Summer 2013/14 Newsletter


It is hard to believe, but back in October a group of 50 women from Mpophomeni climbed Inhlosane to pray for rain.  They were fearful that that we were in for a dry summer and delighted, when on their way back home, rain started to fall – answering their prayers.  They are not complaining now about the mud and mizzle either. Christine Zuma says “Sometimes it rains for a whole week and the water gets in our houses. But we don’t mind because we asked for it.”   Nqobile Zondi, member of the MMAEP Mpophomeni Youth News group uncovered this story.

Robin Fowler (who has recorded rainfall at Corrie Lynn for many summers) noted that during December 2012 we had 93mm and December 2013 an incredible 230mm!  No wonder things are a little squishy underfoot. The last time we had this much rain in December was in 2007/8 season.

Enjoy the Summer News – it’s a wet and muddy affair!


The Dargle River rises in the grassland below the Dargle/Fort Nottingham road and meanders through the valley for a few kilometres before joining the uMngeni River near the Petrusstroom bridge.  The Dargle/Impendle P134 road crosses the river on Benn Meadhon about 8kms from the R103.

Clearing invasive vegetation on the banks

Earlier this Summer, Dargle Conservancy funded the clearing of some of the invasive vegetation which was smothering the banks in the area near the bridge.

The main negative impact of invasive alien plants is that they supplant naturally occurring species and subsequently cause the loss of bio-diversity, and excessive water consumption.  As we are custodians of the water supply of millions of downstream users, it is important that we do our best to ensure good, clean water leaves the valley. We contracted one of the well trained DUCT River Care teams, led by Alfred Zuma, to work for eight days in the area.

On our first visit to the site, we could hardly see the river at all because of the American Bramble along the banks.  It was taller than the men! Paths had to be hacked through to reach it and they had to wade in the water to get to the canes that were on the river side. The dead bramble is the most obvious difference now.  We plan a follow up later in the summer to check if there is any which escaped the treatment. There were plenty of wattle trees too. Some of the bigger ones had been treated before and were already dead.  The rest were frilled or cut and treated with herbicide. There was plenty of everyone’s favourite – Bugweed.  There was evidence of attempts to clear previously, which was not done properly.

Once clearing started we found lots of lovely indigenous trees and shrubs – Clausena anisata and Maytenus heterophylla in particular.    There are some tree ferns on the banks.
Poppies and Ranunculus multifidus in the sunshine, Scadoxus and Thunbergia natalensis in the shade of the trees. It will be really interesting to observe what else pops up when the treated vegetation had completely died. At least you can actually see the river now!

Mr Zuma’s team thoroughly enjoyed working on the Dargle River as they are passionate about river health. They are keen to return and see the difference that their efforts have made.  The water in the stream is really murky, which is disappointing. We will conduct miniSASS tests there soon to see what sort of condition the water is in and hopefully, over time will see some real improvement.

Unfortunately the Dargle Conservancy do not have many thousands of rand required to continue clearing the length of the river.  We will do as much as we can with funds available (particularly follow ups), but hope that landowners along the banks will also work to improve the riverine areas of which they are custodians.

Iain Sinclair, who owns the land adjacent to the river, is keen to see it become a ‘Dargle Picnic Site’ – what a wonderful idea!  We can already imagine adding a Dargle River Ramble to the schedule of regular, inspiring Midlands Walks. Taking care of the fields, forest and rivers is the rent we pay for living in this wonderful valley.  Thank you Iain for paying for the herbicide to clear the river banks and Lion’s River Club for their contribution to the herbicide used to clear their verges.

Should you wish to contract Alfred Zuma and his team to do some work for you, phone him on 082 679 0030.

For details on IAP control see the excellent Mondi Guides: Best Operating Practice - IAP Treatment Specifications see the Problem Plants page by clicking here.

See all the pictures of the Dargle River clearing operation at:

Exploring from the source to the confluence

Following the successful Source to Sea walk along the uMngeni River which a group of DUCT volunteers undertook in 2012, the Midlands Conservancies Forum raised funds for the team to explore and record some of the tributaries of the uMngeni.  From 7-9 January, they traversed the Dargle River.

It was not quite the doddle that the River Walk team imagined.  Dargle farmer, Will Griffin dropped them off high in the hills near the road to Fort Nottingham where the river rises from a seep in the grassland.  “This farm has been in our family for four generations,” He told them. “You are in for a great adventure.”  After trickling through the grassland for a few hundred metres, the river dropped straight down a cliff into the forest!  This was certainly going to be an adventure. 

