GASPP stands for Grootvadersbosch Aquatic Species Project and is a project that supports long-term monitoring of data (such as river flow, fish sampling, water quality, SASS) of the Grootvadersbosch rivers, which include the Tradouw and other smaller tributaries, Grootvadersbosch rivers, and Buffeljags River.
We've been working on this project for three years, and we're grateful to our funder, Table Mountain Fund for supporting this work. CapeNature has also been an important partner as they have offered important assistance through input from aquatic scientists Dr Martine Jordaan and Jeanne Gouws. They have both been very willing to help us with monitoring and training.
Freshwater river systems have a high level of biodiversity, and our river systems are truly unique. The Cape Fold Mountains Region (CFR) has clear cool temperate acid water streams in general, and some of our freshwater fish and other residents are highly endemic and distinct. The conservancy is monitoring sites, connected to the Tradouw river and other smaller tributaries, Grootvadersbosch river and Buffeljags river.
One of the key goals of the project was to build capacity for long term monitoring. This has been a resounding success as all four of our staff who undertook training for SASS are now accredited. The South African Scoring System (SASS) is a rapid bioassessment technique based on one component of riverine biotas, the benthic macroinvertebrates. Each taxon is assigned a tolerance/sensitivity score, which are summed to provide a Total Score. This allows us to measure the health of our rivers. Well done to Aileen Anderson, Goliath Highburg, Ricardo Januarie and Zaniel April who completed the training and are now SASS accredited.
Click here to Read the SASS training blog that we did at sass-5-training.html Read our previous blog about the adventures we had last year with this entire project at busy-times-fun-times-with-gaspp-week.html .
Human activity has altered our natural environments. In our Valley and surrounding areas, we have committed ourselves to protect endangered wildlife that we cherish. Other factors such as climate change, population growth, alien invasive species, and water abstraction have all had a negative impact on our river systems and the species in them. We are doing all we can to work with partners, as well as other conservation organizations such as CapeNature, to protect our resources and biodiversity.
Environmental education is also one of the aspects of GASPP. We work with the communities of Suurbraak, Barrydale, Buffeljagsrivier, and Heidelberg to promote awarness. Donnovan Julius, a local artist, assisted in painting a series of murals in Barrydale at Net vir Pret, Mullersrus Primary School, Klein-pikkewyne preschool in Heidelberg, and at the Suurbraak camping site, involving many children in the community. These murals were painted to raise awareness of our freshwater fishes and to protect them, as well as to emphasise the importance of biodiversity and the harm that pollution causes to our beautiful environments. With such initiative, we hope that our local community will also take on the challenge of protecting and respecting their natural resources.
We've done some other activities with the kids, such as miniSASS and talks about freshwater fish. read a blog that we covered on that at environmental-education.html.
SASS 5 provides a means to assess the quality of a river at a specific time. Some of our rivers are impacted by land use changes and abstraction but many are still in a very good condition. Many are home to very sensitive species. The sites in more natural environments house sensitive macroinvertebrates. We have also found many SWC endemic insect families that thrive in the naturally acidic and tannin-stained waters of our rivers. We are now planning to do regular SASS monitoring, especially in sites where we are planning to do alien clearing to see the impacts and to see if there is any change over time. We already have three years of data across over 30 sites so we have a very interesting picture of our river systems.
Most indigenous fish have had their distribution ranges severely reduced over the years. The indigenous freshwater fish that we usually see in our rivers are mainly the Cape galaxias (Galaxias zebratus), Cape kurper (Sandelia capensis) and the Breede River redfin (Pseudobarbus burchelli). These are just the indigenous fish that we have encountered while doing our river monitoring.
Habitat destruction and water abstraction are the most serious threats facing freshwater fish. However, alien invasive plant and invasive animal species are also a serious problem for our freshwater habitats. Alien fish invasion is a massive threat that is difficult to reverse.
The invasive fish that we see in our rivers systems include the Banded tilapia (Tilapia sparmanni), The Sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus). We also see the Bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus Rafinesque) as well as our Longfin eel (Anguilla mossambica) these are the invasive fish that we have encountered while doing monitoring at our sites.
Freshwater scientists from SAIAB (South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity) visited us in April this year, to do a talk in the community of Barrydale to discuss what is found in our rivers as well as the importance of safeguarding the Breede river redfin. We also enjoyed the opportunity to do monitoring with these leading freshwater scientists. We had a wonderful time and it was such an intriguing conversation.
