Newsletter #93

March 2017 


Our members and readers found the articles on the frogs, bees and Cicadas in our previous newsletter very informative, while some thought that the articles on SA’s dam levels and the impact of household waste were interesting. We appreciate all the positive comments.

Regarding the article on frogs in Newsletter 92 – did you know?

Frogs are important bio-monitors, and their state of health is a clear indicator of the health of the environment. A polluted environment is reflected in abnormalities and deformities in the amphibians. Extra limbs or missing limbs and growths have been detected in frogs living in a polluted environment. Fungus infections can also manifest in frogs living in polluted rivers, streams and pans. In some areas frog populations have been wiped out. (Lindsey Sanderson, Village Life, no 29, April/May 2008).


Water Issues

A weak La Niña is currently bringing South Africa some wet weather. However, according to prof Francois Engelbrecht (Climate change specialist at the CSIR), this is not solving our water problems yet. South Africa is more vulnerable than many other countries with regard to climate change, as here, temperatures tend to soar at twice the speed as that of the rest of the world.

While South Africans are boasting that we are in the 30th position on a list of 200 countries with the least water, we are actually in a precarious 15th place as far as guaranteed water delivery is concerned. According to Fred van Zyl (Director of Strategic Planning at the Department of Water and Sanitation’s head office in Pretoria), our water run-off is inconstant and erratic. Moreover, our rainfall is less than the long-term average 60% of the time, with 70% during the recent drought. So, we were in a dorught situation 70% of the time. South Africa currently has 200 dams – but building more dams will not solve our water problems. The main reason for our concern about water security is bad risk management, a lack of expertise, and infrastructure that is not maintained or regenerated. Every year, up to 1 580 milliard litres of water is wasted as a result of leakages and theft – nearly twice as much water as that of the Vaal Dam! Although 96% of South Africans have access to a tap, only about 42% of these taps are in a working condition. Moreover, according to the Blue Drop Report, South Africa’s drinking water quality had declined sharply from 2013, especially in the country’s poorest provinces, and hundreds of millions of rands that had been budgeted for improving water quality had not been spent. The Green Drop Report that measures the quality of waste water, showed that water plants had deteriorated seriously since 2013-14.

Since water restrictions had been instituted in recent months, and made stricter recently, there had been a sharp increase in the demand for boreholes. According to Colin Rice (President of the Borehole Society of South Africa), there was a waiting list of about nine months, especially in affluent Gauteng and Cape residential areas, where people were desperate to get water for their designer gardens. In the Cape Peninsula, the water situation was a matter of great concern, as on 15 February, there was only sufficient water left 10 days. According to hydrogeologist, Andrew Johnstone, underground water levels do not decrease as quickly as dam levels, because there is no evaporation. Depending on weather conditions, groundwater is also replenished by leakages in municipal systems. About 10% of the water used to water gardens also flows back to the water table. Sales of pool tarpaulins had also increased. Depending on the quality, this will decrease water loss with anything from 70% to 95%. (Leanne George, Jan de Lange and Aldi Schoeman, Rapport, 29 January 2017).



Our conservancy as tourist destination

The Open House @ B61 Bed & Breakfast facilities and niceties: Property of two of our members, Ferdie and Charmaine Leygonie, situated on a beautiful farm overlooking both the Witwatersberg and the Magaliesberg mountain ranges.

It offers peace and tranquility with rooms tastefully decorated and unobtrusive hospitality in a gracious, homely atmosphere. With the Magalies Meander and Cradle of Humankind on its doorstep, The Open House is the perfect home base for you to explore this wonderful environment. Features: Workshop and conference facilities for up to 20 guests; exclusive arts and crafts annual event; visits to the working cucumber farm; ideal children’s venue; beautiful picnic spots (picnic baskets available on order); and home-baked bread (one of its hidden gems). Guests who stayed over at The Open House recently commented on their visit as follows: “We were just reminiscing about our stay at The Open House. It was such a nice break away from everything. Thank you for spending the morning with us and showing us around your farm. You really have carved yourselves into a place of peace. We wish you all the best with your cucumbers and horses, and we’re looking forward to our next visit. We do hope it won\\\\\\\'t be too long from now”.

Contact Charmaine on 082 389 2309, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.\\\\"\\"\">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the website www.theOpenHouse.co.za for more information or bookings. (Photo provided by Charmaine).


A feathered friend

On 11 February, one of our members, Rob Villarini, observed a beautiful feathered friend that is quite common to our area.

A Blackheaded Oriole (Oriolus larvatus; Zulu name umBhicongo) decided to come and enjoy a late afternoon snack in their garden. The photo, taken by well known bird photographer, Albert Froneman, was kindly provided by his father, Willie Froneman, birding expert and friend of our Conservancy. Currently, 87 different bird species are listed on the Conservancy’s species observation list. Hearfelt thanks to all our members and readers who send us birding information and photos regularly.