The team, consisting of Penny Rees, Preven Chetty and Pandora Long spent most of the first day exploring the stream in the forest, finding waterfalls, little pools and admiring the magnificent mist-belt trees.  “This part is absolutely pristine” said Penny, “how wonderful to be able to drink straight from the stream.” 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the river hit human activity and the water quality dropped dramatically.  Although the river is still very picturesque in places, the banks are invaded by alien vegetation, with kikuyu pastures right up to the edges and dams showing signs of nitrification.  As Dargle is a tributary of the Mngeni river, which supplies water to millions of people, this is cause for concern.

“The land, river, sky are all one eco-system” commented Pandora.  “When one part suffers, it affects the whole.”  Preven added “When invasive vegetation dominates almost all indigenous plant and invertebrate life is excluded leading to a very degraded system.”  Along the way there were signs of attempts to clear the riverine buffer zone (30m is the regulation) of alien vegetation.   The Dargle Conservancy has begun clearing where the river crosses the P134 and, while it is a long term project, at least the water is visible now the brambles are dead. The highlight of the walk was a stretch of completely untransformed grassland and river on Howard Long’s property where, on the third day, the team found stoneflies (which indicate exceptional water quality) and marvelled at the ability of a river to heal itself when ecosystems are intact.  “This made my heart sing” said Penny delightedly “It gives me hope for all our unloved Midlands rivers. Well done Howard”

Midlands Conservancies Forum secured funding from N3Toll Concession for this initiative as part of their Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Programme - to monitor tributaries of the uMngeni – Lions, Dargle, Indezi and Karkloof.  All data collected is shared widely, used by scientists, NGOs and government agencies, and is an important record of the state of our rivers.

Read all about their adventure and see the photos of Walking the Dargle on their blog

Thanks to: Enthusiastic and welcoming riverside landowners, Will Griffin for transport to the source, Carl Bronner for wonderful accommodation, Nikki Brighton for meals and Dargle Conservancy and il Postino for scrumptious pizza.

Trail Cameras

The profit we made from our Dargle Decade Celebration in August was used to purchase two Trail Cameras for the Conservancy.  These were recently set up at two sites – one on Copperleigh Farm and the other in Barend Booysen’s forest.  We wait with eager anticipation to see what interesting wildlife they have captured.  Who knows, perhaps we will spot the elusive leopard? After much research and consultation, we decided on the Bushnell Trophy Cam Trap Model 119437.

If you are interested in having the camera on your property for a while, please contact Barry Downard 082 556 2417 or Ashley Crookes 082 460 1815 to make arrangements    We are thinking of hosting a workshop on using the cameras effectively sometime this year.  Do let us know if you would be keen to participate.


Dargle Conservancy spent R10 000 on a variety of environmental education activities for local schools last year including water and wetlands, cranes, snakes, photography and local history.

Trip Back in Time for Dargle Kids

Dargle Conservancy supported an excursion for Corrie Lynn School children to hike to Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg Nature Reserve late last year. Corrie Lynn won the ‘Stories of Change’ history exhibition at the Howick Museum in June - comparing life in the past to now.

The Corrie Lynn project included interviewing and doing portraits of older local people in their community about life in the past, as well as gathering historical artefacts. They learnt fascinating things about life many years ago in Dargle.  For instance Mr Ngubane told Mzwanele Zuma that they travelled to Howick by horse to go to the clinic or shops or, for longer journeys to Pietermaritzburg, by trains that used coal and caused air pollution. Smilo Sithole discovered that everyone had to bring their own lunch to school and that no one wore shoes.   Phindile Zuma talked to someone who only went to school for six months because he had to work herding cattle and goats.  Everyone had big gardens in those days and grew lots of food and ground their own mielies.  Spesihle Mncubu interviewed a man born in 1920 who told him he used to earn 25c per day. Nolwazi Ngcobo remembered Nelson Mandela being arrested in 1962 and using a slate to write at school.

Their prize was a trip to Game Pass Shelter cave in Kamberg last month, to learn about the really old history of the Midlands. It was a chilly, overcast day and a lot of the park had burnt the day before so the visibility was poor.  The advantage was that it was easy to see reedbuck and baboons foraging for food in the un-burnt sections. Spring wildflowers were beginning to unfold and Thabiso Mkhulise the Grade 7 photographer (who did a photography course with the MMAEP, sponsored by Dargle Conservancy through the Midlands Conservancies Forum Environmental Learning and Leadership programme in July) was kept busy documenting the flowers. On reaching the cave there were exclamations of surprise at the beautiful Bushman paintings and everyone had a taste of the crystal clear water which seeped through the moss. The uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage site contains 500 known sites of San rock art, with over 40 000 images. 

