Day 4: Not In My Back Yard – In The Stream Instead
Moraig joined Preven and Penny for the last Merrvale Stream section and wrote the report for the day.
We are up very early in the morning, always a bit of a shock for this ad hoc river walker. But the lovely coolth reminds me I’m in the midlands. Penny is filled with some dread for the hot day to come, Preven and I, low altitude types, are sort of looking forward to the warming sun. We park under a tree by a dam on a farm, below the freeway at the Merrivale turn-off .
Penny has sorted out permission and that sort of thing, so no need to worry. Our feet are quickly wet as we make our way through the morning grass, going up stream trying to find the source.
Its confusing. This stream is not what it used to be. We scratch our heads and puzzle over roads, freeways and rearranged land.
There are storm water channels that have run off the freeway carving into the earth. Eventually we think we find the seep, below the freeway and follow it back down to the dam where we started.
Lovely to see wide perennial Eragrostis pastures on each side of the bank, dotted with spring wild flowers.
A car pulls up, it’s the farm manager, he didn’t know about us. Penny regales him with the story of the river walks and compliments him on the riparian zone. He is friendly enough and tells us some stories about the farm, the cows, the stolen fence, the pasture, the fire that came through, the crowned cranes that nest here and how the cows like to eat the invasive pickerel plants around the dam.
When we take our leave he tells us that he usually takes a few shots first when he sees anyone on the farm. We are not sure if he is joking.
By now the sun is out and more sure of itself and we are all down to our bright blue River Walk T-shirts, which declare us to be a team of sorts, busy with some kind of project.
This means trouble for the little babbling brook. The neatest and most manicured gardens are the worst. NIMBY is the phrase of the day, as we watch gardeners tossing all sorts of everything over the fence into the stream.
The least of it is piles of leaves and grass. The worst is rubble, old roof tiles, chopped down trees which in some places almost completely block the river.
Most of the banks are filled with invasive plants, often garden escapees. There are the usual culprits: privet,
bramble, bugweed, wandering jew and mulberry, which were fruiting and were rather nice to eat.
We get the sense that in the past homeowners used to garden right down to the river, tending it and enjoying it.
There are remains of old broken bridges and the occurrence of garden plants and trees next to the river.
But for the most part, the homeowners seem to have stopped loving the river and are keeping it at bay with strong boundary fences, which you can toss things over.
Further down the stream, the invasives change. We start to see Mauritius thorn, and very nasty it is too.
We go as far as we can before the rivers drops steeply towards the uMngeni River.
We have our regular peanut butter sarmies and boiled egg lunch by the stream. I close my eyes and there is the lovely sound of the babbling brook and birds.
Penny quizzes us. What percentage invasives do you think? 95%? 99.9%? I am lying on the rock and looking up now. We go for 95%. While I’m there I can just see the spring foliage of an indigenous Rhus dentata trying to emerge from a privet, there is a buffalo thorn on the other bank, bright and shiny, peeking through a mulberry. The leaves of a white stinkwood hang over my head alongside the bugweed. They are there, they would like to come back. A paradise fly catcher is shooting from tree to tree, between the network of Mauritius thorn. We will come back and do the tough rock scramble downwards another day.
Penny has the last say:
In my last blog I mentioned how I tend to remember each river we have walked by its main impacts. Today’s stream will be remembered by the piles of garden refuse mentioned by Moraig. I can’t get my head around it. People like to live in a pretty area, so sweat it out keeping their gardens neat – and then throw the waste into a stream to make it un-pretty. Or they even drive to the stream, then carry the rubbish down away from the road and throw it into the valley. Eish.
This has to be the most archaeic attitude that goes back to the dark ages when sewers and all waste was thrown into rivers to be ‘taken away’. It is now 2015 and some folk still seem to think this is acceptable!
Most of today was a mix of urban and rural – the left bank of the stream being the urban area and the right bank being the rural area comprising the Merrivale smallholdings which seemed mostly cattle grazing areas.
What hasn’t been mentioned by Preven and Moraig is that we did a tiny bit of adventuring today – having to cross the railway line, as well as using it as a short cut route to return to the vehicle when we completed walking.
We crossed the network of on and off ramps for the N3 highway when searching for the source,
we found a rickety bridge
did some rock hopping
fought with Mauritius Thorn
and negotiated a couple of challenging fences! What would a river walk be without fence crossings?
We saw the by now all too familiar glut of invasive plants which never let up along the way (including Water Cress – a sign of elevated nutrient levels in the water ( garden fertilisers, septic tank seepage?) and even found a disused self composting toilet on the stream bank.
We were thankful that we never once smelt sewerage, and we appreciated the fact that we could get our hands wet and finally do a miniSASS river health test
as well as put our hands in the water to say the water blessing.
The miniSASS test scored a 6 indicating a river in poor condition, not really surprising considering the environment that the stream flows through. It could be worse. However with an effort on the part of those living alongside the stream, it could be a lot better. If the invasives were removed, the dumping stopped and septic tanks checked this little stream could be a beautiful, loved feature at the bottom of peoples gardens instead of a no-mans land of neglect.
Watch this spot for our next walk. We finish by following the Merrivale Streams as they plunge down into the uMngeni Valley downstream of Howick.
From the team