As always, the end of the year arrived sooner than expected. When we reflect on 2016, we realise that the year was marked by political turbulence, a rapidly deteriorating economy (accompanied by an ever increasing inflation rate), and exceptional drought conditions.
Since our last newsletter, we’ve had welcome rain (albeit accompanied by strong winds and hail) – a blessing we’re very thankful for. The popular view of especially Gauteng residents is that the drought is something of the past, and that everything is back to normal once again. They don’t seem to understand why water restrictions are still in place. The effect of the drought will, however, still be experienced for some time to come. It is a fact that national dam levels remain critically low. (See the article on seasonal weather forecasts below).
Annual General Meeting: The Conservancy’s 2016 AGM took place at Mokoya Lodge on 12 November. It was attended by 29 of our members. As is customary after the AGM, membership fees are now payable. The minutes of the meeting and invoices will be sent out early in the new year.
This is our last newsletter for this year. The next newsletter will be published end January/beginning February 2017. Our members and readers found most of the articles in our previous newsletter informative and interesting, with the travel blogs about the Conservancy’s guest house facilities proving most popular. (See the article on two more of the Conservancy’s guest house facilities below).
Christmas wishes: We wish all our members and readers a merry Christmas and a prosperous 2017. A friend sent some wishes, which I’d like to share with our readers and members – “As we reflect on the past year, let us take time to slow down and enjoy the simple things. Christmas brings family and friends together; it helps us appreciate the love in our lives we perhaps often take for granted. May this holiday season give sparkle and shine for you, and may the true meaning of Christmas fill your hearts and homes with many blessings”. Those who are fortunate enough to travel to faraway places, travel safe and come back home safely. Whether you are staying at home, travelling to the bush or coast these holidays, we encourage you to always care for the environment. Could Reduce, Re-use and Recycle be your New Year’s resolution?
Some holiday quotes:
“There are two kinds of travel – first class and with children” (American humourist, Robert Benchley).
“Throughout history it has been man who worships and polishes the vehicle, and woman who packs the suitcases” (American writer, John Fowles)
“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home” (American writer, Dagobert D. Runes)
“If you don’t like museums at all here, why go to them somewhere else?” (American writer, Gail Rubin Bereny).
Our Conservancy as a tourist destination
This month, we focus on two more guest house facilities in the Conservancy.
Ziggy’s River Cottage: This self-catering cottage on the banks of the Magalies River in Hartebeestfontein will let you enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Magaliesburg Mountain while relaxing and unwinding from the stresses of daily life. While sitting on the covered patio overlooking the Magalies River, you will enjoy the activities on the river and maybe see the elusive otter. In the mornings, you’ll wake up to the sounds of nature. You may decide to amble through the natural forest which surrounds the property, or view the bird life with your binoculars, or take your mountain bike for a spin on the 8km bush and river trail. Braai or make your camp fire to enjoy the bush, have a romantic dinner under the stars, or book at Mokoya lodge Sweet Thyme Restaurant for a gourmet meal. Being on the Magalies Meander allows for all the Meander activities to be experienced on your doorstep, such as horse riding at Saddle creek, ballooning at Bill Harrop’s, hiking at Rustig or Castle Gorge, rock climbing at Shelter Rock, as well as mountain biking on the Van Gaalen MTB routes. You can also visit the Sterkfontein caves and the Maropeng World Heritage Site in the Cradle of Humankind, or the Hartebeestpoort Dam, which all make for a nice day outing from the property. The guest house is located just off the R560 between Skeerpoort and Hekpoort, and approximately one hour’s drive from Sandton, Pretoria and Rustenburg.
Eco Retreat: The Eco Retreat is a self-catering, pet friendly cottage in Hartebeestfontein, nestled between the Magaliesberg and Witwatersrand mountain range, along the Magalies River. Here you can restore and revitalise your soul in the secluded spacious “wooded” bush environment and connect with nature. You’ll wake up to the sounds of birds in the river reeds or monkeys canopying from tree to tree. The wooded canopied braai area is ideal for a shaded lunch time meal. An open boma fire pit is there for you to enjoy the starry night and listen to the concert of the frogs or jackals crying in the distance. The facility is great for families and friends (1-12 people), ideal for yoga and wellness groups, retreats, workshops, cycling and walking. What makes Eco Retreat so special is the way in which reclaimed materials have been up-cycled, like the old windmill and furniture, and building materials sourced from the property, like the stones and reeds. Solar panels have been installed for hot water, and water tanks to collect rain water. Little touches, like the food and herb garden, complete the green picture.
