Newsletter #80

November 2015

There is good reason why families everywhere gather around Christmas trees during this festive time of year: It holds the promise of intimacy, warmth and companionship, recalls old memories and creates new ones, thereby making this time of year a special time of togetherness.
This will be 2015’s last newsletter. The next newsletter will be posted end January/beginning February. We wish all our members and readers a wonderful holiday and festive season. Those of you who are fortunate enough to drive on far roads and to go and relax somewhere, please drive safely and come back safely. We wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2015: “Blessed are those who can give without remembering, and can receive without forgetting” (Elizabeth Bibesco).

Comments on our previous newsletter:

Our members/readers seemed to have enjoyed the article on the Blue gum debate. One of our readers, Tallies Taljaard, wrote via email on 30 September (translated from Afrikaans): “When I read the newsletter, I had to leave everything, and share my love for Blue gums with someone. I have always thought of Blue gums as mystical, majestic, special – more than just a tree… Have you ever travelled through the Free State flats with kilometres of grassland and maize crops? Everywhere, a blue gum or even a blue gum plantation can be seen – large, not only in height, but also in bulkiness and splendour … like a shepherd watching over God’s creation, farm houses, kraals, the ‘perkeerplek’ of farm implements, by old farm houses and ruins. Can you think of any farm without a Blue gum? It not only catches your attention because it overshadows all other trees, but because it forms part of the big and perfect diversity and entirety. This is the Blue gum, my favourite tree… I attach some photos that I took myself – to share it with all, because I enjoyed the article on the Blue gum so much, and because it made me think back to days long gone”.
We would like our readers/members to do as Tallies did and send us some photos of Blue gums on their properties – Ed.


Feathered friends


An unusual garden visitor: In spite of the drought, our day lilies are in flower at the moment. While sitting on the veranda on 8 November, a beautiful Black Sunbird (Nectarinia amesthystina) flew from day lily to day lily, feasting on the nectar. What a beautiful little bird! Members from a neighbouring farm have a breeding pair on their property. They are apparently quite common in our area (Liz Greyling). The photo was taken by well-known bird photographer, Albert Froneman.

An owl chick found:

On 1 November, a hiker on a hiking route at Shelter Rock found an exceptionally large bird chick. He took it to the Bothas (owners of Shelter Rock), who gave it some water and contacted Kerri Wolter of the Vulture Rehabilitation Centre (VulPro) in Rietfontein. She fetched the chick, and identified it as an owl chick. (Read the article on the vulture fledgling season below).

Important Bird Areas (IBA) update: Bird Life South Africa has now published a revised Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) directory. This revision was published after more than four years of research and interviewing many experts and conservation role players, and includes a change in boundaries of many IBAs, delisting of some, a few new IBAs, and also an amalgamation of a number of IBAs. The IBAs are available on If you have any queries about the BGIS website, please direct these to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Visit from a beautiful moth species


On 19 October, we spotted a beautiful moth on the floor in our TV room. Unfortunately, it died after two days. The moth was particularly colourful and very large, with a 14cm wingspan. South Africa is home to more than 7 000 moth species. Hopefully, there will be a lepidopterist (moth and butterfly expert) among our readers/members, who can help us identify this moth species.

Road cleaning project

Our members would have noticed lots of rubbish along our Conservancy roads, as well as roads leading into the Conservancy (mostly polystyrene food containers, empty chips packets, water and soft drink bottles), left behind by weekend visitors.

It seems that, except for locals dropping their rubbish at taxi ranks, weekend visitors (cyclists, bikers and motorists) are also guilty of this.

In 2007, one of our Conservancy members, Shelley Bownass, decided to put an end to this. She organised four unemployed ladies of Hekpoort Informal Settlement to pick up rubbish along the Conservancy roads twice per month. The AFM church in Magaliesburg, where Shelley is a member, took responsibility for this job creation project, and it became known as the Barnabas Road Project. The church donated bags, safety clothing, overalls, backpacks and shoes donated to the church, and Mogale City Local Municipality also provided bags. Another Conservancy member, Linton Raaff, collects the bags and drops them off at the collection point, at his own cost. Currently, only two ladies are picking up rubbish along our roads. The Conservancy contributes towards their salaries. We would like to thank Shelley and Linton from the bottom of our hearts for their much-needed help with this project.

