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).

Compliments of the season: We hope all our members and readers enjoyed a blessed holiday season, and that they look forward to 2017’s challenges.

New Year’s resolutions? Francis of Assisi once said: “Start by doing what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible”. Congratulations to all members/readers who had some relation complete a successful exam. Remember, this exam is a step on the road to the development of a set of skills to enable him/her to build a successful career for themselves. And also remember, success or failure is not an end in itself, it’s a learning experience. Theodore Roosevelt once said: ”Someone who has never gone to school, will be able to steal something from a railway coach; with university education, someone will be able to steal the whole railway system!

This is our first newsletter of the year. Our members and readers found most of the articles in our previous newsletter informative and interesting, with the articles on the rain guage, the birds, tips for a ‘green’ Christmas and once again, the travel blog articles on guest house facilities in our Conservancy, stealing the spot light. (See the article on another of the Conservancy’s guest house facilities below). With reference to the article on a ‘green’ Christmas, the following from an articel in the Fair Lady of July 2011: “Don’t bin dead batteries – it is estimated that around 30 000 tons of batteries end up in landfills, polluting our water and land”.

Welcome: We would like to welcome new Conservancy member, Heleen Liebenberg. May her involvement in our Conservancy bring her joy in years to come.

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).

The recent cooler weather and some rain were welcomed by all of us. We keep on hoping for more rain in the forseeable future. In our area, it is widely believed that the first summer rain won’t fall before Oom Paul’s birthday (10 October). Personally, I feel about the rain as Maggie Smith does: “I am always mesmerized by rainfall. I get lost in the sound and sight of the heavens washing away the dirt and dust of the world”.

Spring is here! Our Bushwillows and White Stinkwood trees are budding, our Barberton Daisies are starting to flower, and our swallows came to greet us for the first time on 21 August. And it feels as though summer is here already.

Our members/readers found all the articles in our July newsletter very interesting and commented that the articles were informative and relevant. We are heartened by this – thank you!
Erratum: Unfortunately, we provided the incorrect contact number for the cottages to rent on Weleda Farm. The correct number is 083 226 7835.

In our previous newsletter, the articles on fly larvae (it gave most people the creeps!), the large number of farms up for sale, and the electrocution of vultures drew attention.
As a follow-up on the large number of South African farms up for sale, the following comment by Pete Bower (Gauteng Smallholder, vol 17, no 6, June 2016): Land reform programme. Smallholder agriculture. Commercial farming – all terms that raise the temperature of anybody contemplating the subject of farming in South Africa. To turn a homeowner with land into a productive small farmer requires training and education, access to cheap finance for the acquisition of movable assets such as tractors, irrigation equipment and annual inputs, and established channels through which to market and distribute the result. But the vast majority of the population is urbanised, and survives on food grown and processed by others. Nobody (unless they are farmers) grows their own wheat, yet everybody eats bread. Very few people grow poultry, yet many rely on processed chicken as a main source of protein. The mass production of staples (e.g. grains, sugar, meat, poultry, dairy products) is most efficiently done by large commercial ventures able to work large tracts of land which afford them huge economies of scale. This kind of agriculture is not best suited to small farmers with limited resources. Neither is, frankly, smallholder agriculture best suited to environmental factors such as carbon emissions. A single, large, modern, fuel efficient tractor working a 1 000ha field will use far less fuel and emit far less greenhouse gas than 100 probably old, possibly Chinese, small tractors each working the 10ha allocated to 100 new smallholder farmers).

We received many positive comments on our previous newsletter. Our readers found the articles on recycling, threatened cycads and cost-effective polystyrene buildings interesting. As soon as the polystyrene are available commercially, we’ll follow up with the manufacturers, and maybe we’ll also be able to then post a photo of a building built with these panels.
Recycling: According to Anton Hanekom, chief executive of Plastics SA, nearly 80% of all plastics manufactured in SA last year landed on rubbish dumps, in spite of all efforts to increase recycling figures. This mainly resulted from low crude oil prices and therefore also lower polymer and recycled material prices. In addition, our country does not have an established recycling culture or a constant supply of recyclable material. Much of the recycled material is also rejected because of containing impurities. Recyclers work in an increasingly difficult business environment, with high costs and problems with power cuts, increasing electricity bills, a shortage of water and a weakening economy. In order to improve recycling, members of the public should sort recyclable products and should demand recyclable packaging (Sake Rapport, 29 May 2016).