Information and photos were provided via email by Hayley Livesey on 3 October 2016. Read feedback from guests on Facebook:
Seasonal weather forecast: Dec 2016 to April 2017
The effect of the drought: It is common knowledge that 2015 was the year with the lowest rainfall for South Africa since 1904, and that this effect had continued through the first three quarters of 2016.
In the eastern summer rainfall regions, it had since strated raining – in many cases, severe electrical storms were experienced, causing much hail damage, flash floods and even a tornado or two. (See precautions to be taken under such conditions below). In the central and western parts of the country, however, the drought is continuing. All the provinces, except Gauteng, were therefore declared drought disaster areas. According to economist, Johan Willemse (Rapport Sakenuus, 5 December 2016), these conditions will persist for quite some time still – probably for another year or two. The after effects of the worst drought this century will leave a permanent mark on the agricultural sector, the rural areas and food production for a nation that is urbanising rapidly. In November 2016 already, dam levels were alarmingly low: Eastern Cape 62,8%; Free State 51,2%; Gauteng 78,4%; Kwazulu Natal 41,6%; Lesotho 37,1%; Limpopo 46%; Mpumalanga 47,3%; Northen Cape 54,4%; and Northwest Province 56,2%. This time last year, the average dam levels were over 60% - this year, the average is 49% (Farmer’s Weekly, 4 November 2016, DSTV News, 15 December 2016). In the news, we read that the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme is being accelerated and expanded – to ensure that Gauteng doesn’t run out of water in the next 10 years. The tough water restrictions have, however, not had the desired effect on water wastage. According to Tian Claassens (News 24, 12 October 2016), the water consumption of many Gauteng households is not measured and/or they are not billed for their water consumption. In these areas, water is wasted in huge quantities, simply because it is free. It seems that emergency measures instituted by authorities to reduce water consumption, have very little or no impact on over-consumption of water in such areas. In the news, we also read that conditions in especially the Kruger National Park are deteriorating at some speed, and that visitor numbers have declined sharply, as people don’t wish to see the animals in their weakened state. While sufficient water is still available, animals are forced to travel long distances to reach water holes under heat wave conditions, thereby making them weaker. Grazers are suffering the most, as the veld’s biomass is critically low and will take years to recover.
According to the South African Weather Buro (14 Desember 2016), indications are that South Africa’s summer rainfall areas can expect wetter conditions during the early and mid-summer periods. The likelihood of cooler conditions for the mid-summer season have further increased, which could be attributed to the expected wetter conditions. As has been predicted, weather conditions are generally increasing in intensity, and many parts of our country have already experienced severe storms. Although such conditions are not the norm and have up to now only occurred rarely, it will be wise to take the necessary precautions, in order to keep your family and property safe.
Tornados: In the event of seeing a tornado, move to a pre-designated building or else, move into the centre of your home and get under a sturdy piece of furniture, like a table. Get out of vehicles, caravans or mobile homes as these can be moved, overturned or even destoryed by the strong winds or flying debris. Stay away from windows as flying glass and debris cause most deaths. Do not attempt to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. Leave it immediately and seek shelter. If caught outside in the open, lie flat in a ditch or depression but beware of flooding if there is heavy rain associated with it, as is often the case.
Lightning: Unsafe areas during an electric storm are tall structures, such as trees, telephone and power lines, hilltops, open water (like a swimming pool), unprotected gazebos or picnic shelters. If your hair stands on end, leave the area as fast as possible, as lightning will almost certainly strike that spot shortly. Avoid being near or touching metal objects such as fences, golf carts, bicycles and motorcycles. If indoors during a storm, stay away from windows. Do not hold any metal objects, use any electrical appliances or the telephone/cellphone, or take a bath or shower. If you are travelling, stay in the vehicle. Do not play sport during thunderstorms. Golfers and fishermen are at high risk.