We are continuing with our monitoring to better understand the distribution of fish in our systems and the main impacts that they face.
FBIS (Freshwater Biodiversity Information system)
Reliable information is needed for the management of our freshwater systems. At the conservancy we have adopted FBIS (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) which we were introduced to by Helen Dallas from the freshwater research centre. FBIS is used to host, visualize, and share freshwater biodiversity for South African Rivers. We have integrated the data we previously collected, such as SASS and freshwater fish data, into FBIS in order to generate graphs, compare, and evaluate the quality of our rivers. It is a very helpful database. We greatly appreciate the assistance from Helen Dallas in using FBIS.
FBIS provides a dashboard that indicates when SASS is complete and includes graphs that demonstrate how the water quality has changed over time. With the fish data there are also graphs which shows the fish that we found throughout the years.
We did not know much about FBIS until Helen showed us where we can store our data and share it on one platform. We found it quite challenging to get used to the platform and to combine all the data from three years of monitoring into one platform. However, we are very pleased that we have been able to integrate all the data so that we know we have one integrated platform to share and analyse data.
Dallas, H. and Rivers-Moore, N., 2022. A protocol and tools for setting environmental water temperature guidelines for perennial rivers in South Africa. African Journal of Aquatic Science, pp.1-16.
Ellender, B.R., Wasserman, R.J., Chakona, A., Skelton, P.H. and Weyl, O.L., 2017. A review of the biology and status of Cape Fold Ecoregion freshwater fishes. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 27(4), pp.867-879.
Skelton, P.H., 1993. A complete guide to the freshwater fishes of southern Africa.
Prof Krystal Tolley, a Research Leader at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), has been conducting research on a member of the Dwarf chameleon family and has spent a long time trying to describe and name this elusive reptile. Krystal has been looking for a chameleon that resembles the Knysna dwarf chameleon but was suspected to be a different species yet to be described. Krystal visited Grootvadersbosch in October 2020 to once again look for them. The GVB Conservancy and Cape Nature staff assisted her in finding a few specimens. We wrote a blog about Krystal’s visit and the unique experience we had learning about the special chameleons in our forest.
This chameleon has been a mystery for several decades and it has been a long process to officially describe it. Between early 1990s and around 2018, only three records were in existence. This is because they are difficult to locate and prefer to stay high in the canopy or out of sight. Krystal needed to collect enough genetic material to determine if it really was a new species. After a long wait and much searching, they had collected enough material to describe the chameleon.
The elusive species has been present in our forests for hundreds of years but has gone unnamed due to a lack of information. Krystal has now given it a name: Bradypodion venustum sp.nov (Common name: Grootvadersbosch Dwarf Chameleon) Bradypodion means "slow-footed" in Greek, and the specific epithet venustum is a Latin adjective that means "attractive," and it refers to the new species' colourful flanks, which perfectly describes our good-looking chameleon.
Chameleons are truly wonderful and iconic creatures that are only found on the African continent. We are thrilled to finally have a scientific name for our very own African reptile. The paper that describes the species is published in the African Journal of Herpetology (Krystal et al, 2022). This new Grootvadersbosch species is a specialist of Afromontane Forest at the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains. Although there are a few populations of Bradypodion species that occur in fynbos and afromontane forest, it appears that this species is a specialist for forest environments. One is most likely to encounter it from the months of July to August, but it is a tricky species to view as it usually spends its time high in the canopy. To date, this chameleon has only been found in mature indigenous forest within the Grootvadersbosch Reserve. Although, the true range of the species is not yet fully understood. This species is presumed to have the smallest extent of occurrence and distribution size of any chameleon in South Africa. This seems to be a common problem with people that find themselves in our little piece of Eden- they just don’t want to move anywhere else!
The new paper also describes two other new species of Bradypodion: Bradypodion barbatulum sp. Nov and Bradypodion baviaanense sp. nov. The addition of these three new species means that the genus now contains 20 species, making it the third most species-rich chameleon genus on the African continent, after Trioceros and Kinyongia. "Furthermore, the richness of the Cape Fold Mountains is increased substantially, from five to eight species.” (Krystal et al, 2022). Well done, Krystal! The long journey to finally name these chameleons has included many nights mountain and forest excursions, sample collections, data analysis and examinations. We are very proud to have contributed (in a small way) to this process and to have assisted Krystal in her research to describe Bradypodion venustum sp.nov. We loved joining in the fun and excitement to officially christen the Grootvadersbosch Dwarf Chameleon.
