Spring 2015 Newsletter

'Is the spring coming?' He said. 'What is it like?' 'It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…' from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett

Damp grass in the Dargle Nature Reserve

In this Spring edition of our newsletter, read about our rivers, new Nature Reserve and reduced Reedbuck numbers. The threat of fracking, the thrill of wildlife captured on our cameras and the many opportunities in our community to contribute, learn and make friends.

The Dargle Nature Reserve

We are delighted to announce that the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme has finally proclaimed the Dargle Nature Reserve an official entity! Well done Katie Robinson, Barend and Helen Booysen, Tammy and David Schneideman, Vicky and Graham Griffin, John and Carl Bronner - the protection this will offer parts of our valley and its fauna and flora is hopefully worth the decade of tribulations and paperwork.

Conserving precious and dwindling biodiversity is one of the most important things we can do for all life on Earth, including humans. The proclamation of the Dargle Nature Reserve demonstrates that the planet is not just a warehouse - the land to be farmed, forests to provide timber, grasslands grazing and the rivers water.  While it is unlikely that we will be able to stop species going extinct, the landowners involved have done something positive and meaningful to contribute, rather than just taking.  Here’s hoping our neighbours – the reedbuck, orchids, cape parrots, sundews, oribi, samangos, serval, bush pigs and Prunus africana all thrive too.

We plan a Celebration obviously, so will keep you posted.

Imsge of a section of the Dargle Nature Reserve - grassland and rocks

Fracking in and aroung the Dargle

All Dargle residents, friends of Dargle and the KZN Midlands are encouraged to attend the Public Paricipation Meeting that will be held at the Lion's River Club at 2.30pm on the 3rd of November 2015.

Rhino Oil & Gas has applied for an Exploration Permit over 10 000 farms covering 1 500 000 hectares, broadly encompassing all the land (and water resources, of course) between Richmond and Dundee. Given the scarcity of water this year, (and we may assume, with increased demand, in future years too,) the issue can hardly fail to affect each and every one of us who live in the KZN Midlands. While they tell us that fracking is not on the cards, you can be certain that should they find shale gas, they will frack. Whatever your opinions on fracking might be your participation is of the utmost importance.

We are contributing towards costs for a coordinated effort across the KZN Midlands - making sure that people in every area have the resources, information and support that they need to fight this application. The Dargle Conservancy has registered as an Interested and Affected Party and we encourage you to do the same. Email this sentence "Please may I register as an Interested and Affected Party for the Rhino Oil & Gas Exploration Right in KZN" to Matthew Hemming - mhemming@slrconsulting.com or Stella Moeketse - smoeketse@slrconsulting.com. Ask them any questions you may have about the process, the map or the impacts.

What else can you do?

Anti fracking banner - Fracking - Google it

A Little Exhibition

Dargle has long been inspiration for artists and craftsmen. Ian Glenny of Dargle Valley Pottery was a founder member of the Midlands Meander 30 years ago. More recently, Eidin Griffin and Brandon Powell, two slightly mad Dargle artists, held an exhibition of their current work in Crab Apple Chapel.

What a lovely occasion! Guests (half of Dargle) sipped Pimms and freshly made cordial while admiring their work. Luckily for the Conservancy, they sold plenty too, so made a generous donation to our cause. We think it would be a good idea to spend the money on creative lessons in local schools. You can view all the fabulous photos here.

Guests at the Liitle Art Exhibition

WP van Heerden's Exhibition 'Shattered Views' mostly painted in Dargle is on at the Tatham Art Gallery until 6 December. The paintings take you on a tongue-in-cheek trip through the rainbow nation, with slightly twisted, poignant images of our day-to-day lives. Don't miss the recognisable Dargle scenes.

Hot Spring Walk

A few dozen Dargle folk and friends gathered to climb Inhlosane together in its first flush of Spring. Despite of the blistering heat and lack of rain, wildflowers were bravely in bud and flower after the recent burning. They seemed much better adapted to their environment than the humans, who were hot and blackened by burnt grass by the time they reached the summit! We took 20 children from our Nxamalala Enviro Club along for the adventure.

"It was Saturday the 26th when we went to Inhlosane with my friends and schoolmates. It was fun because we hike the mountain which was quite hard to hike. I was the 7th person to be on top. There we saw different places like iMpendle, Drakensberg, Kamberg, Karkloof. We ate healthy food and drank water - it was so hot. Ashley is one of people we hiked with, he showed us his amazing movie when he was underwater. The part we enjoyed the most was when we were racing down the mountain. One of the girls fell and rolled six times. We like to say thank you to Nikki, Éidín and Gugu for organising everything."
Sabelo Zuma

"Trips like that are always food for the soul." - Kathy Milford

"We definitely enjoyed ourselves and we promise that we will be back to summit that small hill!" - Doreen, Itayi and Tawanda Madonga who, along with a few others, didn't manage to make it to the top.

View all the photos in our Inhlosane Facebook Album.

Hikers on the summit of Imhlosane

Rounding up our Reedbuck

A couple of months ago residents in the hills between Dargle and Lidgetton were startled by a low flying helicopter rounding up Reedbuck. A call to Ezemvelo verified that this was a legal activity - the landowner had a permit to remove 20 animals. However, not everyone agrees that it is the right thing to be doing, despite the official permission.