Vulture fledgling season

Once again, it is vulture fledgling season (September/October to early next year). During this time, young inexperienced vultures get themselves into potentially fatal situations as they start to experience the freedom of the skies.

Young vultures have not yet learned of the threats that civilisation and modern developments create for them. Power lines and poisonings contribute to the greatest number of fatalities and injuries. Such collisions often result in various broken bones and permanent disabilities. Other threats that these young vultures face are small high-fenced or walled gardens, swimming pools and reservoirs, dogs, unsafe food sources and ignorance or a lack of empathy from people. Vultures are large, heavy birds that require significant space in order to be able to take off and fly. Small gardens often prevent them from being able to take off again, once on the ground. Dogs may worry or kill a grounded vulture if it is trapped inside their garden, and electric fencing creates the threat of electrocution, wire cut injuries and even death as the vulture attempts to escape. Heavy rains and swimming pools can end up water-logging a vulture's plumage. With the added weight and the lack of functionality of their wet feathers, they are unable to fly. Young vultures may also not yet have sufficient body weight and condition to enable them to survive cold and wet for a sustained period.

Kerri Wolter, founder of VulPro, appeals to the public to remain observant and aware of vultures in trouble. Assistance and advice is a phone call away, as Kerri is always available to assist members of the public with advice or guidance on how to handle injured and grounded vultures, until VulPro staff is able to come through and collect birds for rehabilitation. It is not recommend that members of the public attempt to handle grounded or injured vultures without advice from experienced handlers, as both the frightened vulture and the good Samaritan are at risk of injury. While vultures are not aggressive and intentionally dangerous, they are powerful and will react if cornered, threatened or in pain. Understanding how to handle them in the correct way, may be the first step in saving their lives.
VulPro emergency numbers: Kerry Wolter 082 808 5113 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Threat status of vultures:

In an email message of 29 October 2015, Dr Julius Arinaitwe, Bird Life International’s Programme Director for Africa, warns that this continent’s vulture populations are under threat of extinction. Six of the continent’s 11 vulture species have had their global threat status upgraded to a higher level, meaning that they face a very real danger of extinction. The main causes of the drop in African vulture populations are thought to be indiscriminate poisonings, where the birds are drawn to poisoned baits, use of vulture body parts in traditional medicine, and deliberate targeting by poachers, as the presence of vultures can alert authorities to illegally killed big game carcasses. According to dr Arinaitwe: “As well as robbing the African skies of one of their most iconic and spectacular groups of birds, the rapid decline of the continent’s vultures has profound consequences for its people, as vultures help stop the spread of diseases by cleaning up rotting carcasses. However, now we are becoming aware of the sheer scale of the declines involved, there is still just enough time for conservationists to work with law-makers, faith-based organisations, government agencies and local people, to make sure there is a future for these magnificent scavengers.” Worldwide, 40 more bird species are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction in the 2015 Red List.
South African vultures are all endangered, and every single bird is vital to the stability and survival of the species. Even one death, is one death too many. The threat status of three of our vulture species have been upgraded to critically endangered, namely the Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus, that is more common in the northern parts), White-backed Vulture (Gyps Africanus), and White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis). The status of five other vulture species is indicated as vulnerable, namely the Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres), Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos trecehliotus) and Palm nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis).

National Invasive Species Week

National Invasive Species Week took place together with the annual national Weed buster Week, from 10 – 17 October 2015. Invasive species week aims to create awareness and increase public understanding about invasive species and NEMBA regulations.

Do you have a regulated plant on your land? Invasive species are controlled by the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act no. 10 of 2004) – Alien and Invasive Species Regulations (AIS) which became law on 1 October 2014. NEMBA is divided into four categories of species management, namely:

Category 1a, which are species that require immediate compulsory control;

Category 1b that includes species that are most widespread and troublesome, and which require control, where landowners must comply with species management;

Category 2 species, which include commercial plantation species, where permits are required for growing, and which require control outside areas of growth; and

Category 3 which includes species that need to be controlled in water catchments. Some of the worst invaders in South Africa include famine weed (Parthenium hysterophorus, which up to now has mostly invaded large parts of Kwazulu-Natal, but is now also invading Gauteng), pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum), water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and house crow (Corvus splendens).

