Reserve which contains toxic and radioactive heavy metals. See www.chroniclesa.co.za for a photo and details of this disaster.
Ever wondered why local honey is becoming so scarce and expensive? Reasons include the removal of food sources (like the Eucalyptus, the bad old blue gum!), shrinking vegetation caused by denser developments and pests such as wax moth.
But another devastating disease is threatening South African bee colonies - American Foulbrood (AFB). According to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) this extremely serious bacterial disease results in the death of honeybee larvae. In serious cases it causes the collapse and death of the entire honeybee colony. AFB was recently found in South Africa for the first time by the ARC-PPRI (Plant Protection Research Institute).
If the disease is not contained and eradicated, it will almost certainly spread throughout South Africa and into neighbouring countries, says the PPRI. It's not only a severe risk to the beekeeping industry but to crops like deciduous fruits which rely on honeybees for pollination.
The Department of Agriculture is taking measures to prevent the spread of AFB, according to the newsletter of the PPRI. (www.arc.agric.za)
The overgrazing of Egoli Granite Grassland, especially in Hills and Dales and Doornrandje, has long been a concern. The recommended stocking rate is one large stock unit per six or seven hectares. At present 200 to 300 cattle graze on approximately 800 ha.
The Conservancy committee approached the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) for assistance and a meeting was held with local cattle farmers on 10 June.
“The purpose of the meeting was to make an awareness presentation on veld management principles to the cattle farmers in the Conservancy,” said Nompumelelo Maqondose, Senior Agricultural Adviser.
“We covered the key issues of veld management and also informed farmers about the services they can access from GDARD.”
This was just the start of a process to find a long-term solution to often clashing needs – the protection of the area's environmental resources, the rights of landowners and the needs of residents, some of whom have deep roots in this area.
A follow-up meeting will be held.
Each year the RNC takes on a range of “enemies”. Pompom, Verbena, Lantana and Queen of the Night, to name a few, are invader plants that displace or damage indigenous vegetation. Landowners in the Conservancy have cleared hundreds of hectares of these invaders at considerable personal cost – but the battle is far from won.
Conservancy members have been working with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and GDARD to clear invasives, particularly Pompom. Many landowners ignore the problem and re-infestation occurs on ”clean” lands. In future the Department will issue directives and fines to these landowners.
The RNC attended DAFF's Declared Weed and Invader Plant workshop on 28 May in Pretoria and will submit the requested comment on their future programmes.
Jeanette Horn was quietly working in her studio in Hills and Dales on Youth Day when an unholy racket in the veg garden sent her running outside to investigate. She found her two Rottweilers and a heavily pregnant goat in a fierce battle but she somehow managed to separate the contestants. The goat promptly ran into the house and the dogs resumed the attack, all three skidding on the carpets in the passage and creating absolute mayhem.
Jeanette finally got the dogs into a bedroom, but then the exhausted goat refused to leave. Equally exhausted, Jeanette went to the neighbours for help and the next round of the removal effort started. The goat was dragged out of the pantry by its horns, resisting every step of the way and even when it was safely out in the garden and pointed in the direction of “home”, it refused to go. It shot round the house once more, peering at its reflection in the windows.
The final solution was to corner it, catch it, heave it onto a bakkie and hang on to goat and the bakkie's roll bar for dear life until it could be released far in the veld. It promptly took off to its kraal. Jeanette spent the rest of the day restoring the house and placating the dogs.
The next morning she was confronted by a cobra in the passage... No kidding. Slowed by the cold but nevertheless prepared to defend its rights, it was caught and released in the veld. What kind of cobra? "I didn't stop to ask," says Jeanette.
If strange things are supposed to happen in threes, what's next?
New roads and highways planned through natural areas in the north-west of Gauteng are a concern to landowners. A major threat to Riverside Estates (RSE), the western part of the Conservancy, is the planned PWV3, the main route from Johannesburg to Rustenburg, Pilanesberg and the platinum mines in North-west Province. This would slice through the Oori Game Reserve, cutting it in two.