Reedbuck do roam, so clearly any usually spotted on neighbouring properties, including the Dargle Nature Reserve, who were unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of the helicopter that day are gone. Many are asking the question "Can a landowner really claim ownership of the wildlife, even if the law says they may?"

While hunting and relocation has taken place in Dargle in the past, dwindling habitat and other pressures mean our wildlife is under threat. When do we decide that we need to conserve every species, rather than remove, sell or kill? We believe that it is important to encourage landowners to understand their dual role as farmer and custodian, and that ownership is a relative concept.

We have received many responses to this event from our members. We share just a few.

"We report 'poaching' but seriously, how different is this to a couple of guys hunting with dogs?" - Ashley Crookes

"About 10 years ago, we used to have 40 or 50 reedbuck on our ryegrass at night. We got a permit to remove some and took 6 off for two consecutive years. I noticed that this caused the population to crash and I do not think it has ever recovered." - Howard Long

"Has this Conservancy not proven that it is an active and effective conservation asset in the overall context of the environmental and biodiversity management of the province and made a significant positive contribution to biodiversity conservation? Does EKZNW not have a mandate to develop meaningful partnerships with community conservation initiatives and support the rights of communities to engage meaningfully and take collective responsibility for the biodiversity conservation on private land." - Andrew Anderson

"I have noticed a sharp decline in buck numbers since we first came here 13 years ago. It does not fill me full of confidence about our long awaited nature reserve and our partnership with Ezemvelo." - Katie Robinson

"The farmer who requested the removal of the Reedbuck appears to have acted without reference to the adjoining landowners. One would expect that this simple act of courtesy would have been a minimum requirement for many reasons, but especially given the fact that the Reedbuck habitat extends over numerous farms." - Barend Booysen

"This is an example of what is wrong with our world, the greed of a few compromising everything else. Years ago there was an abundance of wildlife in Dargle, today we are so happy to see something we write about it in our Monthly Sightings." - Gill Addison

"20 reedbuck at the current price of around R2500 per animal equates to large pot of cash." - Neville van Lelyveld

The Conservancy submitted an application to Ezemvelo Permits Office in terms of PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act) for access to the permit granted. Ezemvelo issues permits based on information and game count figures supplied by property owners. The permit states that there are about 150 reedbuck on this property, so permission for 25 to be removed, was granted. Apparently, six have been removed so far.

We are surprised that Ezemvelo could really believe that any property around here has a population of 150 Reedbuck. We have requested that they visit the property to verify the numbers remaining. We will campaign to change the way that permits are issued in future. We believe that Ezemvelo should consult Conservancies in the vicinity on receiving applications for wildlife removal, particularly if they are unable to verify the data themselves.

We plan to revive the Annual Game Count in Dargle and Lidgetton next winter to see just how many there really are. Do hope you will join in! Doe Reedbuck

Please remember to submit your Oribi Survey data sheets to EWT Oribi Working Group this month. Jiba Magwaza jibam@ewt.org.za

Snakes wake up for Summer.

15 October was Snake Day in Dargle. Ever popular Pat McKrill, accompanied by his box of slithery friends and Gugu Zuma (Dargle Conservancy Committee member), spent the morning visiting the three schools we support. Lion's River Primary, Corrie Lynn Primary and Dargle Primary. Reception was mixed, but many children had the chance to get up really close and touch a snake for the first time.

"Thanks for washing away our belief that all snakes are dangerous. Now we know they are here to help us" said Brian Mthalane in Grade 7. Teacher, Sibu Chalufa added "We now know that snakes are part of our world and should be treated with respect. Pat gave a very informative show." Dumisane Zuma, who drives a taxi, said "Now I get it, cars are more dangerous than snakes!" 25 000 people are killed on our roads every year and only 10 from snake bites.

After lunch, farm staff attended a session at the Lion's River Club. Most were nervous, but Baba Zuma set the trend by being the first up to hold a snake, with everyone else following. Thobane Sokhela was adamant "No ways will I ever touch a snake" but even he was grinning proudly with an armful of Brown House Snake by the end of the presentation. "I thought it would be moist and slimy, but it wasn't."

In the evening, Pat had us roaring with laughter at his entertaining talk. We learnt a heap about snakes, got to feel the interesting rough texture of a File Snake and Linda Barnsley surprised everyone by holding one for the first time in her life. See all the photos here.

Dargle children get up close to a snake

River Resoration Campaign

The Dargle River was named by Irish settlers who arrived in the valley in 1840 and felt the area looked much like the Dargle, County Wicklow near Dublin.

Our Dargle River begins in the grassland slopes below the road to Fort Nottingham. Although some of its journey is through beautiful original grassland, much of the riparian zone is degraded by invasive plants. For grassland streams, like the Dargle, these shade the water, change the temperature and the aquatic biodiversity, and prevent animals accessing the water. When this ecosystem is weakened water quality is affected. Water does not come from a tap – it comes from the hills and wetlands - the 'water factories' - of the Midlands. As the Dargle is a tributary of the uMngeni River, which provides 6 million people with water, this is cause for concern.