We are grateful to Krystal Tolly, Colin Tilbury and Marius Burger for a fascinating article that has now been published. We salute the many natural scientists and organisations, who are working tirelessly to better understand our natural world. It is very encouraging that while so many species are being lost, we are also still discovering new ones. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and interesting work.
Krystal A Tolley, Colin R Tilbury & Marius Burger (2022) Convergence and vicariance: speciation of chameleons in the Cape Fold Mountains, South Africa, and the description of three new species of Bradypodion Fitzinger, 1843, African Journal of Herpetology, 71:1, 14-38,
Christian Fry has recently released an incredible freshwater field guide called the “Field Guide to the Freshwater Macroinvertebrates of Southern Africa.” We love the guide and it is really helping us as we try and become SASS accredited. We recently obtained two signed copies and a poster from Christian, which we are so grateful for so we decided to interview him to promote this incredible piece of work.
Where did you grow up and how did you get into this field?.
Christian grew up on a farm near the Elands River in Mpumalanga. He is extremely grateful for his upbringing, According to Christian, the Elands River was once relatively pristine, but it has degraded over time.
As a child, Christian spent a lot of time down at the river, playing, fishing, tubing, and exploring. This is how he first learned about the river and developed an interest in freshwater systems. He mentioned that he had a very basic understanding of what lives in the river, which basically meant flipping a rock and seeing all the bugs crawling around, which was interesting, but he didn't look closely at them. He didn't realize what they were or what they meant until he started studying them.
So, spending so much time in the river sort of imprinted that passion in him but it wasn't until later in life that this passion developed into a possible career. This happened when he met some researchers from the University of Johannesburg who were conducting research in the area and came to stay on his family farm. The students did different assessments on the river. Among them was a post graduate student that was doing his PHD. This student made Christian aware that it is possible to do this as a career, which Christian found very inspiring.
What is your favourite macroinvertebrate family?
Many of the macro invertebrate’s appeal to Christian. He admits that it is difficult for him to choose a specific family, but he enjoys the freshwater shrimp (Crustacea family). We shared with him our recent finding in the Tradouw River where we found a freshwater shrimp. He explained that the shrimps from Grootvadersbosch are not as dark as the ones found in Mpumalanga.
How did you come up with the cover of the book?
Christian started out the book on a PowerPoint document. He showed his friend (Colleen Murray) who is graphic designer, what he was doing, and asked if she could help him out a bit. She said that everything that he had done was wrong so he started the process over.
She explained how to do deep edge and edit photographs. She also chose the book's cover. He is grateful for her talent as a graphic designer. Colleen created the book's aesthetic and clean style, which Christian appreciates. He wishes he could take credit for the front cover, but it was Colleen's idea. He truly appreciates her help. Her creativity has resulted in a book that stands out from the rest.
What else did you do differently with this guide?
Instead of utilizing the dichotomous key for identification, Christian used the identifying features in the family tree. Instead of going through the step-by-step process of identifying down to the family level, Christian used the identifying futures. As a result, he concentrated on bringing the last step to the front so that the identifying trait could be seen first. He tried something new and only time will tell if it works. Christian is still waiting for comments, and while he knows that people enjoy the way the book appears, he also wants the book to be practical in the field.
What were some surprising things that you learnt in the process of writing the book?
The most surprising experience to Christian was how little he really knew about macroinvertebrates. He started the book to educate himself. He failed his second SASS accreditation because he got confused with a clam (Cyrenidae) and a pill clam (Pisidiidae). He was frustrated and he wanted more resources on how to distinguish between them. The existing guides were limited and not practical. As Christian researched further, he started to compile his own library with photos to identifying the macroinvertebrates.
He later became aware of the diversity of the macro invertebrates. For example, you look at an Elmidae and you see another one and another one but you don’t slow down to look at them carefully. When you look closely, you see the diversity. For Christian, the diversity is incredible and surprising.
What were some of the challenges of putting this guide together?