In addition, the K44, which links the R511 (Hennops River road) and the R512 (Broederstroom road) would cut through Doornrandje and Roodekrans and link up to the Winsome Valley Road in RSE.
However, a Gautrans official told the Conservancy that the K44, while still on the planning boards, was unlikely to be built “in the next 20 years”. The PWV3, on the other hand, is a far more immediate threat.
At a meeting organised by RSE resident, Steve Panos, at the SOS Training Village on 24 May, the most immediate issue was the proposed plan for relocating the Winsome Valley Road entrance from its present dangerous position on a blind rise (on the R512) to align with the planned link of the K44 with the R512. This would move the RSE entrance further north into Mountainview Estate, which is itself currently proposing a major development.
A second option for a new entrance road was via a servitude over Brooklands Farm. However, Jurgens Weidemann of the consulting firm involved in the planning, Aurecon Group, said the preferred entrance is via Mountainview Estate as the Brooklands servitude is in “an even more dangerous position, with horizontal sight distances to both sides of less than 100m.”
Steve Panos, Anthony Duigan, Mercia Komen and Bob Garbett were elected to monitor the issue. After some discussions, Mercia summed up the general view. “The best use of our energy is to concentrate on establishing 'the sense of place' for the Oori and indeed the whole of the RNC.” She concluded: “By this I mean lobbying and working to bring about a proclaimed natural area/nature reserve that defines the whole of the RNC within the Magaliesberg Biosphere and the Cradle buffer as a unique zone and destination.”
This 430ha property, wedged between Kalkheuvel and the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy, has applied for rezoning from “Agricultural” to “Residential” and “Special” in terms of the Development Facilitation Act (DFA). The application also is for permission to establish a township of 87 stands
The application will come before a North-West Development Tribunal on 15 July. Several surrounding landowers have registered as Interested & Affected Parties (I&APs) as has the RNC. Anyone can attend these hearings but only I&APs are allowed to comment or object.
The development includes an airfield that will accommodate aircraft for the 86 planned homeowners, but its application has been excluded from the Tribunal hearing. The RNC's submission has been prepared by Mercia Komen and raises the following issues:
A significant change to land-use in a natural area, like that within which Mountainview Estate (MVE) is located, creates a precedent. And a development of 86 homes, a conference centre and all the ancillary facilities will be an anomaly, changing irrevocably the “sense of place” in a natural and sparsely populated conservation landscape.
It will be another example of leapfrog development, similar to the Blair Atholl Golf Estate, which was granted provincial approval under strict conditions and with a warning that such leapfrog development should not be regarded as a precedent.
The proposed development will be in a zone designated by both Tshwane Municipality and Madibeng Local Authority as a “natural area” of moderate to high sensitivity that should be protected.
There are no indications in the plans submitted by MVE that viable alternatives have been considered for the use of the land. And, the site’s most attractive areas - which coincide with the sensitive areas - have been selected for the residential development.
The proposed airfield should be included in the Tribunal hearing, in the interests of integrated planning and the sensitivity of the area, being in both the proposed Cradle of Humankind buffer and the planned Magaliesberg Biosphere.
The City of Joburg intends deproclaiming a portion of the Diepsloot Nature Reserve (DNR), south of the R114, in order to establish a mixed-income housing, commercial and business development. Between 8 000 and 12 000 housing units are envisaged. A meeting at Heronbridge College on 31 May, called by the consultants for the development and attended by about 80 people mainly from Diepsloot, Dainfern and the RNC, raised many issues around the process.
This was the first of what will be several public participation meetings on the proposed development, which includes the southern part of the DNR and, more controversially, a large portion of the area between the R114 and the N14 highway. Should the development include this northern area, it will destroy the operational hub of Northern Farm, including the offices, the bull station, laboratory and workshops and the Northern Farm Recreational Users Group facilities and clubhouse.
