Alongside the Mngeni River there are many Conservancies, Nature Reserves and conservation areas, which we will pass through on our way from the Source to the Sea.
- Dargle Conservancy
- Umngeni Conservancy
- Umgeni Nature Reserve
- Hilton College
- Cumberland Nature reserve
- Msinsi Reserves
- Springfield Conservancy
- Umngeni Estuary Conservancy
Dargle lies at the foot of the iconic Nhlosane mountain, visible from just about anywhere in the Midlands. The mission of the Dargle Conservancy in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is actively to conserve the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Dargle area for the benefit of present and future generations, by stimulating interest and awareness of conservation issues within the community as a whole, through education and community involvement. Wise use of all resources, by all, for all.
The Conservancy has been actively engaged in having a large area of moist grassland and indigenous forest officially proclaimed as a Nature Reserve as part of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. This is a partnership between EKZNW and landowners to protect areas which contain critically important species and habitats. The Dargle wetlands (including the 600ha Mngeni vlei, source of the uMngeni river), mist-belt grasslands and indigenous forests host many endangered species including – the Cape Parrot, Oribi, Samango monkey and all three crane species. Since 2010, groups of Rock Hyrax have been reintroduced to areas where they no longer exist, to strengthen the food web and eventually enable the reintroduction of the now very rare blue duiker. An Adopt-A-Dargle-Dassie campaign raises awareness and funds for the programme.
Many landowners are keen to share the splendour of their surroundings and regular, guided walks take place in Kilgobbin and Lemonwood forests. These are very popular with those who don’t usually have access to the countryside, and serve to inspire everyone to value our biodiversity and understand the eco-system services which these areas provide humanity.
Dargle Conservancy has an active membership programme of talks, films and outings. For the past couple of years a series of inspiring and informative films dealing with Climate Change, Peak Oil, Sustainability and Transition have been screened. Many local people have accepted that it is necessary to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and the industrial food chain, and have responded by making real lifestyle changes with some now committed to living as locally as possible.
The objectives of the Umgeni River Conservancy are to protect the area along the river and provide access for the residents of Howick to enjoy our wonderful heritage.
We have been removing alien vegetation, protecting indigenous saplings from fire in winter, keeping the area free from litter and keeping the paths cut to allow dogs and humans to enjoy the area.
Due to generous donations from the walkers on Umgeni River Conservancy we were able to purchase a ride on mower, which has made the path maintenance much easier.
The intention is that there will eventually be a belt of conservancys starting at Beacon Hill, linking to Symmonds Lane Stream, joining up to the 40ha Heritage site round the Howick falls, then Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve and Hilton College. As well as the area along the river in Howick.
UMGENI VALLEY NATURE RESERVE
The greater part of the Umgeni Valley nature reserve lies in the spectacular gorge below the Howick Falls, while the upper part is the fringe of a rolling plateau which has an average altitude of about 1 000m.
The land falls away abruptly at the edge of the plateau for about 60m to form rock faces in places. The valley sides below 860m altitude slope away gently towards the Umgeni River, 7km of which falls within the reserve. The lowest point is 737m above sea level. The Umgeni Valley reserve is home to giraffe, zebra nd a variety of antelope. There is an indigenous tree trail surrounding the Education Centre and self-guided walks mingling with the wildlife in the beautiful Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. A bird watchers paradise, with 257 bird species to view throughout the year – see if you can spot the elusive Nerina Trogon or the crowned eagle. Butterflies abound in the reserve.
The Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve is easily accessible only 1 km from Howick. The head office of WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) is based at the Reserve. One of Africa’s leading environmental education centres, with more than 15000 students making their way to the reserve each year to participate in various ecology, bush craft and adventure courses.
HILTON COLLEGE NATURE RESERVE
The Hilton College Nature Reserve forms part of the Hilton College Estate. The area measures approximately 550ha in size and lies approximately 6km north of Hilton in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
The area consists of two steep sided valleys running down into the Mngeni River system – the Teapots and Gwens valleys. The Mngeni River forms the NW boundary, while the Gwens Spruit and Teapots Stream form the SW and NE boundaries respectively. The Southern and Eastern boundaries are along the cliff lines and edges of the plantations above the Gwens and Teapots valleys.
Most of the area is bounded by a 1.85m game fence, but the boundary with Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve (WESSA) along the uMngeni Riverhas no fence, and game is free to move between the two properties. The Hilton College Nature Reserve ranges in altitude from 717 to about 1000 m.a.s.l. Because of this altitudinal variation, steep gradients and the different aspects, the reserve contains a range of habitats, and thus a remarkable diversity of plant and animal species.(Approximately 138 tree species, 48 mammal species, 145 bird species).
There are a range of well maintained hiking trails on the Nature Reserve to suit all fitness levels and there are also a variety of picnic sites, view points and camp sites to compliment the Henely Lapa on the Mngeni and Derek’s Camp situated in a Tamboti thicket nearby.
The Nature Reserve can be accessed through the school grounds via a good dirt road that winds its way down to the Henley Lapa on the Mngeni River.
CUMBERLAND NATURE RESERVE
Cumberland Nature Reserve is a 300ha private reserve situated in the Table mountain area, just east of Pietermaritzburg. Besides a wonderful selection of savannah species, one can also pick up a variety of wetland, forest and rocky outcrop species. Spectacular scenery and pristine veld add to the appeal of this reserve. Birding is good with 227 species recorded to date, and it is quite possible to see 80+ species in a morning’s birding.