Flash floods: Although flash floods are rare, when they occur, they can wreak havoc, especially where the existing infrastructure cannot handle such water masses. Following the latest flash floods in Johannesburg, it’s easy to see how quickly a torrent can occur and the extreme dangers it holds. Flash floods are distinguished from regular floods by a timescale of less than six hours. You will not always have a warning that these deadly, sudden floods are coming. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), have provided important tips and information that may just save your life:
In your home: Keep emergency numbers and important information handy. You should also keep emergency supplies like water, canned food, a can opener, battery operated radio, flashlight and protective clothing ready. Ensure that your first-aid kit is fully stocked. When there are signs of lightning and thunder, turn off and unplug all your household electrical devices. Lock all doors and windows. Leave the area before the flooding rises too high. Get to higher ground.
If you find yourself outdoors or in your vehicle: Climb to higher ground and stay there. Avoid walking through floodwaters – even 15cm deep can sweep you off your feet. If flood waters rise around your vehicle, but the water is not moving, abandon the vehicle and move to higher ground. Never drive on a flooded road. If you get swept away in the flood waters, try to grab onto anything, so you can to pull yourself to safety. If your vehicle is swept into the water and submerged, don’t panic! Stay calm and try to get out through a window. Otherwise, preferably wait for the vehicle to fill with water. Once the vehicle is full, the doors will be able to open and you can swim up to the surface.
Did you know?
How does a rain guage work? Few people know how a rain guage works.
1mm rain equals 1 litre of water on 1 square metre. If you get 25mm rain on your 1 000 square metre stand, it equals 25 tons of water, and on 1 hectare, this will be 250 tons of water. If you have a 1 000 hectare farm and you get 80mm of rain, this equals 800 ton x 1 000 hectares. This is 800 000 tons of water. If you now take a 10 ton water truck and you transport 10 loads every day of the year, it will be 800 000/10/10/365 days. It will take 21.9 years to transport all that water! (Anonymous source).
Animals’ water consumption: One elephant’s daily intake of food and water equals that of 30 head of cattle (Piet Gouws, Namibia Livestock Producers’ Organisation). Water consumption of livestock per head - litres per day: Cattle (70), horses (55), sheep (4), pigs (25), poultry per 100 birds (20). Household use per person is 200 litres per day (Gauteng Smallholder, November 2016).
Tips for saving water
We should all save water – it is our duty! Below are some handy tips for saving water. You may think that you’ve heard about these tips over and over again, but maybe we just need a little reminder.
Monitor your usage. A family of four can easily use less than 25Kl per month.
Repair water leaks. During the drought it is easy to see patches of green grass where water may be leaking underground.
Use a water saving shower head – less than R100 from most hardware stores. Shorten your shower by a minute or two and turn the flow rate down.
If you are replacing household appliances, look for ones that save electricity and water. Before running washing machines and dish washers, fill them up. You can collect the used washing machine/bath/shower water in a bucket and water your garden with it.
Turn the tap off when you aren’t using water while brushing teeth or washing hands. Liquid hand soaps also use less water than bar soaps.
Use a broom instead of a hose pipe for cleaning driveways and paths. Wash your car less often and use a bucket.
Drinking water actually saves water. Most cold drinks and other beverages use many litres of water to produce just one bottle or can. Bottled water is a waste when you are at home. Consider installing a water filtration system, but avoid reverse osmosis systems, as they waste a lot of water.
Keep a bucket at hand in the bathroom and kitchen. While you are running hot water and waiting for it to heat up, collect the water and re-use it. You can also use bath or shower water to flush toilets.
Collecting rain water can be simple and cost effective, using a dustbin and plumbing fittings. Plans are freely available on the Internet, or ask your local hardware store for some advice. (Chat Newsletter, Watersaving Edition, 2016-11-07).