The RNC is registered as an I&AP and will oppose the development taking over this northern section of the DNR. The RNC has also written to the Gauteng MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development, Ms Nandi Mayethula-Khoza, suggesting that her department consider taking over the farming operation as a centre for training emerging farmers in Gauteng.
RNC Annual General Meeting - Sunday, 25 July at North Hills Farm Estate on the R511 (around Gemstone Road).
Ride the Rhenoster Mountain Bike Ride - 11 September. See www.ridetherhenoster.co.za for details.
History Tour - 18 September. Luxury bus tour to historical places in the Conservancy. Limited space. Contact Dalene van der Merwe: 074 117 4358
Bat Talk - Sunday 10 October (venue to be announced)
Presented by Nigel Fernsby (past chair: Gauteng and Northern Regions Bat
Interest Group). Contact Dalene van der Merwe: 074 117 4358
Flower Walk - 13 November
Led by Prof George Bredenkamp and the Botanical Society of SA
Sustainable & Holistic Building Design and Retro-fit Courses
3 July - Grey Water & Wetland Design Course
24 July - Cob building course
31 July - Green Home Design and Retrofit
14 August - Solar Power Course
InSynch Training Centre, Hills and Dales, RNC
IAIAsa 2010 Annual National Conference: 23 – 25 August 2010
Venue: CSIR Convention Centre, Pretoria
Theme: INTEGRATING ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT
Bridging the gap between environmental planning and development planning
Strategic tools for securing environmental protection
Planning to support a green economy: green accounting
Integrating Environmental Sectors
See website for registration, adverts and booking an exhibition booth at the conference:
Five years ago Richard Louv published an unexpected bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, which explores what happens to individuals and society when kids stop going out into the natural world to play. “They're suffering from NDD, a 'nature deficit disorder',” he said.
“For this generation, nature is more of an abstraction than a physical reality. Kids today can tell you about the Amazon rainforest, but not about the last time they went into the woods alone.“
In the middle of June 65 kids from Pretoria were given such an opportunity to experience the veld. The Laezonia Kids' camp, arranged by local residents, Riaan and Angelique Lotter and a team of helpers, took place over five days. Most came from needy families, several are orphans. The base, a large rambling house in Laezonia, nearly burst at the seams. The excited children, ranging from six to 12 years of age, swarmed over the jungle gyms, kicked soccer balls or tried to attract the attention of the roaming chickens and other farm animals.
The big day, however, was when they “climbed the mountain” and rode the horses. A cavalcade of bakkies and a truck set out to Koppie-alleen (the mountain!) in Roodekrans where the kids explored the rocks and crevices of the koppie, marvelling at the huge rock figs, the dassie droppings and the views over the veld and mountains.
The second delight was a short ride each on the horses of nearby Bonathaba, kindly arranged by Richard and Stella Angus. Watching the range of expressions, from sheer delight and pride to saddle-clinging wonder was an experience in itself.
And this echoes Richard Louv. “As the majority of us now live in cities, the debate grows around 'nearby nature' -- working to ensure that, wherever possible, urban design starts incorporating nature in ways it hasn’t until now; exploring ideas of eco-villages, urban wildlife corridors and, more recently, child corridors; nature trails instead of golf courses; natural regeneration plans for abandoned malls and inner-city wastelands.”
The Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy's Conservation Calendar offers a valuable opportunity for parents who want their children to experience “nearby nature”. And it's right on the doorstep of Joburg, Pretoria and Krugersdorp. See the list of events below.
Glass: A Bottlebank is available at Bathabile School in Doornrandje. The school is easily accessible, 1.5kms down a tarred road that turns in next to Skyview Castle Garage from the R511.
Glass, tin, paper and plastic: Maggie's Farm (Home of the Chicken Pie) on the R512 near Lanseria.