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South Africa: Learning from and about Mother Nature


Action Days in the Umgeni Valley




Original announcement of the event on this website (April 2010)

Action Days in the Umgeni Valley

With generous support from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and BMZ/GTZ, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) hosted a series of Biodiversity Action day events at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, Howick. Several different activities, all centered around biodiversity and targeting different sectors of the community, were carried out as planned. The turnout and success of these activities exceeded all expectations!

Teachers Workshop

Friday 21 May 2010. Participants: 31 primary & high school teachers.

WESSA hosted a half day teachers' workshop on Biodiversity at Umgeni Valley, aimed at encouraging teachers to think about their approaches to teaching and planning lessons on biodiversity. The workshop demonstrated several practical activities that could be used in biodiversity lessons, and the structure of the workshop also modeled the pedagogical approaches that educators could follow when planning their lessons.

Each of the 31 teachers who attended looked forward to returning to their own schools to share what they have learned with their colleagues and learners, resulting in a large multiplier effect of this workshop. WESSA hopes to host similar workshops on biodiversity and other environmental topics in the future.

Public Biodiversity Day

Saturday 22 May 2010. Participants: approx. 500 members of the local community.

Members of the public were invited to participate in an open day at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve as the main event for International Biodiversity Day. Many free outdoor and educational activities for all ages were on offer, and focused on encouraging involvement and appreciation for biodiversity on International Biodiversity Day and beyond.

The day started off with a guided birding walk at dawn, attended by about 25 local residents. Together with the birding guides Pam Nichol and David Crampton they spotted over 41 bird species. Several other nature walks took place throughout the morning, including a 'creepy crawlies' walk with author and entomologist John Roffe. Some of the older visitors enjoyed the less active options, taking notes in a 'Living with Wildlife' (indigenous gardening) talk by local author Jason Londt and were fascinated to discover all the real world applications of biomimicry in a slide show discussion by Claire Janisch of the Biomimicry Institute of South Africa.

The children's activities were a huge drawcard for families and youngsters of all ages. The kids were kept enthralled by Ranger Dave's animal stories, a childrens nature walk, the biodiversity scavenger hunt and the tree trail treasure hunt. Undoubtedly the highlight of the day for children and adults alike was herpetologist Pat McKrill's interactive discussions and demonstrations on snake behavior. Pat addressed many of the unfounded myths and fears about snakes and allowed people to interact closely with the snakes.

Schools Biodiversity Day Activities

20-25 May 2010. Participants: 105 primary school children.

WESSA involved several local schools in the Biodiversity Action Day activities. On Thursday 20 May and Friday 21 May biodiversity activities were carried out at Hilton Intermediate School and Hawkstone Primary respectively, both of which are under-resourced schools in the Umgeni River catchment area. The learners conducted biomonitoring activities within their school grounds and were amazed at how many species they counted! At Hawkstone 147 species of insects, birds and plants were counted in a few hours which was far more than any of the learners had anticipated.

One of the facilitators discussed the concept of biodiversity in Zulu (meaning 'different kinds of life'), adding immensely to the participants understanding of the reasons behind the activity.

The schools field trip on Saturday 22 May saw these same learners, joined by some from a few other schools, hiking excitedly down to the Shelter Falls Camp in the nature reserve. The children spent the morning learning about the biodiversity in the forest and the grasslands, and collecting water creatures for a river study. The water study was certainly the favourite activity and took the form of a miniSASS, whereby the presence of indicator species of invertebrates gives a rating of the water quality in the river. The vibrant and lively facilitators made sure the children had great fun while they learned and in the process discovered how dependant humans are on the biodiversity of the planet for all their needs.

A Selection of Species Found in the Umgeni Valley

Bird species (Birding walk): Natal Spurfowl; Giant kingfisher; African olive pigeon; Olive bush shrike; Cape grassbird; Wailing cisticola; Drakensberg prinia; Mocking cliff-chat; Malachite sunbird.

Terrestrial Invertebrates (John Roffe's guided walk): Skipper spp. (Hesperiidae); Hermit spider (Nephilengys cruentata); Green lynx spider (Peucetia Viridans); Giant mantid nymph (Sphodromantis gastrica).

Tree trail species (children's activities): Natal Cycad (Encephalartos nataliensis), an endangered species; Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus); Buffalo thorn (Zizipus mucronata); Krantz aloe (Aloe aborescens); Wild olive (Olea europea subsp africana); White Pear (Apodytes dimidiata).

Water Invertebrates (water study): Dragonfly nymps; Mayfly nymphs; Stonefly nymphs.

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Photos: Willie Schlosser, Patrick Cahill, Nikki Brighton and Kerry Rowlands