Winter 2014 Newsletter

The frosts painted lawns and fields white, the grasses have faded to yellow, leaves turned red and fluttered to the ground - another winter has almost passed. Fires blur the horizons and the air is dry. There is such a stark beauty to winter in the midlands. It may seem galling as the first changes appear, but we soon grow accustomed to the low-slung sun and the cold mornings of nature's inevitable journey.

We’ve had a busy season; festivals, events, markets, dinners, workshops and AGM’s. And we’re looking forward to an action packed spring and summer! All the local news has been condensed into bite-sized snippets for you to read and enjoy.


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. “We think our river is pretty special and hope to encourage everyone alongside it to take care of it.”


The Dargle Conservancy has begun clearing invasive vegetation where the road crosses the river and, while it is a long-term project, the water has become visible now that the brambles are dead. As Dargle is a tributary of the Mngeni River, which supplies water to millions of people, it’s health is cause for concern.  See the blogpost:

We can continue to improve the quality of the water, inviting the right creatures to return to a stable and supportive environment. And six months after clearing the river, the difference is very evident!


“The land, river, sky are all one eco-system” was a comment made by Pandora Long. “When one part suffers, it affects the whole.” Penny Rees, Preven Chetty and Pandora of the DUCT River Walk team spent a few days exploring the river, from the source to the confluence with the Mngeni - back when it was a little warmer. Although they hadn’t expected to spend as long walking as they did, they nonetheless came away with some interesting insights. Please read the full story by clicking in the link below.

The main negative impacts found were:

  • Invasive alien plants causing poor condition of the river banks in the 32 metre buffer zone
  • Invasive plants eliminating indigenous vegetation and shading the water
  • Heavy siltation in many areas where cattle access the river to drink
  • Too many nutrients (livestock, possible effluent)
  • Dumping rubbish in the river and farm rubbish pits possibly too close to the river

Thank you to all the riverside landowners for allowing them access to your properties, to Will Griffin for taking them to the source and Carl Bronner for putting them up. They had a great time in Dargle.


Getting feet wet was par for the course as participants hunted for invertebrates in the Dargle river on Craigdarroch in June. Luckily they found some, from stout crawlers, prongills to damselflies and host of other river creatures. Most importantly they found the stonefly! The mini sass score was 7.1 indicating that the river was in good condition.

A lively discussion followed on the roles that the different invertebrates have in the river ecology – from the slow moving planaria that favour shaded quiet waters to the frenetic riffle beetles that rush around on the surface of the fast flowing water. You can check out the movie! Please click the link:

A river habitat is a mirror image of the more familiar landscape of, for example, Mfolozi Game Reserve – teeming with predators and prey, herbivores and scavengers, each with his preferred home, be it under a rock, burrowed in the sand, swimming on or below the surface. 

These tiny critters are the base of an intricate web which links rivers and the land – each one dependent and impacted on by the other.  Damage to the river habitat has the same impact on the river inhabitants as does damage to the bush, which will cause problems for the Lions, Impala and Hyenas.


We are delighted to hear from WWF that their Water Balance Programme IAP clearing in the upper uMngeni catchment is happening!  Well done to the landowners who responded promptly when the offer was made so long ago. They have begun at Old Furth and will work down the uMngeni on Zuvuya, Wakecroft and Brigadoon.

The Upper uMngeni area (from Midmar Dam upstream to the source of the uMngeni River) was identified as a priority Catchment Stewardship project by WWF-SA due to the ecological, hydrological and economic value of the uMngeni River system, which is a nationally important water supply area for the economic hub of KZN.  Currently, WWF-SA has engaged with several landowners across various properties in the area and aims to secure 1000-2000 hectares of high priority biodiversity areas through the KZN Biodiversity Programme and clear 127 condensed hectares of invasive alien species through the WWF Water Balance Programme. 

The invasive alien species targeted by WWF’s Water Balance Programme are those, which are considered higher water users, namely gum, pine and wattle. To date, 20 condensed hectares has been cleared on a property close to the source of the uMngeni River and another 18 condensed hectares is in the process of being cleared on second property, which the Furth Stream runs through. A further 79 condensed hectares has been prioritised for clearing in 2014 along three additional properties along the main stem of the uMngeni River. Through the Upper uMngeni Catchment Stewardship project WWF aims to promote better catchment health by securing and restoring ecological infrastructure in a highly stressed and strategically important catchment.