Dargle Conservancy has a programme to clear the riparian zone of the Dargle and uMngeni rivers. R100 clears a metre of the river and keeps it clear of invasive plants. Recently, Mr Zuma and his fabulous team cleared log jams from the water and followed up last season's clearing on the banks. We were absolutely enchanted to find that they had used some of the cleared wood to create a picnic table and bench in the shade beside the river, as a gift to the Conservancy! Penny Rees DUCT River Champion saw the difference recently: "Wow this is totally amazing and unrecogniseable! What a change since our scramble through bramble and bugweed in early 2014. Congratulations."

If you need some help with clearing invasive plants, we cannot recommend Alfred Zuma more highly. Contact him on 082 672 0030.

Furth stream

The team will be doing some hands on training sessions soon at various Dargle waterside properties. Don't miss the chance to send your staff to these.

Steam Punk Café, il Postino and The Farmer's Daughter all know that you need good water to make good coffee. They are encouraging everyone to make a donation to restore the rivers flowing through Dargle and ensure there is delicious Dargle water for all. Jethro Bronner in his journey in a vintage Alfa across Africa and Europe to Dargle in Ireland supports the river bank rehabilitation programme.

Read the blogpost 'Big River - Little River' here.

How many metres would you like to protect? How many glasses of fresh, cold water will you drink this week? There are two options to make donations:

Invest in your water supplies by making a donation to restoring this ecosystem. Probably the most important thing you will ever do.

We are really impressed with the work that the Natal Fly Fishers Club has been doing on the banks of the uMngeni River on Brigadoon. While their motivation for clearing the invasive plants and log jams is to improve fishing, in the process they are improving water supplies for us all. Champion Andrew Fowler, who grew up in Dargle, has just published a book 'Stippled Beauties' about the rivers and fish that live in them. Read about it here.

Inspiring Films

Last August, Rob Stewart's newly released 'Revolution' was shown to a keen and interested crowd from the Dargle and Howick areas at St Ives. The director of 'Sharkwater' had made a new documentary to focus attention on the oceans, to protect not only the fish life, but to show that in doing so, we as the human race will be protecting ourselves and prolonging the life of our planet for the generations to come. Lots of gorgeous underwater cinematography was included which Sam, Shine and family thoroughly enjoyed!

September saw the release of 'The True Cost' and the Conservancy was fortunate enough to obtain a special early release copy, which was shown at Everglades Hotel. The filmmakers explored the impact of fashion on people and the planet, and something which we take for granted when we go to the store to buy a new shirt or pair of pants - is actually a life or death situation for some people working in horrendous conditions, and how they and their families cope with their situation.

On 11 November we will be screening 'The End of the Line' at Everglades Hotel which is about how overfishing the world's oceans is affecting our dwindling sea life. 'Chasing Ice' will be the first movie of the new year and will be shown in January 2016. It follows National Geographic photographer James Balog across the Arctic as he deploys time-lapse cameras designed for one purpose: to capture a multi-year record of the world's changing glaciers.

What's Been Spotted? Wonderful stuff!

This Spring we have a lot of new and unusual sightings captured and sent in by our members. Katie Robinson rented one of the DC's trail cameras for 2 months and enjoyed it so much that now she's considering purchasing her own camera! Some of her significant captures included a family of Bush Pig - one sniffed the camera and got such a fright that it ran off! There was also a clip of two Porcupines mating. Videos have been uploaded onto the Dargle Facebook page and will also be shown at the AGM next year. Katie has also been looking after two Wood Owls from the Raptor Rescue Rehabilitation Centre, which have been released into the forest.

With the warmer weather, our slithery friends have also awoken from their winter slumber and are making the most of the sunshine. Jen Fly sent in a picture of a snake that Pat McKrill identified as a Herald Snake which had made its way into her home. Éidín Griffin had a Puffadder over for tea, Ashley Crookes has Natal Green Snakes in the garden, Red Herald Snakes on the trails and Night Adders sleeping in old sacks in the shed.

Pat and Sandra Merrick sent in some images supplied by a friend, of a Serval being followed by a Reedbuck, as well as providing their own action shots of a Gymnogene trying to catch a meal in some rocks. Robin and Sharon Barnsley had a beautiful pic of a Serval that spent a night outside their bedroom. Kevan Zunckel saw a Bittern which is Critically Endangered so we were blessed with a picture of that. Other notable sightings included a Glow Worm, Dung Beetle, Oribi captured by Dr Amy Leigh Shuttleworth, the Waterbuck still in the Lidgetton area. Nikki Brighton sent in lots of lovely new plant life and Brandon Powell had a mouse in his couch!

If you missed them, view them here:
August 2015 and September 2015


While we all hope desperately for familiar Spring rain, we also know that everything on our planet (even in Dargle!) has changed and continues to change rapidly. Real rains are only forecast for December. We need to focus our attention on conserving water, clearing thirsty invasive plants to release more into the system, making sure we reduce hard surfaces that contribute to flood events in heavy downpours and adapting our behaviour to less water and energy intensive consumption habits – as fast as we can.