In our area, the Category 1b invader, Queen of the night (Cereus jamacaru) and Pompom weed can also be found in specific spots. Older people used to believe that rain is on the way, once the Queen of the night starts flowering. This year, this belief does not ring true, as the plants flowered, but we had no rain. The drought also seems to have prevented the spread of the Pompom. Learn more about invasive species at and read more about National invasive species week at‪#‎InvasiveSpecies

Serious water problems

In our area we haven’t experienced petrichor – the smell of earth after rain, often during the current rainy season. We are experiencing a severe drought, like in the 1960s and 1980s, according to people who have lived here for a long time.

Rain forecasts do not look promising, and long periods of heat wave conditions make it worse. Some landowners in the Conservancy are already experiencing problems with boreholes drying up, and the Magalies River has stopped flowing. Many discussions are taking place, and accusations are the order of the day, about who is responsible for the shortage of water and what should have been done to not have ended up in such a situation. Such discussions and accusations are not going to solve the immediate problem, and should be left for later, to prevent a recurrence of the problem. Fact is that we are facing a disaster, and that not a drop of water can be wasted. As a community, we should now focus, prepare and plan to provide water where boreholes run dry. Unemployment is increasing, and food prices are skyrocketing (e.g. dairy products) as a result of the drought. The drought is also resulting in an escalation of crime. We therefore also have to prepare to prevent and control crime better (Deon Greyling).

In our previous newsletter we reported on ever increasing sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean, resulting in an active El Niño. At a recent conference in Sweden, it was forecast that Africa could expect severe droughts during the upcoming three years. South Africa is classified as a water-stressed country, due to the amount of rainfall we have. If we do not monitor, manage and conserve our current water resources, the population will be under tremendous stress in the very near future. South Africa has a number of key ‘water factories’, one of which is the Steenkoppies aquifer near Magaliesburg. Many of these ‘water factories’ are under threat, and some have been severely degraded. The questions we should be asking are: How important is fresh water really? Do we do enough to conserve our water resources? Do we need to sacrifice our key ‘water factories’ in the name of unsustainable short-term development? Water restrictions have been instituted in the majority of our provinces. The country’s honey production has declined sharply, as well as the production and quality of wood for the paper industry (RSG news, 12 November). Against this background, water use pressure on SA farmers is increasing.
According to prof Kobus van der Walt of the Faculty of Science of the Northwest University, government regards water provision to industries and municipalities as more important than food production. The demand for water is already 50% higher than what our water resources can deliver. According to government calculations, agriculture uses 62,7% of SA’s water, municipalities 31,2% , and industries only 6,1%. Water will become scarcer and more expensive, farmers will be forced to farm more water effectively, and stricter water quality measures for feedlots are underway. There will be more pressure on farmers to make ‘un-effective’ water available for other uses. Each drop of water falling on a farm should be managed in such a way that it won’t be wasted. Biomass on farms must be conserved, and farmers must prevent veld fires. A healthy biodiversity should also exist on farms. Farmers cannot continue to farm as they did before. They need a mind shift to be able to use the ‘ecological tools’ they have, scientifically (Theuns Botha, Landbouweekblad, 10 July 2015).

Worldwide, water sources are under severe pressure – a water crisis is looming: 25 million refugees were displaced by contaminated rivers last year; according to the UN, a child dies from a water-related disease every 15 seconds; it’s been said, we’re going to run out of water before we run out of oil; and our water problem is fast becoming a hunger problem. It’s time to give water a second thought. (Source:
Join conservations about water across the social media platforms:

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Did you know?
Water makes up 60% of your body, 70% of your brain, 80% of your blood – your body can’t survive a single week without water.
The same water that existed on earth billions of years ago still exists today. It covers most of the planet, but just 3% is fresh water (and most of that is ice). Less than 1% (0.007%) of all fresh water on earth is readily accessible for human use.

Garden Tips

Summer is here, and that means that your garden should burst with colour! Some tips on how to achieve this, while using water sparingly, follow below.