Autumn is pumpkin time. Locals celebrated in grand style at the Dargle Local Market in May. Judge, Philippa Gordon, Editor of the Meander Chronicle chose Eidin Griffin’s Connecticut Field Pumpkin as the biggest in the Annual Pumpkin Growing Competition.

Great pumpkin recipes were swapped and loads of treats were on sale. Please click this link to see pics of all the prizewinning entries:

Trish Beaver popped into our market recently and had heaps of fun. Read her story here:

The 3rd Dargle Trails Festival at the Lions River Club happened recently. It was bigger and better this year than previous years with the introduction of horse trails, an invitation polo match, carriage driving, mounted games and ultimate Frisbee. There was lots of fun to be had by the whole family, with jumping castles for the kiddies, a 200m bike dash, pony rides, walks, epic mountain biking and a delicious glass of locally made champagne to round it off!
See all the pictures on their Facebook page – Dargle Trails Festival


Great fun was had at the AGM at Tanglewood this year. We welcomed a few new faces and were able to spend time with old friends. The locally sourced food was absolutely scrumptious and so a big thank you to Nicky from Tanglewood and her fabulous cooks!

Some of the comments that came out of the evening:

Mike Weedon – “Best AGM I have ever been to!”
“Thanks! I had fun last night and was the last to leave!” Hmmmm…wonder who that was!?
Dieter Setz - “I liked the format of the AGM. Its so much better then stiff, regimented AGMs.”
Yvonne Munk - “We absolutely loved being at the AGM last evening. Always in awe of all the good work being done. Your presentation was so delightful thank you.”
Chris O’Flaherty - “A wonderful AGM – full of life. I really enjoyed it!”

For the full report of 2013/2104 activities and to enjoy the colourful presentation (without the delightful Dargle Waltz to accomapny it, unfortunately) please click on the links below:
2014 Chair's 20Report.pdf
presentation 2014 for web.pdf

Awards for the best contributions to our Wildlife Sightings went to:

Sue Robinson for the Most Interesting Observation – Cape Vultures
Sandra Merrick for the Most Consistent and Enthusiastic Contributor
Dieter Setz for the Best Picture – Sleeping Bat

Each person received Dargle Local Currency Vouchers to spend at the Dargle Local Market.
Watch a delightful compilation of some of the year's wild highlights here:


To Burn or Not to Burn
Burning is a contentious issue; but one thing everyone agrees on is that if burning is going to be done, it has to be done properly. Dargle Conservancy hosted a morning of discussion in the lovely grassland covered hills above the mist-belt forest.

The group agreed that the most basic ADVICE when planning to burn anything is:

  • If you are not 100% sure of what is best, ask a couple of ‘old-timers’ for their opinion BEFORE you strike the match.
  • DON’T just ask one person, you may have chosen the local pyromaniac!
  • ALWAYS consult with your neighbours so that when they see a puff of smoke they already know what your intentions are.
  • ALWAYS be 150% prepared with equipment. Overkill on prevention is far better than trying to stop a fire when it is already running.
  • Most people are happy to assist with advice rather than running around trying to mop up a mess later.

Read about the Dargle Fire Workshop here:

Dargle Nature Reserve Autumn Walk
Always a popular day out wandering through forests and grasslands from CrabApple to Lemonwood. Delicious soup for lunch provided by Katie Robinson was well deserved after 11 hot kilometres. 

“That was the most glorious day imaginable. A truly memorable hike topped off with a wonderful lunch. When I got home I looked up that little plant we saw beside the spring – Utricularia prehensilis, so I learnt something new. I can’t wait for some friends and relations to visit so we can show them the area too.”  Gill and Mike Woods

Spring Walk scheduled for 21 September - don't miss it. 

Tracks and Scats 
Hayley and Neville van Leylyveld, led two excursions in the Dargle recently to discover who and what shares the land with us. Their biggest tip to observing the life and signs of the animals around us is to be respectful and quiet.  Read about it and see all the interesting photos here:



Francois du Toit, CEO of African Conservation Trust and Founding member of Sustainable Alternatives to Fracking and Exploration, delivered an inspiring presentation to Dargle Conservancy members and friends.
The fracking belt in KZN lies against the Drakensberg (amongst other areas) – the birthplace of our rivers. It crosses three major rivers – the Tugela, the uMngeni and the uMkomaas. The Greater uMngeni River Catchment is of strategic significance to South Africa as it supports the third largest economic hub in the country, namely the City of Durban, through the supply of water necessary to deliver water and sanitation services for social and economic needs.
Can we risk these rivers becoming contaminated?