The reserve is characterised by open acacia sieberana savannah with large stretches of tall Hyparrhenia grassland. There are also extensive cliff faces and rocky outcrops. A range of woodland/forest species can be seen in the patches of forest, bush clumps and well developed woodland (in the valley). Just before entering the reserve, a dam and associated reedbeds have a variety of waterfowl and wetland species.
An extensive network of trails wander through the plateau savannahs and vary in length from short strolls to more strenuous hikes. Paths following the cliff edge command spectacular vistas over the Umgeni River Gorge. The network of trails leads one through all the major habitats and provide views of two lovely waterfalls. Up-to-date maps of trails and paths are available at the reserve.
Picnic sites set under the shade of charming flat-crown acacia sieberana trees, picnic sites offer braai facilities, picnic tables, toilets and drinking water. The picnic area is well spread out, allowing for a certain amount of privacy and providing good opportunities for armchair birding. Campsites and self catering cottages available. www.cumberlandnaturereerve.co.za
Msinsi Resorts and Game Reserves – Shongweni, Nagle, Inanda, Albert Falls and Hazelmere Dams as well as the amazing Darvil Bird Sanctuary. They offer the perfect environment and playground for all outdoors enthusiasts and adventure seekers. Game drives, nature trails, bird watching, canoeing, mountain biking, fishing, a variety of water sports and picnic sites are available to the public.
The Nyoni Trail at Albert Falls Damand Game Reserve is designed to allow visitors a chance to explore on foot. The nature trail, 4 km long and reasonably easy walking, meanders along the slopes of Notuli Hill, allowing breathtaking views of the dam and Karkloof Mountains. It then passes through open grassland and woodland offering the opportunity to observe many bird species and a variety of antelope and zebra. The trail is well marked and maps are available at the Visitor Reception.
The Tamboti Trail at Inanda Dam and Resort is a short self-guided nature trail wandering through part of Mahlabathini Park allowing visitors a chance to view some of the wildlife including many bird species and a variety of plant life. Maps are available at the gate.
An industrial conservancy involved in rehabilitation work along the river involving business and industry.
UMGENI ESTUARY CONSERVANCY
The story of the Umgeni Estuary Conservancy really begins during late September 1987, when over 800mm of rain fell in the Durban area over a period of four days. The floodwaters peaked on 28th with the water level 5m above normal high tide level, travelling at over 6m per second, and discharging an estimated 17000 cubic meters per second. The result of this massive flooding on the uMngeni River in its estuary, was the disappearance of the island in the middle of the river, erosion of sections of the Windsor golf course, and the removal of most of the trees on the northern bank. The only tree left standing was the huge big-leaf fig, Ficus lutea at the bottom of Browns Drift Road. Riverside Road was closed for repairs for six months. This was an excellent time for a new beginning, and to start from sCRATCH.
While the corporation busied itself with the reconstruction of the northern bank by means of gabions, schools and other interested parties planted indigenous trees and shrubs in among the rocks. At around the same time, the Umgeni Estuary Concern Group was established by local residents. The inaugural meeting was attended by Geoff Nichols and Johan Bodenstein, both of whom proved invaluable with their input. From then on the group busied itself with projects to improve the northern bank, such as benches, bins, parking laybyes, rolltop curbing, alien invader plant control, tree signage, trail map, creating bird, mammal and butterfly lists and designing interesting walks in their efforts to ensure awareness of this environmentally sensitive area.
The late Mike Milton who was employed by the old Natal Parks Board then came into the picture. He had been given the task of setting up Urban Conservancies, and produced a manual on how to go about it. What a tower of strength he proved to be, and it was feather in his cap, when the northern bank between the Beachwood Mangrove Reserve gate, and the Connaught Bridge was declared the second urban conservancy in Durban on 11th February 1992. The fiddler crab was selected as our logo, a constitution drawn up and a committee established who meet regularly once a month still today.
Inanda Dam’s wall has been heightened and the lower uMngeni should avoid floods of the likes of Demoina in future. However, we tackle very different problems 20 years later. Mangrove trees are becoming established on the islands replacing Juncus kraussiana and Phragmites australis, a factor most likely contributing to a decline in migratory birds’ resting in the estuary as shown in the bi-annual water birds counts. Homeless people seek shelter in this public open space. Our efforts at clearing, solid pollution in the river, litter from pedestrians and storm water debris eat away at our funds. We appeal to the Community Policing Forums for assistance in controlling prostitution as well as Lifeline and the Department of Health; the eThekwini authorities to remove dumped rubble; trace industrial polluters; the Parks Department to prevent pruning of verge trees and riparian vegetation for a better view of the Moses Mabhida stadium.
We are now one of several role players with an interest in the uMngeni River and estuary. The City of Durban has in its efforts to accommodate climate change recognised the value of the uMngeni Estuary, and established the Umgeni Green Precinct. The Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust is in a partnership with the Durban Green Corridor and tackles invasive terrestrial and aquatic plants and litter. The Green Hub situated on the south bank is the focus of sporting activities and promotes eco-tourism in Durban. Surrounding communities have become involved as River Rangers. A Working for the Coast team will soon assist in invasive alien plant eradication as well as beach clean ups of enormous magnitude each time it rains.
The uMngeni Estuary is the gateway to the Great Indian Ocean Gyre. The pristine waters of the Mngeni Vlei eventually reach the estuary as a mere ‘trickle’. Yet its beauty and value as an urban nature experience is unsurpassed.
We wish the Umgeni River Fellowship a wondrous journey and look forward to sharing the May Day for Rivers experience when they arrive in our backyard on 27 May 2012.