Ear to the Ground Ear by decree


									           Ear to the Ground...
Gauteng Conservancy Association (GCA) newsletter
               March 2005 (No 5)
There is so much happening in Gauteng conservancies that we need
to know about - new initiatives, battles, successes and growth. Ear to
the Ground tries to keep everyone in the loop. Please feel free to send
in news. The Karee Chronicle covers as much as possible but it
appears every two months only, and life in conservancies moves
much too fast for that! If you don't want to receive this newsletter,
pop back a note saying No Thank You.

In this issue: Smuts Farm on the Warpath; Eskom under fire;
Third National Conservancy Conference; The Conservancy Green
Book goes to ‘Varsity!; Smelly stories; Zesfontein takes on
environmental consultant and their Council; Victory for Dargle
Conservancy; Setback for the Bullfrog and Forthcoming Events!

              When Blue Chip becomes Voetstoots
"Up the garden path" was the headline of an article in Financial Mail at
the end of February. "Buyers of overhyped land could end up with a dud
if they don't check the facts," it said.
Bob and Cheryl Dehning of Smuts Farm Conservancy moved fast when
they saw an advert for an auction of "Blue-chip developable land" — 32
ha belonging to the Smuts family in Irene next to the famous Smuts
Koppie. The Dehnings immediately drew the battle lines - contacting the
media, the Estate Agency Affairs Board, the Gauteng Conservancy
Association and GDACE and lodged a complaint with the Advertising
Standards Authority.
Bob says that the land is dolomitic, with several endangered species (he
has detailed sensitivity maps from GDACE to prove it) and unsuitable for
development. "The advertising was grossly misleading," he said. "The
auctioneers' website enthused about the 'enormous interest' stating that
'it is almost certain that the property…will be developed into a prestigious
housing estate'."
Potential bidders may have got cold feet because the sale went through
for a mere R7,7 million, after the auctioneers stated that the sale was
"voetstoots". The "Blue-chip" bit had evaporated! The Dehnings laid a
complaint with the Advertising Authority. They say they will be alert to
further developments. For more info: dehning@mweb.co.za.
                          Eskom under fire
Eskom has come under fire for chopping down indigenous trees under
power lines indiscriminately without communicating with landowners.
Nina Mössmer of Donkerhoek near Cullinan was told by an Eskom
official that no cutting may be done before the owner has signed a form,
also stating whether he/she wanted to keep the wood or whether Eskom
was responsible for removing it.
“If there is a problem, you first have to phone 0860 001414 and get a
complaint number,” she says. “Only then can you contact the area
manager who will then send someone to assess the situation.
“I find it strange that Eskom, which is so quick to claim that it protects the
environment, cannot send a tree expert with its teams to ensure they cut
only what is really necessary.”

 GCA AGM – make a note – 9 April, Rhenosterspruit
         Conservancy (near Lanseria)
Third National Conservancy Association Conference
                      – don’t
                      miss it!
The Power of Conservancies
30 April & 1 May 2005, Sudwalaskraal, Mpumalanga
Network with like-minded people from all nine provinces, share
successes and problems, become part of an unstoppable groundswell!
The Challenge — Local communities, the vital denominator; The Goal —
Conservancies, corridors and custodianship; The Reality — What is
happening towards sustainable biodiversity?
For details and bookings contact Sylvia Vollet (013) 747-2273 or

           Midlands: meandering or murdering?
The KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is in danger of becoming an urban sprawl
as hundreds of development projects threaten to mushroom through the
region. That conclusion surfaced at a public scoping meeting in the
Midlands recently. In the past year over 250 development applications
were received for the Midlands region alone.
Dargle Conservancy spokesman, Barry Downard, says: “These
exclusive-use ‘country housing’, equestrian’, ‘eco-estates’ use as a key
selling point the fact that the beautiful Midlands is undeveloped. The
irony is that we as a conservancy are struggling to maintain what is their
key selling point - which they are destroying!
”This in itself shows the exploitative nature of these developments and
how unsustainable they are, apart from totally disregarding the fact that
there is opposition from a substantial portion of the local community.
”Why do developers continue to choose critically endangered habitats in
which to build their luxury housing, golf or riding estates and why is the
Development Facilitation Act (DFA) increasingly being used to fast-track
these controversial projects?” he wanted to know.
“We decided to come up with an alternative development plan that will
benefit the environment as well as the various local communities and
have launched ‘Guduza’ - the Midlands Biodiversity & Cultural Trail
experience. This is a big, exciting initiative that aims to make the
Midlands too valuable to allow inappropriate development,” he says.
Barry can be contacted at barry@guduza.com.