Threatened cycads

The following non-detriment findings were published in the Government Gazette (no 575 of 27 May 2016: “Overuse/exploitation for horticultural purposes is the major factor threatening the survival of most Encephalartos species in South Africa, and adult plants continue to be lost from the wild due to poaching (a countrywide problem). There has been an exponential increase in ex situ cultivated cycads, which are regulated by provincial conservation ordinances/Acts and the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act 10 0f 2004) (NEMBA): Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations. Enforcement of the strict protection measures afforded to cycads has been hampered by the human resource and budgetary constraints facing the provincial conservation authorities that are mandated to enforce provincial and national environmental legislation. Past ineffective implementation of conservation legislation in particularly Gauteng, where the requirements for cycad possession permits have not been consistently enforced, has facilitated the entry of illegally harvested cycads into the legal trade. Wild-sourced plants have been and continue to be legalized and incorporated into private collections, and their use as parental stock for the propagation of seedlings for both the domestic and international cycad trade cannot be ruled out. Micro-chips inserted into wild plants have proven to be largely ineffective for establishing wild origins of cycads and have failed to deter poachers. The failure of the legal protection measures has been further exacerbated by prosecutors and magistrates, who are not well informed about South Africa’s cycad extinction crisis, and the small fines issued and minimal jail sentences passed for cycad related offences are ineffective deterrents”.

Autumn is definitely upon us – mild days and cool nights. We are already down to single figures at night! Hopefully, we are going to experience a real cold winter this year – not like the mild winters of the past two years. Although we are all hoping for more rain, it is widely believed in this area that it is a bad sign if we still receive rain until July, as then our next rainy season is postponed for a few months, and our fire season is also extended for some time.

When one talks to people nowadays, conversations mostly include the current drought, bad service delivery, levels of corruption and near junk status of our country. The general frame of mind is that of despondency, tiredness and frustration. It is probably easier said than done to encourage people to keep up one’s spirits under such circumstances. Personally, times like these always remind me of what Winston Churchill once said: “A positive attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”. A positive attitude is contagious – it helps one to survive in difficult circumstances, and it attracts positive things to you.

We received many positive comments on our last newsletter.

Birding expert, Willie Froneman, of the Xanadu Nature Estate near Hartbeespoort Dam, identified the Smit’s owls as White-faced owls (Otus leucotis).

We received many positive comments on articles in our previous newsletter, especially the articles on water scarcity and our feathered friends. The drought and its effect will still be with us for quite a while. Welcome rain during January and February brought temporary relief to our valley. As a result of extreme heat, it is, however, very dry once again, and the Magalies River is still not flowing. Currently, our country’s dam reserves are 55%, compared to 82% at the end of January 2014. R56 million has already been collected for Operation Hydrate, but according to John Weaver, a hydro geologist of the South African National Association for Bottled Water (SANBWA), the collection of water for towns and people that have to make do without water, cannot be seen as a long term solution. The drought pointed the finger at weak spots in the water infrastructure – 75% of the current water crisis is not as a result of the drought (Herman Scholtz, Rapport Nuus, 31 January 2016). Also see the article on global warming below.

When it rains, we usually experience power cuts. As we know all too well, we can never have both rain and thunder and power at the same time – it’s either one or the other! One also quickly learns that it is a good idea to unplug pumps and other electrical appliances as soon as the first peal of thunder sounds.

Membership fees: Membership fees for 2015/16 are now payable. Invoices were issued to all with outstanding membership fees during January. Please feel free to contact Liz or Deon Greyling (contact details in the letterhead) for any queries or more information.

This is our first newsletter of 2016. We hope that our members and readers experienced a wonderful holiday season, and are ready to tackle 2016’s challenges: “Whatever is beautiful, whatever is meaningful, whatever brings you happiness ... May it be yours throughout this coming year”.

Comments on our previous newsletter: Our readers seemed to have found the articles on the scarcity of water, the beautiful moth species and the owl chick interesting. One of our members, Linton Raaff, identified the moth species as an Emperor moth. They observe this species in their area quite often. The moths are sometimes much bigger than the one who visited us. The colourful spots on the wings resemble eyes, and serve to scare off predators.