The guide took nearly six years to complete. One challenge was processing all the photos. There were thousands of photos. He processed a lot of the photos, but some were used, and others were not. He also did the work outside of his work hours -on was weekends, nights and holidays. He would sit at family gatherings with his laptop and edit photos The deep edging to process all the photos was endless.
What were the highlights of writing the guide?
The rewarding part was collecting the new taxa for the book, that was very exciting. Going out into the field and collecting taxa is fun, and it's nice to find specimens for photos in his area. Traveling to the Cape and sampling all those different taxa, was also rewarding. Sometimes they were holidays or family events, such as weddings and his in-laws had to drive him quickly to a river. But in the end, it was very rewarding to explore new areas.
He found it rewarding to find some of the taxa that haven’t been seen by other experts, such as Helen Dallas, who have been in the field for twenty years. (At this point, we had to proudly interject and tell him that when Helen came to train the conservancy for SASS, we found a caddisfly (Goeridae) that she had never seen before. Christian admitted that he had not seen it either, so he promised to visit soon.)
He loves hunting for taxa and then finding them after years. For example, the Limnichidae (Minute Marsh-loving Beetle) are vaguely described in other SASS guides. In some guides it says that you might find a certain taxon in an area but when one looks and looks and then you find one in a completely different area, it’s very exciting. He found it so rewarding to look at river systems a lot closer.
What advice would you give other freshwater scientists?.
Christian said that you must not lose your passion and forget why you started in the field. Often with careers, when you turn a passion into a career, you lose the passion. As a passionate, young scientist myself, I couldn’t understand this, so I asked him to explain. He explained that when you turn something that you love into a job, it can become tiresome. Sometimes in the consulting field, you do the same thing over and over and you get burnt out. For him, writing the book and taking on this project, reignited his passion for freshwater ecology.
He also advised that people look more closely at species, beyond their families which is what is required in SASS. He hopes that the book will help with this exploration. He wants people to start to try to identify to genus level and discover the diversity of species in our rivers.
What’s next for your career?
He said that he was going to take a break. I was surprised and laughed, but I understand that he has really worked hard on the book. He is now enjoying some time off and not sure what direction he’ll go next.
We just hope that he’ll come and visit us in the conservancy soon so that we can explore our amazing macroinvertebrate diversity together (and show him that special Goeridae for his next edition of the book!).
Thank you, Christian. Your book is beautiful and very practical indeed. If you would like to obtain a copy of the book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The book is also now available at Jacana and Takealot.
Mural in Barrydale
In March, we arranged for Donovan Julius (local Suurbraak artist) to paint a mural at the office of Net vir Pret (an after care centre in Barrydale). We had such a warm welcome from the entire team at Net vir Pret, and they did their best to provide any equipment Donovan needed. The mural project was sponsored by the Table Mountain Fund and the Western Cape Department of Arts and Culture, in collaboration with the Silver Mountain Foundation.
When we arrived, we met with Peter Takelo, the Director of Net vir Pret, who is a fascinating man. He always has a lot of stories to tell. We literally hung on to his every word as he displayed the medals that he has received for his community service. He suggested putting a song on the mural and asked Donovan to incorporate the story of where the people came from. He also mentioned the redfin fish and how unique it is in the area.
Peter appreciated the interaction and thanked us, and he kept us going throughout the day with stories about the Khoisan. Donovan and team went back the following day to finish the mural.
Mural in Suurbraak
A second mural project was also completed in Suurbraak. Donovan Julius completed the masterpiece in Suurbraak near the river at the campsite. He used the mural to emphasise the importance of our responsibility to care for our river systems and their inhabitants. He drew our Tradouw redfin, which we must protect, and the catfish, which is an alien invasive species that we do not want in our river systems.
Another mural was later painted that highlighted pollution and raised awareness about the harm it causes. What an incredible piece.
Mural in Buffeljagsrivier
Donovan and his assistant Duran went on to create a mural for Mullersrus Primary School. The drive to raise awareness about environmental protection continued, and he painted a beautiful mural at the school depicting environmental protection.
Mural in Heidelberg
The next exciting mural is at Kleine Pikkewyne-preschool in Heidelberg. Again, we can only say that Donovan and his assistant, Duran, have outdone themselves. We are confident that the preschool children will enjoy their new mural.