An indigenous summer garden: Indigenous plants can survive on very little water. Nothing beats the impact of a yellow and blue border. The easiest way to achieve this is to combine blue agapanthus with yellow daisies (Euryops spp). A more adventurous idea would be to plant yellow red-hot pokers (Kniphofia spp) and gazanias (‘lemon shades’). Plant indigenous yellow and orange cat’s tail (Bulbine frutescens) or Barberton daisies (Gerbera Jamesonii) in dry spots.
Your herb garden: Just like you, your herbs need a ‘haircut’ every now and then. By cutting out dry leaves and flowers regularly, you encourage lush, healthy plants that will grow faster. Fast growing plants should be pruned more regularly, as they absorb space and vitamins of other plants in the container or bed. Mint is one such a boisterous grower – plant it separately (Vrouekeur, March 2014).
Bulbs: Like other bulbs, hardy irises should be watered for forty minutes every fourth day (Hadeco:
Attract birds to your garden: Diane Ward (Cooking for birds: Fun Recipes to Entice Birds into your Garden, Struik 2004) provides a nice recipe to keep our feathered friends happy. Many birds enjoy young, green sprouts or leaves. Fill egg shells, small pots or coconut halves with good potting soil. Pack egg shells in an egg box or put pots or shells next to each other on the kitchen window sill. Sow bird seed in these and water regularly till the seeds germinate. Put outside and let the birds enjoy the young, fresh shoots. Water regularly until all the seeds have germinated. Substitute the potting soil and repeat the process.
In praise of Epsom Salts: Just as many people add a little salt to their food, we should be adding a little Epsom Salts to our garden. Completely one of a kind with a chemical structure unlike any other, Epsom Salts, or Magnesium Sulphate, is also a wonderful facilitator to your garden, helping it reach its fullest potential and creating a lush and vibrant outdoor space. Unlike common fertilisers, Epsom Salts does not build up in the soil over time, so it is very safe to use. Before planting, sprinkle some Epsom Salts and mix well into the soil. During the growing season, sprinkle about a tablespoon around the base of plants and water. Epsom Salts can be used with all fruits, vegetables and herbs, except for sage. It is a natural, pesticide-free remedy for slugs, and because it is non-toxic, it is also child-friendly (Gauteng Smallholder, April 2015).

Our environment

"Countries rise or fall on the state of their agriculture” (Iain Hulley, Nottingham Road).

The world’s population, growing by more than 200 000 per day, will increase to nine billion by 2050. More than 50% of people now live in cities, compared to just 5% at the turn of the 20th century. These factors, combined with climate change and declining natural resources, are reshaping the world we live in. Global warming is the ultimate game changer, as even small increases in the average temperature will have a very significant effect on pest and disease populations. In addition to this, associated changes in climate such as rainfall patterns will affect ecosystems. One of the greatest emerging challenges is a threat to global food security. Real food security depends not only on a thriving farmer but also on a thriving consumer. You cannot have the one without the other. To adequately feed the world’s growing population, food production must double by 2050. And to achieve this, farmers will have to produce more with fewer resources. It is also crucial to improve worker productivity (Denene Erasmus, Farmer’s Weekly, 27 June 2014).

South Africa has a total labour force of 13 million. The informal sector employs 3,6 million people (out of a population of more than 45 million) and contributes 8% to 10% to the GDP (Nan Smith, Farmer’s Weekly, 10 October 2014).

Some comparisons:
The US population is 318,9 million, and their agriculture’s contribution to GDP is 1,1%.
The Indian population is 1,23 billion, and their agriculture’s contribution to GDP is 17,4%.
The Vietnamese population is 93,4 million, and their agriculture’s contribution to GDP is 19,3%.
The Rwandan population is 12,3 million, and their agriculture’s contribution to GDP is 13,9%.
The Brazilian population is 202,7 million, and their agriculture’s contribution to GDP is 5,5%.
The Philippine population is 107 million and their agriculture’s contribution to GDP is 11,2%.

Food for thought....

Definitions by Rudy Francisco:
“Envy is when someone walks around with a pocket full of “that shoud’ve been me”.
“Truth is everything you tell yourself when you realise that no one is looking”.
“Failure is when you talk yourself out of becoming something amazing”.

“You’ll know the people who feed your soul... because you’ll feel good after spending time with them...” (Fb/Latika Teotia).

A blind person asked St Anthony: “Is there anything worse than the loss of sight?” He replied: “Yes, losing perspective!” (Unknown).

George Orwell once remarked: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool”.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” (Albert Einstein).

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness” (Seneca).

“The problem is not the problem; the problem is your attitude about the problem” (Captain Jack Sparrow).

“We are all a little weird, and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love” (Dr Seuss).