Save Water and Schlepp in your Garden
An indigenous, water wise garden will enhance your envrionment and is environmentally friendly. Six steps to follow, if you wish to establish your own water wise garden:
Rezone your garden: Take plants with similar water needs and plant them together. Plant some indigenous trees with deep root systems to create shade.
Mulching is the answer: It prevents evaporation, keeps weeds out and moisture in. Popular mulching options include biodegradable items, such as grass cuttings, wood shavings, bark, decomposed animal droppigns and garden compost. Non-living options include among others broken stones, small rocks and gravel. You van also do “xeriscaping” – this gardening technique focuses on saving water, by planting drought resistant, slow growing plants that will thrive under your local climate conditions.
Soil quality: Add organic material, such as compost and other decomposed plant material to your soil to keep moisture in. And make sure that some earth worms are living in your garden to improve your soil quality.
Your lawn: Decrease your massive lawn by replacing some sections with ground covers or other interesting water wise landscaping methods. It is better to mow your lawn more often than to mow it irregularly and more severe.
Water correctly: It is possible to “teach” your plants to be water wise, by watering them less often – this will encourage deeper root growth and make your plants more drought resistant. Water before 09:00 in the mornings and after 18:00 in the evenings, and avoid windy days.
Plant indigenous: Remove exotic plants and replace them with indigenous plants. Note, however, that not all indigenous plant species are necessarily water wise. Ask the experts at your local nursery for advice.
(Sources: jamieddesign.co.za; stodels.com; gardenshop.co.za; gardenworld.co.za; waterwise.co.za).
A New Sunbird is Born
In spring, two sunbirds picked a chain on two of our members, Mike and Cilla Crewe-Brown’s verandah, about a metre from their front door, to start building a nest.
They watched as the parents took turns sitting on the egg and became excited when they eventually heard the chick squawking for food. Then the big day arrived. Early in the morning, the chick climbed to the top of the nest, plucked up the courage and tumbled to the floor. Undaunted, it gathered all its strength, and with a perfect second attempt, flew to the safety of the nearby bushes. They watched it for the remainder of the day, as both parents took turns to catch insects on the wing, as many as 15 at a time, all still alive, to feed to the chick. It still lives in the Crewe-Browns’ garden, and most mornings, it comes and sits by the office window to say “hi”.
Cilla was also fortunate enough to discover a huge bullfrog under some bushes in their garden. One morning, she heard the dogs bark and discovered a tortoise. They also have a number of mongooses on their property.
(All the photos were kindly provided by Mike and Cilla).
More bird stories:
On 25 November 2016, many people took part in a bird census, by making a note of all the bird species they could observe in their immediate vicinity. According to Ernst Retief of BirdLife SA, 847 different bird species call SA their home (RSG, 25 November 2016).
Swifts spend months in the air: A small, dark-feathered bird known as the common swift flies for 10 months on end without ever landing, the longest time spent aloft of any known bird, scientists said recently. The findings in the US journal Current Biology, were from a study by a team of researchers from Sweden who fitted tiny backpacks on 13 of the birds. “When the common swifts leave their breeding site in August for a migration to the Central African rainforests via West Africa, they never touch ground until they return for the next breeding season 10 months later,” said researcher Anders Hedenstrom of Lund University (The Citizen, 28 October 2016).
Tips for a green Christmas
Here are a number of tips to help us all to celebrate a “greener” Christmas.
Sustainable wrapping: Buy fabric shopping bags at your local store or craft market.
Charity: Clean out your cupboards and give to the needy.
Green Christmas tree option: Buy an indigenous tree to decorate, and then plant it outside in January.
Choose handmade and homemade: Create your own gift tags/Christmas cards from last year’s cards or calenders.
Energy-efficient lighting: Replace your light strands with newer LED bulbs and install a timer to save electricity and avoid overheating.
Ornaments: Wood, metal or cloth are natural substances and will last longer than plastic or thin glass.
Shop local: Buy South African products instead of imported products.
Give “battery free” gifts: Discarded batteries are an environmental hazard.
Connect with nature: Get outdoors! Decorate a tree for the birds – place seed bells, suet, pine cones with peanut butter and seed trays on any tree in your garden. (Chat Newsletter, Holiday Edition, 2016-12).