While doing these murals, it is truly amazing to interact with the children and the members of various local communities. It's a blessing to be able to be part of projects that combine art and nature. Thank you so much to our funders for making this project possible.
The mural project was sponsored by the Table Mountain Fund and the Western Cape Department of Arts and Culture, in collaboration with the Silver Mountain Foundation.
We are reflecting on a rehabilitation project that we assisted with in Barrydale during December 2021 and January 2022. It was a unique experience and our team learned so much.
The Barrydale Rehabilitation project was complete through the directorate: Pollution and Chemicals Management, Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Western Cape Government. BioAssets CC was the contracted supplier and Wynand asked Johann van Biljon (Intaba environmental services) for assistance as the subcontractor. Johann invited Grootvadersbosch Conservancy for assistance as it would be difficult to bring his staff from Tulbagh and we were very excited to be involved in another rehabilitation project.
How did it start?
We first met Johann van Biljon on a field trip to Tulbagh as part of the Annual Fynbos Forum. Johann works as the manager of Intaba environmental services, which provides environmental consultation, eco landscaping, and ecosystem rehabilitation services.
We attended a workshop at their Tulbagh operation, unaware that we would be working together very soon. In the workshop, we interacted with Johann’s staff, were invited into his home, and got a chance to see some of the rehabilitation projects that he has completed. It was fascinating and inspiring to see what they have accomplished.
Soon after this workshop, BioAsssets won a tender to work in the Barrydale area. Dr Wynand Vlok, owner of Bio Assets, specialises in freshwater ecological research, environmental impact assessments as well as wetland research. He needed some additional input and called on Johann for help. Johann needed a local partner, and we were happy to assist.
Johann is a wealth of knowledge, and it was a pleasure to collaborate with him. He would share his knowledge with the team and tell all sorts of interesting and, sometimes, funny stories. He is also very hands on and cares about people and their aspirations. For example, when he asked some of us to accompany him on a walk to collect some Gymnosporia buxifolia seeds, he asked us about our goals and what we wanted to become one day. One of the team members wanted to be a mechanic and Johann inspired him to explore his dreams.
Aims of the project
One of the main goals was to replant indigenous plants along the riverbanks that had been cleared of invasive vegetation. The advantages that would come from this project, included increased biodiversity in the landscape, which can help to mitigate the effects of extreme weather conditions, such as flooding. One of the project's objectives was to improve the Huis River's ecological functioning.
For the project, the conservancy used one of our teams that usually works on alien clearing. The contractor, Yolande Cupido, is based in Suurbraak, and she accepted the work for her team. A team of 12 workers was assembled for the Barrydale seed collection. The plan was that the seed collection would take place over a few days and the seeds would then go back to Tulbagh with Johann to clean and prepare. They would then be brought back for planting in Barrydale. We collected a mixture of seeds which included Helichrysum patulum and Athanasia trifurcatas, Protea repens, Searsia lucida and Erica caffra seeds.
Preparing the seed
Some of the seeds were taken by Johann to Tulbagh to prepare the seeds. Preparation can include sorting, cleaning, and washing. In some cases they are then also germinated.
The seeds that did not go with Johann to get prepared, got sown immediately on the side of the river. Carpobrotus edulis is an amazing riverbank stabilizer and was sown along the riverbanks. Some of the workers mentioned that you can cut a piece off and then plant it, which was interesting to hear. Johann kept on telling stories and keeping the spirits high. He inquired if we knew the Khoisan name of Carpobrotus edulis? It is called ghoenavy, or ghaukum, which some of us used to eat as children (so tasty!). We continued to sow the seeds that had been prepared in Tulbagh and the seeds that we had just collected.
We went on and planted palmiet (Prionium serratum) which Johann had germinated in Tulbagh. Wynand demonstrated how to plant the palmiet in the river's wet zone. We planted it where the river's speed is reduced, so that when the river is in motion, the palmiet plant will thrive and be shaded and protected.
Some of the seeds were not ready to plant yet so we were forced to leave them out of the planting, such as Metalasia densa seeds. However, we plan to work on the project for 2 more days at a later stage.
The team learned a lot from the two natural gurus about the indigenous plants, how to plant them, and where to plant them. We also discovered which plants grow in the area and which do not. Overall, the project was interesting and enjoyable. This project was fun for the teams to work on and we all learnt a lot.