After an informative explanation, the children skipped happily down the mountainside pointing out plants, animals and birds. Teacher Thenjiwe Ngcobo said ‘I might never get a chance like this again to see a place like this. That was a wonderful experience!’

The Snake Guys

Dargle Conservancy invited Pat McKrill and Nkanyiso Ndlela to visit our local schools again this year.

The snake tour began at Lion’s River Primary School where the learners were very happy that the snakes are back and really couldn’t wait to see them. The Principal, Ms Nondaba was very welcoming and explained how happy she is that the snake lesson was organized for them again this year. “It was excellent, and the additional excitement was to see the python. I was able to carry it and feel it’s humbleness. Thank you for your unending support.” She said.

Next stop was Corrie Lynn Primary School, where everyone was waiting even parents and community members had come to learn about snakes. The Magic Mamba, as usual, started by asking a simple question: Who’s scared of the snakes and why?  Most of the community members put their hands up and said they are scared of snakes because they bite, are dangerous, poisonous and an enemy of a human being – that it is even written in the bible.
At the end of Pat’s talk, some of the learners and community members came forward and hold the snakes. They were very happy that they hold snakes for the first time.  Mrs Dladla (Principal) was fascinated by how many parents up: “It was a good idea to involve parents, they also need to be educated.”

Then, up the valley to Dargle Primary School, where everyone gathered outside under a big tree, the learners sitting quietly and looking forward to learn more about snakes. Siyabonga Duma (teacher) set a good example to the learners by being the first to hold the biggest one.  Maureen Mabizela Acting Principal commented afterwards “Thanks. We are glad to know some of the things that we assume we know the answers to, but were wrong.”

Last stop was at Lion’s River Club where farm staff had gathered. Old Gogos and Mkhulus seemed to be very worried at the beginning. Pat did his talk and joked to make the audience relax. Many superstitions were discussed and questions were asked. Pat explained that snakes need to be understood like any other animals. Some people held the snakes and some just wanted to touch and feel the body of the snake.  It was a good afternoon.  Robin Barnsley said a few days later “My staff are still talking about it. I thought the presentation was fantastic.”

A couple of days later Pat headed to Impendle accompanied by Eco-Schools facilitator  Zandile Skhakhane to do presentations at three of the schools Gomane, KwaKhetha, and Nhlabamkhosi which are part of Sam Rose’s Eco-Schools node. Despite it being Zandile’s first time as ‘snake assistant/translator’, Pat found her good company was impressed that she settled in very quickly, showed confidence and was able to fit in with the programme like a veteran.   Mrs Shange at Gomane Primary said: “The kids were so excited, they love snakes now and they want you to come back again soon.” 

Pat concluded: “Thanks Dargle Conservancy for the support on the ‘don’t kill the snakes’ crusade, much appreciated as always.”

Dargle Nature Reserve

Since 2008 the Dargle Conservancy has been engaged in working towards having a large area of moist grassland and indigenous forest officially proclaimed as a Nature Reserve as part of the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme to protect areas which contain critically important habitats. Early in 2011, with changes in personnel at EKZNW Biodiversity Stewardship unit, the progress seemed likely to falter.  However the Dargle Conservancy had the opportunity to access funding from CEPF to employ a Biodiversity Stewardship Manager through Midlands Conservancies Forum.  This has meant that progress was steady, if slow, and that the proclamation has been published in the Government Gazette. 341ha as Nature Reserve, 718ha as Biodiversity Stewardship Agreement – an impressive total of 1059ha. 

Graham Griffin: “I feel that it is really important to secure the future of our Natural Forest.” 

Rob McIntosh: “Any Conservancy is good, no matter how large or small their commitment is to conservation. I think we should be more involved with graduates doing studies on the land, especially impact of predators on the livestock, and the impact of block burning pastures and hay lands on biodiversity.”

Look out for the April edition of Country Life magazine which will feature the Dargle Nature Reserve.  Join a walk through the Reserve on Sunday 13 April

Invasive plant to watch:  Hypericum perforatum

Common name: St. John’s wort
This woody perennial produces many slender, erect stems up to 1m high in summer and spreading, prostrate stems in winter. Light green leaves have translucent oil glands and bright yellow flowers with black oil glands on the margins of the petals from October to January. This plant is listed in CARA 2002 – Category 1 Proposed legislation: NEMBA – Category 2. It spreads through seed dispersal and underground stems. It competes with and replaces indigenous and pasture species and it is poisonous to livestock. 

