News from the field…

Mayday for Rivers Walk
On 30th April a number of DUCT supporters were privileged to have the opportunity to visit the source of the uMngeni River.  The highest point in the catchment is Drinkkop, elevation 2146 metres (like many places, you can find it on Google maps).  From there water flows west into the uMngeni Vlei (600 ha in extent), a magnificent wetland which supports a resident population of rare and critically endangered wattled cranes, and a wealth of other life.  It also flows east over a small krantz into a smaller vlei.  Lower down the two vleis come together and the river heads on through the Dargle on its way to Midmar Dam.  Below you can see a picture of the uMngeni Vlei, Drinkkop and in the distance the central Berg.  For most of us this was the first time we had been to the source of the uMngeni, which made it a special occasion.  It is not easy to get there, as you have to get permission from a number of landowners and if you are not on foot you need a 4x4 vehicle (you really need it – the last 10 km of the trip took one hour!).

The reason we were there was to see off the DUCT Mayday for Rivers Team, who were setting off on the first day of their four week trek to Blue Lagoon, 265 km distant as the river flows.  The brainchild (brainstorm more like) of Penny Rees, who does excellent work for DUCT in the greater Howick region, the plan is to follow the river taking photos, assessing river health, meeting people, connecting with and recruiting schools’ eco-groups, and having an adventure.  When I say following the river that’s exactly what they are doing, even if it requires cutting through bramble thickets or boulder hopping.  Hard core, but Penny is not one for taking the easy option, apparently.

They have been warmly welcomed by the good people of the Dargle and well looked after each night.  Today (Tuesday 8th) they are busy with Eco-schools groups at Midmar, and then they head on down through Howick in the WESSA reserve below Howick Falls and on to Albert Falls and below. 

There are five walkers: Penny Rees, Pandora Long, Preven Chetty, Pens Malinga and Mike Farley.  All five are associated with either DUCT or WESSA, and are as interesting and diverse a bunch as you could hope for.  Then they are being accompanied by Lorraine Ralph (a businesswoman from Durban who has made significant investments and contributions to the Lower uMngeni Conservancy) and Simphiwe Mazibuko (of Duzi Productions), who are jointly working on a documentary about the whole experience.

After each day’s walk a different one of th five walkers takes a turn to write up the day’s sights and experiences , and these can be found on their blog  http://umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.comThe entries are unfailingly interesting and even entertaining, and there are some guest contributions from others as well, such as the one on May Day 7 by Andrew Anderson, Chairman of the Dargle Conservancy.

If you would like to meet the walkers and even contribute to their effort, one way to help is by taking them an evening meal (breakfasts and lunches are in hand).  We have the whole walk covered except for the evenings of 13 to 18 May and 22 to 24 May.  During the former period they will be in the Cumberland - Table Mountain area and during the latter period they will be in the Mfula to Inanda Area.  Contact Liz Taylor liz@wessa.co.za if you would be prepared to help.

The team is scheduled to arrive at Blue Lagoon on the afternoon of Sunday 27th May.

What’s going on with the weeds?
What’s going on with the water weeds (hyacinth and water lettuce)?  Having (mostly) gotten rid of the water hyacinth above Inanda just in time for this year’s Dusi, paddlers visiting the top end of Inanda will now be greeted by the sight of a generous covering of water lettuce (pistia).  Nature, and weeds seemingly, abhor a vacuum.  That pistia is well infested with biocontrol bugs (neohydronomus beetles) and Bart Fokkens, our aquatic weeds specialist, is confident it will be mostly gone in a few months’ time.  However, that is only likely to bring on a new hyacinth invasion which will need to be tackled, and so it will go on, boom and bust, more or less forever as long as our rivers carry more nutrients in them than nature intended. We tackle these weeds with a combination of bugs, spraying with herbicides, and as a last resort when it is critically important, physical removal (a last resort because it is the most expensive control option).  Campsdrift is also battling with pistia (water lettuce) at the moment.

If any clubs would like to arrange a post-dice talk on what is going on with the water weeds, please let Bart Fokkens (bart@duct.co.za) know.  Bart is working in association with Water Affairs, Umgeni Water, SANBI, Rhodes University and SASRI (Sugar Research) on the practical control of a number of aquatic weeds and is the right man to field your questions.

Lottery funding
In May 2010 DUCT was very fortunate to receive the first 50% of a substantial grant from the National Lottery to establish nine river care teams for a three year programme on the Duzi and uMngeni rivers.  The programme is going well but became critically endangered when DUCT ran up against the Lottery’s legendary poor efficiency in turning around documentation.  In all it took 8 ½ months from the date of our submission to the date of their payment, which was about three months longer than we had expected.  That we survived at all was partly due to the fact that DUCT has developed some financial resilience, and partly due to timeous loans from two paddlers (who wish to remain anonymous) who came to our rescue at a critical time.  Our River Care staff finally had to be stood down for a month, which was a shame, but they were very understanding about it. 

Other programmes and partnerships
We are all the time diversifying our work.  In the last year we have seen significant investment from Durban in the Durban Green Corridor vision, which is all about environmental health, local economic development and recreational tourism in the uMngeni Valley, and Duct’s role in the DGC is growing.  In December 2011 the uMgungundlovu District Municipality contracted DUCT to develop an education and community based environmental monitoring programme in Mpophomeni (above Midmar) and Howick, and that is going well.  The IDT are talking about a possible programme to work on soil erosion and land care, and SANBI (the Botanical Gardens) have recently made use of our expertise with aquatic weed control.  None of this would be possible without our very capable and dedicated staff, headed up by Doug Burden and ably supported by Caroline Clover.

Your support
Despite the Lottery and DGC funding, DUCT is still dependent on the interest, enthusiasm, voluntary efforts, financial contributions and encouragement of its members and supporters.  Without this support we would have closed up shop long ago (more than once!).  If you would like to help, in whatever way, please let me know (dave@pid.co.za) .  A currently topical need is the meals and encouragement for the Mayday for Rivers Walk (for details see above, and contact Liz Taylor).

David Still
DUCT Chairman

Yours in conserving the Duzi and uMngeni Rivers,
The DUCT team


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