Thank you to Intaba Environmental and BioAssets for involving us.
Mullersrus Primary School
We value our relationship with the local school in Buffeljags. Every time we go there to interact with the children, we get a warm and welcoming vibe. We recently visited the school and interacted with approximately 70 students in grades 5 and 6.
We were debating what to do with the kids, but we decided to incorporate rivers and freshwater systems, as well as art.
As usual, we called on Donovan Julius to help us with the art and coordinate the children's drawings. Ricardo, our project manager, and a talented musician, brought the marimbas with him to teach the students a few notes.
The night before, we had dropped some fish nets in the Buffeljags River. We went to the river in the morning to see what we could find and discovered some beautiful freshwater shrimp, as well as some small catfish (aliens), and tilapia (alien). We took the fish to the school grounds for a short time to show the children to see what was found in the river. They were ecstatic to see the fish.
The students were divided into two groups and rotated so that each group experienced art, music and science (SASS).
For the art project, the students created drawings that depicted nature and its protection. The drawings turned out beautifully, and the groups were very proud of their work. They displayed it for photographs to be taken. The marimbas were also well received and sounded beautiful.
To educate the children about ecology, Twakkie spoke to the groups of students about the fish found in the area, with a focus on the redfin fish. Twakkie showed them a picture of a redfin fish from his book and told them to keep an eye out for it and to protect it. We later played games with the children and spoke about macroinvertebrates as a follow-up to the miniSASS assessment that we had previously completed.
In our discussions, we told the students about four groups of macroinvertebrates, two of which are very tolerant of pollution (worms and leaches) and two of which are more sensitive (stoneflies and mayflies). The group had to pick one group and discuss the importance of keeping the river clean. Following the discussion, each group gave us a presentation on how to keep the river clean and to protect the macro invertebrates. The children enjoyed it and learnt a lot.
After all that was said and done, the visit went so well and the students got a special treat at the end. We also had help from a volunteer, Tayla, who had joined us for the day and was a great help. Thank you so much. Thank you also to our funder, the Table Mountain fund.
MiniSASS in Barrydale
As a follow up from the Mural Project, we planned a miniSASS assessment with the community kids from Net vir Pret After Care Centre. Peter Takelo granted us permission during the April school holidays and assisted us in organizing the miniSASS and logistics.
In Barrydale, we met with Peter Takelo at the BF Oosthuizen Primary School, where Net vir Pret puts together a school holiday program. We went down to the river with 26 kids and their supervisors for the miniSASS assessment. We demonstrated the sampling techniques to the students, and they had the opportunity to examine the various macroinvertebrates that we found. We divided the students into two groups and later moved around to see what was collected in each sample.
We managed to pick up a small critically endangered Tradouw redfin in the SASS net which was very special, and we carefully returned it safely to the river.
We had to calculate the river's score after all the excitement of identifying the samples. They were very interested in learning what the Huis river's score was. We counted along with them and came to a score of 5.2 in a sandy stream, indicating that the river was moderately modified. We went on to explain what they needed to do to safeguard the river system and we also all helped to pick up the litter that we could see in the river.
It was another successful environmental education outing, and we hope that the children learnt a lot
The high altitude and access course took place in January, 2022. The training was led by Dion Tromp from Hi Angle Access and Rescue. Thank you to the South African National Biodiversity Institute for funding this training.
Dion Tromp owns his own company and specialises in training courses for high altitude teams and focuses on high angle wilderness safety, and rescue training. In our case, allowing our teams to safely conduct alien clearing, while on ropes at height. Dion provides very important training to institutions, such as the SA Air Force and Working on Fire. We are grateful that he provided this specialised training to our alien clearing teams as he really is the best in the business. Dion is so calm and always has a smile on his face and it was lovely for the team to spend his Birthday with him. They all sang for him to celebrate with him.
The purpose of the course.
This course was designed for people who need to perform a task at height. In this case, our team needs to do alien clearing, in natural environments, such as on steeps slopes or vertical, mountain rock faces.
When I walked into the shed with Linda, the conservancy's administrator, and saw our guys hanging on the ropes, we got goose bumps. We were impressed with this specialized training and how well Dion works with the trainees.