Before it gets completely out of hand in Dargle, it would be a good idea to remove any specimens on your property.   Digging out whole plants and hand pulling of seedlings is the best option at the moment as no herbicides have been registered yet to effectively kill Hypericum.  Biological Controls are being tested.   Anyone have any good tips or ideas on how to control it?

Indigenous plant to delight in: Brunsvegia radulosa

Common name:  Candelabra flower
Did you spot the splendid specimen flowering on the roadside bank between the turn off to River End Farm and Fleetwood during December?   Brunsvegia radulosa has large, prostrate spreading leaves which hug the ground. The inflorescence can reach 50cm tall holding between 30 and 60 bright pink flowers.  Traditionally the bulb was used to seal broken clay pts and also to treat barreness and ease childbirth. They make very good container plants, but do not be tempted to remove one from the wild. Indigenous nurseries have them for sale.

Wildlife Sightings

Our monthly record continues to delight readers far and wide.

David Clulow "Rich news of sightings in the Dargle, so wonderfully described; and illustrated with the most wonderful photos. A joy to see and a privilege to receive and read about. Many thanks"

Meriel Mitchell "Feel exactly as above recipient and want to also personally say “Thankyou” for sharing your wildlife and nature photos – as good as a trip to the library and being engrossed and transported into another world."

It has also been suggested by Pat McKrill that we include more  road kill sightings as it is a very important form of data collection to help determine what creatures we have moving in our area (perhaps some things that are not normally seen). For more information on a very useful Phone App to assist with this data collection, see this article:

Remember there are links to past sightings records on our website: If you are particularly interested in flowers visit our wildflowers archive:


Dargle Trails Race in September

The rain held off for the second Dargle MTB Trails Race and it was a truly splendid day.  Hundreds of mountain bikers and trail runners headed through the Dargle Valley traversing farm land and plantations as part of the Lawnmower Shop Dargle Trail Festival - powered by Stihl, hosted by the Lions River Club. “Working in the Dargle is always a great experience”, said organiser Devlin Fogg from Mi Trail.  “Thanks the local community for their support and enthusiasm.”

 “Not even the lurking forecasts of rain could ruin the vibe at Lions River this weekend” says Carla van Huysteen.  “I thoroughly enjoyed the challenging route, well-marked and fun for all levels of riders.”  Robyn Howard competed with her husband Benjamin and sons Dylan (14) and Luke (10).  “It was a lovely ride and an awesome day out with the family” she commented.

This year a 14km and 6km trail run were added to the programme. Owen Bengu took the 14km route in his stride.  “The course was nice, tough and very well marked.  One of the best courses I have ever run,” he said enthusiastically.  A fun 5km MTB race and 200m kiddies bike race completed the bill of events.  Back at the club families enjoyed activities organized by the Midlands Meander Education Project, the Stihl bouncing castle, pony rides and delicious produce from the Dargle Local Market.  A Good Dargle Day!

crossing bridge Dargle mtb by Nkulu Mdladla

See all the pictures in the Dargle MTB album on facebook/dargle.kzn

Summer Markets

Some spring and summer markets were very muddy, while others enjoyed glorious sunshine. The Dargle Local Market on the first Sunday of every month is always full of surprises. Did you get your share of the abundance of artichokes? Have you stocked up on local garlic? Hope you tasted the real strawberry jam that the Misty Meadows School stall sells. Always such a friendly affair - how is it possible that anyone misses it?  Contact Mike Weedon if you’d like more information on having a stall 083 325 1082. 

Do you follow the Dargle Local Living blog for occasional updates and interesting stories?, or our facebook page where we try to post news too?  Facebook/dargle.kzn Remember to put links to your own web and facebook pages – this means you get the benefit of the work we do to entice visitors to your accommodation.

Were  your feet spotted at the market?

Welcome and Thanks

A very warm welcome to John and Linda Hall and Mitch and Lynn Spall who joined the Conservancy recently.

Thanks to Ashley Crookes, Eidin Griffin, Nkulu Mdladla, Penny Rees and Pandora Long for the photos used in this newsletter.

With good wishes for 2014. We hope that the rain doesn’t actually stop anytime soon.
Dargle Conservancy Committee
Barry, Rowena, Clive, Sam, Robin and Nikki

For any additional information please click here to contact us.