Snippets of Environmental News
The Green Key Award: Green Key, in partnership with WESSA, was launched in South Africa in 2015. The Green Key Award is a leading standard of excellence in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation within the tourism industry. Read more: http://www.greenkey.global/
Tomato pest: South Africa’s annual tomato harvest of about 600 000 tons is now being threatened by a destructive pest in tomato harvests worldwide. Tuta absoluta is a highly destructive insect that attacks the leaves and stems of tomato and potato plants. According to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, this pest has now also reached South Africa, after having spread from South America and then to Europe. Moreover, within one planting season, this pest has become resistant to most chemicals used to get rid of it. (Netwerk24 and Reuters, 6 November 2016).
Biodiversity: South Africa is one of the most bilogically diverse countries in the world, only slightly less diverse than Indonesia and Brazil. According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), we are not only surrounded by two oceans, but the country covers about 2% of the world’s land mass and is home to about 10% of the world’s flora, 7% of the reptile, bird and animal species and 15% of all coastal and marine life (Rapport Beleef, 9 October 2016).
National Environmental Managament: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) (Act no 10 of 2004): Updated Alien and Invasive Species Lists were published in Government Gazette (no 40166 of 29 July 2016). Draft distribution maps for certain indigenous species were also published in Government Gazette (no 40398). The distribution maps are applicable to the implementation of the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations of 2007 and the Alien and Invasive Species (AIS) Regulations of 2014. The Gazettes are available free online at www.gpwonline.co.za.
Solar-powered SA airport flying: Built in 1977, George Airport is now a transit hub for shipments of flowers and oysters, as well as golfers visiting one of the region’s many golf courses. About 700 000 passengers pass through its doors each year. This small site is South Africa’s first “green” airport powered by the sun. The solar plant, launched in September 2015, is only the second solar-run airport in the world after Cochin in India. The control towers, escalators, check-in desks, baggage carousels, restaurants and ATMs all depend on a small power station a few hundred metres away in a field of dandelions next to a runway. Its 2 000 solar panels produce up to 750kW every day, easily surpassing the 400kW needed to run the airport.The excess is fed into the municipal power grid, which supplies 274 households with green electricity. The environmental value of the project is already evident, as the hub has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 1 229 tons. According to airport manager, Brenda Vorster, the electricity bill has been cut by 40% in the space of only one year. (The Citizen, 11 October 2016).
Municipality ordered to deal with electricity thieves: Electricity thieves may have met their Waterloo countrywide. In an article in the Eastern Cape daily, the Daily Dispatch (10 November 2016), it was reported that the Buffalo City Metro had been ordered to act against Nkandla informal settlement dwellers, who had been stealing electricity from a private farm for the past two years. This was ordered by the Eastern Cape High Court (East London) in a victory for the farm owner, who had been battling to get the Metro to protect him from the electricity thieves. He claimed that the illegal connections had caused frequent power cuts on his farm and had posed a danger to people and animals, as the fencing was always live, due to exposed wires coming into contact with it. The judge ordered the municipality to do all in its power to stop the settlement dwellers from stealing electricity and to ensure that all exposed wires on the farm were removed. The municipality was also ordered to remove electricity poles and install a new electricity line that would be located inside the farm, far away from the reach of the squatter camp. The Metro also had to ensure uninterrupted power supply to the farm.
Food for Thought
“I opened two gifts from God this morning – my eyes” (Beach artist, Umhlanga)
“I’m at the point in my life where whatever direction life takes me in – and it feels right – I’ll go for it” (Kerusha Govender).
“Beauty is being in harmony with what you are” (Peter Nivio Zarlenga).
“The paradox of our time is that the aged enjoy better health than they used to and that they remain “young” longer. This makes their idleness all the harder to bear. Those who live on must be given some reason for living: mere survival is worse than death” (From Simone de Beauvoir’s book, Old Age).
“And when you get the choice to sit out or dance...I hope you dance” (Anonymous).
“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (Robert Frost, www.TheSilverPen.com).