Read more about the threats at:

With such a serious matter at the forefront of our minds can you imagine our response to the following notification in all our postboxes?


But thank goodness, it was an April Fools joke!


At the KZN Conservancies Association AGM, our very own Nikki Brighton received a certificate for outstanding commitment and contribution to the natural environment of KwaZulu Natal, in recognition of her efforts to promote the cause of conservation in the province.
Thank you and Well Done Nikki!

Click here for the full story:


Nxamalala Holiday Club
Dargle Conservancy supports a Holiday Club at Nxamalala village on the Petrusstroom Road. It was run by Gugu Zuma and attended by local children. The range of subjects covered included local farming, where the children learnt that home grown produce is safer and healthier than store bought goods.

In the uMngeni river they did their own miniSASS test, learning about water cycles and pollution. On the last day they engaged their creativity by making their leaf and flower Mandalas. Please find the full story and all the photos here:

More recently, activities focused on Biodiversity and Ecosystems – how all living things depend on one another. An example is that Baboons lift rocks while searching for insects, leaving a bare patch of soil that gives seeds an opportunity to geminate. Conclusion: plant diversity would be affected if there were no baboons!  "It is the first holiday that I do something meaningful. Usually we just play soccer.” said Thobani Gumede.

 Snakes in Impendle
Pat McKrill visited three schools in the Impendle Eco-Schools Cluster for a snake workshop and although there were some humorous moments, the message of snake safety was achieved. Generally speaking, the kids were very enthusiastic and Pat was able to address a number of fears.

At KwaKheta, a teacher probably misunderstood Pat when he said that no one would have to come near the snakes if they didn't want to…half the class started to leave! He got them back however and after a small rehash of the message they all had fun.

They also had a visit from the perennial gardener leaning inside through the window offering alternative advice on what to do when kids come across snakes, although he and Pat have differing views they soon found some middle ground! Nevertheless there was some amusing repartee that kept the kids amused. The gardener’s arguments lost ground as more and more kids came forward to hold a snake. 

Go with the flow at Lion’s River Primary
Dargle Conservancy supports environmental education at a number of schools in the area including the Lions River Primary school, situated beside the Lions River flood plain. Dargle engages the Midlands Meander Education Project (MMAEP) to conduct lessons and activities on their behalf.  Although things don’t always go according to plan, there is no doubt that lots of learning happens when the MMAEP are about.

Read about a recent lesson in the Lion’s River wetland:


Robin Fowler has rainfall records going back many years and shared this information:
This is the first year in the past 10 that we have recorded no rainfall for two consecutive months -May and June. July was only 3mm and so far in August we have had 5mm.

So far this season we have had 940.5mm (September to August)

Our 10year annual average is 951.7mm.

What are the chances of more rain in August you may ask? Well it’s possible if the area experiences a wet cold front. Compared to last season we had a very slow spring, only 89mm in September/October 2013 Good summer months and a very wet March 265.5mm (10 year average +-100mm)


We were sad to hear that Dargle Conservancy member Priscilla Francis died recently. Priscilla was passionate about conservation and a great admirer of Dargle Conservancy activities, despite living at Milestone in Balgowan. We are so glad she was able to join our Decade Celebrations last year (pic), which she thoroughly enjoyed. With her husband Peter, she started the Balgowan Conservancy in the late 1970's - it was the very first conservancy in South Africa. 

Read this tribute to Priscilla: 

We would like to extend a heartfelt welcome to our new members:
Bridgette and Louis Bolton, Helen McKenzie, Tim and Ali Smeeton, Pam and Wesley Smit

Dargle Conservancy committee also has some new hardworking members. This is the team:

Ashley Crookes - Wildlife Sightings and Trail Camera
Bridgette Bolton - Newsletters
Jennifer Pretorius - Events and Social Media
Brandon Powell – Secretary and Events
Nikki Brighton - Chair
Barry Downard - Vice Chair, and Development issues
Robin Barnsley - Treasurer and HDLA liaison

Thanks to Gilly Robartes for hosting movies at Hebron and Tanglewood and Ashley Crookes for screening films at Everglades.

We would like to extend a juge thank you to Pam Smit for doing our administration and bookkeeping. Please contact Pam should you have queries about your subs on

For any additional information please click here to contact us.