              Good news follow-up: Dargle does it!
“Hi guys! It is possible!” was the delighted comment of Barry Downard of
Dargle Conservancy when the KZN Department of Agriculture and
Environmental Affairs turned down an application for an upmarket
housing and polo estate in the KZN Midlands.
“The DAEA listed 13 reasons for refusing the application,” says Barry,
one of the objectors. “It took ‘into account the interests, needs and
values of all the interested and affected parties who raised significant
social, economic and environmental concerns and issues that cannot be
adequately avoided or mitigated’.
“It further stated that the desirability of ‘an upmarket residential housing
estate within a rural location outside of established development nodes’
had not been adequately motivated.”

              Click a bullfrog and win a camera
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and University of Pretoria
launched a national Giant Bullfrog Survey. Members of the public were
invited to photograph any Giant Bullfrog they encountered - digital
cameras or cell phones could be won.
“The bullfrogs are disappearing fast for a variety of reasons. Urban and
industrial development is destroying grasslands and wetlands, many are
killed on roads at night, others are killed for food or out of superstition,”
says Caroline Yetman who is doing her doctorate on this endangered
For more information on the project contact her on
cayetman@zoology.up.ac.za or visit www.giantbullfrog.org
                But, alas! No plan for the Pan
Bullfrog Pan, one of the last safe havens for the endangered Highveld
Bullfrog, is facing destruction.
This tiny conservancy in Benoni measures about nine hectares. Pieter
Kruger, one of the members, says five housing developments are
springing up around the Pan, without proper planning such as adequate
sewerage systems. “A retirement village up the road has overflowing
septic tanks and an illegal pipe is running down from them into the Pan.
A gravity feed pump station, pumping sewerage into a holding tank was
planned but opposed by residents fearing spillage into the Pan during
construction," he says.
"The greatest damage comes from a house built in the Pan to the north.
It has no septic tank and the owner is dumping tons of rubble to keep the
water from his house. His cattle and pigs graze in the Pan and this has
led to a quarter of the Bullfrog habitat being completely destroyed. The
Council has not succeeded in evicting him.
"Our petitions last year halted some of the haphazard developments but
they are gaining momentum again. We despair for the future of the Pan
and the Bullfrogs." More info: pieterk@arrowbulk.co.za

             Five-star accommodation for bats
While we're saving the Bullfrogs, let's not forget the bats.
If you're plagued by mosquitoes, insects, beetles and various goggas,
invite a bat colony to share your abode. You don't have to offer space in
your ceiling - you simply screw one of Hennops resident Nigel Fernsby's
bat houses to an outside wall and wait for the bats to check it out.
"Some bat species can eat 1 200 insects per hour," says Nigel. "Places
in the Lowveld have found that the incidence of malaria drops
dramatically when bats abound. Bats patrolling your fruit trees can also
reduce the need for poison sprays."
The bats commonly found in this area are the insect-eating Yellow
House Bat and the Cape Serotine Bat, he says. "Forget about bats
getting into your hair and blood-lapping vampire bats. There are only
three species of blood-lapping bats and they are found in the Americas."
For bat information and for ordering bat houses contact Nigel: (012)
659-0087. Cost starts at R290 depending on the species to be housed.

           Rhenosterspruit’s Management Plan
Vincent Carruthers (author of ‘The Magaliesberg’) was the
Rhenosterspruit Nature Reserve’s choice for drawing up a
comprehensive management plan for their conservancy.
“The diversity in the RNR is amazing,” he said. “You live in an area that
is an essential part of a very important region.”
At a meeting between Tshwane Council's Planning Department and the
conservancy's committee, the merging of Tshwane's Rural Strategy and
the RNR's management plan was discussed. The officials expressed the
hope that other conservancies would follow the same route, ensuring
that planning was not forced from above, but done jointly with residents
at grassroots level. This will be followed up via the Gauteng
Conservancy Association.

                        Resisting a dump
Zesfontein Conservancy on the East Rand is still battling with the
Ekurhuleni Municipality which plans to use a valuable wetland area for a
landfill which will receive 500 tonnes of waste per day.
“This area is called ‘The Last of Eden’,” says Anne Mearns of Benoni,
“because there is still such a wealth of wildlife and birds in Zesfontein,
including Red Data species. It is also the catchment area of the Sesmyl
Spruit which runs into the Rietvlei River, which feeds the Rietvlei Dam
where most of Pretoria‘s water comes from! Does Pretoria want our
rubbish to contaminate their water?
“Whenever we contact the authorities they say ‘the matter is receiving
attention’. Our objections have now been sent to the GCA and the
National Conservancy Association of SA (NACSA). We have asked
them to take up the case in favour of responsible land-use planning with
relevant authorities at provincial and national levels.” Says Anne: “I
confess, whenever I look at the large-scale destruction going on I get
quite discouraged - but then I just start the battle again.”
Update: The Zesfontein Conservancy has taken the Draft Landfill
Scoping Report, compiled by Strategic Environmental Focus, to pieces.
“It is embarrasingly inadequate,” says spokesman Pieter Heydenrych. “It
is riddled with contradictions and obvious shortcomings.”
This report was done after Ekhurhuleni Municipality earmarked the area
— an important water catchment region — for a landfill site that will
receive 500 tonnes of waste a day, growing possibly to 30 000 tonnes
per month, says Pieter.
“We have forwarded our concerns to the Gauteng Conservancy
Association, which contacted GDACE, and we’ve had a reply from the
MEC, Mr Khabisi Mosunkutu, saying the matter would be investigated.”
More info: pieterhe@hvbssa.com
Ten conservancies have already been established on the East Rand.
Two schools have now approached Anne Mearns and Ollie Olwage for
assistance in starting conservancies.
                     Ploughing of virgin land
Thorntree and Apple Orchards Conservancies stopped the illegal
ploughing of the *"common" - a piece of grassland between the two
conservancies which had never been ploughed before. According to
regulations, permission has to be granted by GDACE before any piece
of virgin land may be cultivated. The owners were advised about these
regulations and we were told to mind our own business, says Jill Westner
from Apple Orchards. GDACE was contacted, they immediately sent out an
official and the ploughing was stopped pending a permitation process.