Useful tips for a food garden

Forget about the price of petrol and sugar by walking more and eating less. Put on your gardening gloves and grow a waterwise garden or some spinach. When we live simple lives, we are happier and healthier – and so is our environment” (Chat e-newsletter, January 2017).

Gardenening enthusiasts will tell you that pretty pots and containers for your garden cost a packet. But veggies don’t mind whether their container is fancy. Convert old items you don’t have any use for any longer into plant containers. Old shoes, tins, glass bottles and plastic soft drink bottles of all shapes and sizes can be painted to serve as containers for smaller plants. These can be attached to a wall to make a vertical or horizontal garden. An old tractor tyre, filled with garden soil and painted in a light colour to prevent it from getting too hot in summer, will be an ideal container for bigger plants. It is therapeutic to create your own food garden – what joy to watch your own seedlings grow! Some useful tips:

Save water – install a water tank in your garden.

Plant lucerne or spinach to combat weeds. It also prevents erosion and protects plants from heat and the sun. Garlic plants will keep insects away from spinach and tomatoes – it does, however, inhibit the growth of beans and peas.

Plant legumes such as peas and beans to increase the nitrogen content of the soil.

Broken egg shells are a good source of calcium and keep snails away – especially useful when sprinkled around cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Use dry leaves and pieces of bark as mulch around your plants – it keeps the soil moist.

(Abrie Burger, Rapport Beleef, 22 January 2017).


For horse owners

If you install a bat box near your stables and encourage bats into your environment you might have a fighting chance of preventing your horses from contracting the deadly African Horse Sickness (AHS).

The AHS virus is spread by a tiny midge named Culicoides imicola that is active in the early morning from around dawn and late afternoon towards sunset. C.imicola is only one of an estimated 1 000 varieties of midge occurring worldwide. Insect-eating bats feed from early evening to early morning, when they consume a vast number of insects. They require masses of insects daily to sustain their high-metabolism systems (about 3 000 midges per night). Being opportunistic feeders, they go after just about anything in their path. Thus, they constitute another weapon in your war against mosquitoes, flies and other flying bugs- cost-free and completely natural. C.imicola is also a transmitter of the bluetongue virus, a serious disease of sheep and goats, so keepers of sheep should also install a bat box near their animal housing. If you would like to introduce bats to your property, you should offer them decent housing. For more information on installing bat boxes, contact Eco Solutions: 011 791 7326. (Gauteng Smallholder, Dec 2016/Jan 2017).


Environmental Snippets

Cradle of Humankind listed as top tourist destination: National Geographic recently named this World Heritage site one of the 21 must-see places on the planet – one of their 2017 Best Trips choices. Michael Worsnip, MD of Maropeng, sees this as an exciting acknowledgement of the tourism potential of the whole region (Berg & Cradle, February 2017).

Important environmental date: Earth hour – 25 March 2017. Switch off all electrical appliances for one hour on this day.

We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire, next to a moon that moves the sea...and you dont’t believe in miracles?” (Unknown).

Bee-friendly plant book: This definitive book on plants that supply bees with their vital sources of nectar has been published by the SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). The book was written by MF Johannsmeier, author of the famous “Blue Book”, Beekeeping in South Africa, and is the latest in SANBI’s Strelitzia series of books on local plants. It can be ordered online or purchased at the SANBI bookshop in Pretoria.

DAFF gazettes protected tree list: The Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF) has published a revised list of protected tree species in terms of the National Forestry Act (no 48 of 1998). For details of the list see Government Notice 1602 of 23 December 2016, published in the Government Gazette (no 40521) of the same date. (Gauteng Smallholder, February 2017).

Armyworms wreaking havoc in southern Africa: According to a media release of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) on 6 February 2017, it was confirmed that the Fall Armyworm (FAW) had been positively identified in maize crops in the majority of SA’s provinces. Kenneth Wilson (News24, 13 February 2017) said that this was a combination of native African armyworms (Spodoptera exempta) and FAWs from tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America (Spodoptera frugiperda). Little is known about how these pest catterpillars had entered southern Africa, but it most likely arrived via imported plants. A sequence of outbreaks began in mid-December 2016 in Zambia and have spread rapidly since. This is the worst outbreak ever in southern Africa and poses a serious threat to about 73% of South Africa’s maize crops. It is now also targeting other crops, such as wheat, cotton, soybeans, ptatoes, ground nuts and sorghum. (RSG news, 13 February 2017). Nine different types of pesticides are available currently, but none of these seem to make any inroads, which means that new pesitcides will have to be produced as soon as possible to combat the pest – otherwise it could have disastrous effects. More information available on


Shoes from the sea’s plastic: The World Economic Forum warns that if plastic waste ending up in the oceans continues at the current rate, there will be more plastic waste than fish in the oceans by 2050. Moreover, it takes between 500 and a 1 000 years for plastic bags to disintegrate. Sports gear manufacturer, Adidas, is of the opinion that sports shoes manufactured from plastic could partially solve the problem of plastic pollution of the oceans. The first 700 sports shoes, manufactured from 11 million bits and pieces of plastic waste from the oceans, are currently on sale for about $200 (R2 700) per pair in the USA. Adidas plans to manufacture a million of these shoes this year still.