The high angle training consisted of introduction to the course and theory as well as practical. The trainees learned how to inspect their equipment and perform the job as safely as possible. The participants also learned to rig simple anchors, ascent and descend. They mastered edge transition without high directional help, rope to rope transfers, maneuver through a re-anchor and maneuver through a deviation. The practical was done in our office shed and the rest in the Tradouw Pass.
While doing the practical assessment in the Tradouw Pass, the ropes were tied to Dion’s car. The car was used as an anchor, and the trainees were able to do their exercise on the ropes. The training introduced a variety of rope access techniques, chosen specifically to improve the rescuer's ability to move through a static rope system. The trainees work at height, navigating rope obstacles and inspecting their equipment.
We could see how interesting the training was, even our project manager, Ricardo, and quality control officer, Twakkie, tuned in to observe and familiarize themselves with the high-altitude training.
When asked, the participants stated that they enjoyed the training, that it was challenging, and that they looked forward to each day. The training overall went well, so much so that we now have a very competent high-altitude team who are taking on the challenges of this important clearing work.
Getting to work...
We spoke with the Contractor (Marthinus Pick) who worked with the high-altitude team after the training. Marthinus Pick posed some questions to the team, such as the difficulties and high points of the high-altitude clearing. So, we turned it into a type of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and threats).
High- points (Strengths)
They placed a high value on a sense of belonging to a group. When they work with the equipment and employ the proper methods, they feel good about it. They value the experience and the sense of accomplishment that comes with a successful day's work. They are also grateful because they are experiencing something that they had never considered doing before. Because the team had just returned from training and everything was still fresh, it was simple to apply the knowledge to the task.
The terrain was challenging for them to navigate. It was also challenging to finish the task with enthusiasm and optimism. They expressed some difficulties adjusting from the clean, man made shed-structure that they had in the training to the realities of open rock faces where everything is a little more difficult to predict.The team did their best to apply the knowledge that they had gained from the training and the tasks that were assigned to them.
The team understands that they are each responsible for their own safety, as well as the safety of their team mates. They stated that they must ensure that their equipment is operational and that everything is in working order, and that it must be managed and monitored. Communication is also an important factor, and the team is aware that they must be able to communicate with one another on a regular basis to ensure that everything is still in order. Obtaining all of these skills presents great opportunities for each member to grow and perhaps move on to even greater things in life. This training has then opened them up to many new opportunities.
What they believe can be improved (Threats)
There are ways to improve by providing additional equipment for each member of the team so that more individuals can be on ropes at all times. It was noted that more attention must be paid to securing the anker because it causes the work to slow down if it is not in the proper place. As a team,there is a need to always plan carefully and follow through on what is agreed in the planning.
Regardless of the obstacles, we are proud of the high altitude team's work thus far and look forward to seeing what they will achieve in the near future.
First Aid level 1
The first aid training was conducted by Verity Arendse from Coalition Training and Skills Development. The training took place in late October 2021 and was funded by the the Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment.
What is First Aid?
First aid is the provision of immediate assistance or care to a person who has become suddenly ill or injured. It is the care given by a person as soon as possible after an accident or illness, and a first aider is someone who has completed a training course in administering first aid at work and has a first aid certificate.
Some content of the training
The first aid training included theory as well as practical. The participants were made aware of the functions of the body for them to comprehend the body and how it functions. The instructor went into detail about the brain and heart (blood and circulation). The participants were educated on the various types of injuries that can occur and how to treat these injuries safely.
CPR was performed as part of the practical assessment, with participants performing CPR on a doll. They also practiced bandaging a fracture or an injury. These drills also prepared them to remain calm if a colleague is injured or in trouble, to calm them down, and to communicate calmly to the injured as well as the rest of the team that may be stressed after an injury.
During the training, they also addressed some myths that are prevalent and should be avoided when treating an injury. For example, applying butter to a burn can make it difficult for the doctor to treat the burn and increase the risk of infection. It’s better to not apply butter at all. Cold water or ice is always preferable for a burn injury. When we believe these myths, we can exacerbate the situation. The participants worked through these myths throughout the training to understand what needs to be done and what one should not do during an injury.
Yolanda Cupido and Adriana Miggels (contractors) made delicious food for the participants. The participants enjoyed the delicious food and looked forward to it as they attended the training each day.