*("common" - a piece of land set aside for the plot owners in Apple
Orchards to graze cattle as noted in their title deeds)
                           The Green Book
The GCA’s little Green Book, “How to Start a Conservancy” is still on top
of the best-seller list. Except this one is free. Almost all of the 500
copies that were printed have been snapped up.
The GCA has been approached by the Department of Environmental
Studies of the University of Pretoria to request the use of its Green Book
in its syllabus, says Ivan Parkes, chairman of the GCA.
If you want a copy, contact Ivan on (016) 590-2312 or e-mail
ivan.parkes@conservancies.org English and Zulu copies are available.
Afrikaans and Tswana to follow.

                           Something smells
In February Dr Natalie Genlloud, a vet practising in the Drift Wetlands
Conservancy near Muldersdrift, went to the Supreme Court and obtained an
emergency interdict against Mogale City, forcing them to prevent any further
sewerage leaking onto her property from the new Pinehaven Estate's pump
station and ordering them to clean up her property.
Pinehaven is situated on the corner of the N14 and the R28 where the
latter curves over the hills to Krugersdorp. It also borders the Drift
Wetlands Conservancy further down the N14.
"There had been a huge leak the week before and Council told us that it
wasn't their problem as they had not yet approved the services in the
development!" says Natalie.
 "Approved or not, the development is there! Pinehaven was originally
planned for 2 ha plots," she says, "but then an amendment to the
original plan was passed, with no communication with or input from the
local community. When we finally got hold of a plan, there were 632
cluster houses on the drawing board."
No proper sewerage connection was approved and installed: the result —
sewerage pumped out of the conservancy tanks every day until recently.
"The pump station is in the middle of the storm water runoff, with the result
that the E-coli levels in the water in our dam reached 34 000 cfu per 100ml
at times," she says. The acceptable level is 1000 cfu per 100ml. “It took
Council more than two weeks to comply with the court order, with
considerable pressure from our side. Not all parts of the order have been
complied with at this stage. I will hold them to this order as it has cost me
R23 000 to get this far and I didn’t even do anything wrong!” says Natalie.
"The blame for all this mess lies with both the developers, who didn't
bother to wait for approval before commencing work, and with Mogale
City Council, which took no steps to halt work that was done without
inspection and / or approval." More info: ngenlloud@lantic.net

                             Fast footwork
Less than nine months after the concept of a conservancy was raised
with Lammermoor residents, the conservancy was up and running and
registered. Tucked on the border of the Cradle of Humankind,
Lammermoor straddles two wetlands feeding into the Crocodile
River."We've got a long way to go," says Conrad Kowalik, one of the
residents driving the project. "While we're putting the necessary
structures in place we've also started cleaning up our wetlands.
“Working for Water has been a great help. They gave us information
about the local invaders and assisted us in clearing them out. A very
encouraging aspect of all of this was the knowledge that we have
technical assistance at the touch of a button on their website. There is
an amazing amount of info and lots of contacts in these pages so we feel
we’ve had a good start."
Contact: conrad@icon.co.za

                           Karee Chronicle
The March Karee Chronicle is out – if you don’t receive a copy and
would like to, send your postal address to duigan@global.co.za. The KC
is free, but it would be appreciated if you would contribute R50 to cover
costs of postage, production and printing for five issues during 2005.
Topics covered in this issue:
        The Pom-pom weed threat – what are the authorities doing about
       it, apart from “studying it”?
        Renewable energy – Jan Horn of 50/50 writes a second article for
       the KC and neighbour Roger Wood decides against Eskom power
        Grassroots in Action – a lot of the above news from conservancies
        The Marathon Man – Gordon Clarke is 65, with lots of metal in his
       spine but he’s running the London Marathon to raise funds for the
       Motor Neurone Disease Association
        And lots more!
The KC (3 000 copies) is distributed in the north-western rural areas of
Gauteng and goes to all Gauteng conservancies, plus interested people
in other provinces.
And your news would be even more welcome!

Helen Duigan

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