South Africa’s contribution to plastic recycling is progressing slowly. According to Plastic SA’s most recent report, South Africans recycled about 292 917 tons of plastic in 2015, but manufactured 1 490 000 tons of plastic in the same year. Municipal water departments are struggling with the problem of solid waste – especially plastic – blocking sewers and causing processing problems at water treatment plants. (Hendrik Hancke, Rapport, 22 January 2017).

Three iconic animal species up-listed on the IUCN Red Data List for 2016:

Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis): Habitat loss, civil unrest, illegal hunting and ecological changes have taken their toll. The combination of these threats have caused a decline in the global Giraffe population of 36 - 40% over the last 30 years. Now up-listed as vulnerable.

The Plains Zebra (Equus quagga): A population reduction in 10 out of its 17 range states since 1992, with the overall decline estimated at 25% during this period. Now up-listed as near-threatened.

African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus): Up-listed to endangered after analyses of wildlife trade patterns for this species revealed that over 1.3 million wild-caught individuals had entered international trade from 1982 – 2001.

(Chat e-newsletter, January 2017).

Our technological world: Albert Einstein once said: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”. He might have been right, and this moment has probably already arrived. Wherever one goes, just about everybody one comes across, has their fingers on their cell phone screens. In stead of communicating verbally, we now do finger communication! Another new trend is that people from the technological world are now hired for posts that don’t even exist yet. There are, however, some sought after skills that a machine can never produce (in order of priority and degree of difficulty): Creativity and innovation; leadership; emotional intelligence; adaptability; and problem solving. (Rapport Beleef, 22 January 2017).

The importance of insects for a healthy ecology: We have often reported on the nutritious qualities of insects. They play a vital role in the food chain – think pollination, products like silk and honey, a food source for birds and other animals, and the fact that they break down organic waste, thereby promoting soil health. According to Pia Addison, entomologist of the University of Stellenbosch, insects are highly adaptable to to environmental change and have well-structured sensory systems. Because they have a short life span, they have to adapt more quickly than larger creatures. Insects are also well known for having intricate relationships with plants and other insects. As plants change, they adapt to the changes. So, when we consider our relationships with insects, it’s all a question of balance. Unless insects pose a serious threat to other living creatures on our property, or are causing structural damage, such as termites might do, we should live and let live.

Did you know? Just under one million insect species have been identified on the planet. It is estimated that the total insect biomass is 300 times greater than the total human biomass. Ants and termites alone are estimated to weigh more than all humans put together! (Gauteng Smallholder, November 2016).

Health benefits of eggs: Recent news reports have informed us that our country’s poultry industry is experiencing serious problems and that large numbers of employees have therefore had to be retrenched. According to experts, this was not the result of large amounts of sub-standard chicken being imported from especially the USA. Bad planning and management of the local poultry industry and exeptionally high poultry feed prices were to blame for the situation. It becomes increasingly more difficult to keep even a few chickens just to be able to collect fresh eggs.

Eggs are exeptionally good for you. They are a natural choice for a healthy, active lifestyle, and have been described as nature’s piece de resistance. With 6g of the highest quality protein and 14 key nutrients, eggs provide the energy to keep you going. They contain all nine essential amino acids, are high in iron, minerals and carotenoids. The myth spread by Swiss doctors that one should consume no more than two eggs per week because of their high cholesterol content has been revised. New dietary guidelines have given adults the green light to enjoy eggs once again.

Did you know? If you are collecting your own eggs, do not wash them. Unwashed eggs have a natural antibacterial coating called bloom – so try to clean the eggs without wetting them. (Gauteng Smallholder, November 2016).


Did you know?

Strange, but true:

Four is the only number that has the same number of letters as its numerical value.

A man stole diamonds worth millions of dollars, bypassing a 100 million dollar combination lock, infra-red sensors, seismic sensor, and private security fence, but was convicted by DNA he’d left on a partially eaten sandwich near the scene.

The reason why old books have such a distinct smell is because hundreds of organic compounds in the pages break down over time and release chemicals that smell like almond, vanilla, and grass.

Coke makes so many different beverages that if you drink one per day, it would take you over nine years to try them all (Sources: wtffunfact.com; People Magazine, 10 October 2014).

Intuition is the art of knowing something without knowing how you came to know it.

Empathy is the ability to be in someone else’s shoes, to experience their feelings.

(Vrouekeur, 9 May 2014).


Do you know these terms?

Acatalepsy (noun.) – the impossibility of comprehending the universe.

A group of rhinos is called a crash of rhinos.