Doing the Dargle
The Dargle River was not quite the doddle that the DUCT Mayday for Rivers team imagined. Dargle farmer, Will Griffin dropped them off high in the hills near the road to Fort Nottingham where the river rises from a seep in the grassland. “This farm has been in our family for four generations.” He told them. “You are in for a great adventure.” After trickling through the grassland for a few hundred metres, the river dropped straight down a cliff into the forest! This was certainly going to be an adventure.
The team, consisting of Penny Rees, Preven Chetty and Pandora Long spent most of the first day exploring the stream in the forest, finding waterfalls, little pools and admiring the magnificent mist-belt trees. “This part is absolutely pristine” said Penny, “how wonderful to be able to drink straight from the stream.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the river hit human activity and the water quality dropped dramatically. Although the river is still very picturesque in places, the banks are invaded by alien vegetation (bramble, bugweed, wattle), with kikuyu pastures right up to the edges and dams showing signs of nutrification. As Dargle is a tributary of the Mngeni river, which supplies water to millions of people, this is cause for concern.
“The land, river, sky are all one eco-system” commented Pandora. “When one part suffers, it affects the whole.” Preven added “Where invasive vegetation dominates almost all indigenous plant and invertebrate life is excluded leading to a very degraded system.” Along the way there were promising signs of efforts to clear the riparian zone (32m is the regulation). The Dargle Conservancy has begun clearing where the road crosses the river and, while it is a long term project, at least the water is visible now that the brambles are dead. The highlight of the walk was a stretch of completely untransformed grassland and river where, on the third day, the team found stoneflies (which indicate exceptional water quality) and marvelled at the ability of a river to heal itself when ecosystems are intact. “This made my heart sing” said Penny delightedly “It gives me hope for all our unloved Midlands rivers.”
Midlands Conservancies Forum secured funding from N3Toll Concession for this initiative as part of their Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Programme – to monitor tributaries of the uMngeni – Lions, Dargle, Indezi and Karkloof. All data collected is shared widely, used by scientists, NGOs and government agencies, and is an important record of the state of our rivers.
See the pictures and read all about Walking the Dargle at: www.umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com