The First Aid training went very well, and you could see from afar that the participants enjoyed it. We were happy as we always are with the quality of training and the way our workers are being accommodated. Well done to all our participant that attended and did well in the training and are now trained first aiders!
Herbicide training was also conducted by Verity Arendse under Coalition Training and Skills development. The training took place in October 2021 and was funded by the the Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment.
What is Herbicide?
Herbicide is a mixture of a chemical designed to safely control unwanted weeds and invasive. The type of herbicide and the way that it is applied is crucial for the success of the product aswell as the health and safety of those using it.
Content of the training?
Care must be taken when using herbicide as desired plants could be harmed through negligent use of herbicide. And this was focused on as the participants were made aware of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and colorants. The participants worked through plants listed as alien invasive species and the categories that they fall under such as category 1, category 2 and category 3.
The participants discussed the difference between selective herbicides and non-selective herbicide. A selective herbicide affects some plants and not others and non-selective herbicides are toxic to all plants, for example, glyphosate. The participants needed to be aware of the right equipment for the herbicide application. The participants were taught how to mix the herbicide and the safety measures for applying the herbicide.
Storage of herbicide
During the practical, participants were shown the herbicide room at the conservancy office, where they could see the herbicide storage, read the stickers on the herbicide, and see the door with danger stickers on it. Aside from learning and discussing herbicide storage, the trainees were also made aware of herbicide transportation. The team discussed how the herbicide should be transported safely, as well as the extra-legal obligations associated with transporting the herbicide. The facilitator also went over some of the dangers of working with herbicides.
Following some theoretical work, the team went outside to conduct their practical. They went over the theory that they had learned, such as the Personal Protectove Equipment (PPE) that is required. They mixed the herbicide, according to the proper measurement that they had learnt, and they had the proper spray bottles and/or Knapjack to do the job. They enjoyed the training as the facilitator made jokes and made them laugh.
We are now overjoyed to have our trained herbicide applicators, and we are confident that they will do us proud and keep themselves and the environment safe. Congratulations to everyone who took part.
Health and safety in forestry
The instructor for health and safety was Lee-Roy Dirks, under Coalition Training and Skills Development. The health and safety training happened in December 2021 and was funded by the Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment.
During health and safety training it was important to speak about the toolbox talks. These talks are health and safety briefs in the workplaces. The talks are used to address terrain, weather, or any other changing conditions in the veld. If there is an emergency, there is more clarity on what needs to be done and assurance that issues have been addressed to avoid accidents.
There are risks and hazards in forestry operations and some accidents can be fatal. Some accidents can be caused by machinery like chainsaws, others can be caused by adverse weather conditions. The health and safety representative is responsible for advising the team on how to be safe in dangerous situations. PPE (Personal protective equipment) is very important when working in forestry operations. The PPE is dependent on the kind of work a person does. For example, a chainsaw operator must wear gloves and an herbicide operator must wear a mask.
The team discussed how important worker induction is in forestry operations, in terms of safe working procedures. Induction covers a variety of topics, including emergency procedures, forestry hazards, hazard reporting, issue resolution processes, and more. At a later stage, safe working practices and procedures were discussed. Another important topic that was discussed was machine safety.
The training went well, and we were glad that we could train another team of health and safety representatives.
Over the last few months, we have hosted six different training courses that are essential to ensure that our teams work safely and effectively in the field. Over the next few weeks, we will share a blog a week for the different types of training that we have completed, starting with chainsaw and brushcutter training. These skills are important for alien clearing and fire break maintenance
The chainsaw and brush cutter training took place in late November and over 20 trainees attended. This training was funded by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. The week that the training took place was rainy and a bit chilly. While they were busy with chainsaw training, the trainees made jokes and laughed, while sharing stories in the field. Working with a chainsaw is a valuable skill to have, but it can be difficult at times and dangerous so there was always a serious element to every part of this training. However, these young men and women were eager to complete the course and obtain their qualification. Every trainee was geared up for this challenge.
What is a chainsaw?
A chainsaw is a power- driven cutting tool with a teeth set on a chain which moves around the edge of a blade. A chainsaw is a heavy machine that poses safety risks due to its external blades and cutting components; therefore, participants must pass the practical section of the course with a perfect score. Within the content of the work, the participants learned about the parts (external components) of the chainsaw.
The chainsaw training was led by Lesley Dick and Thembalethu Kamsela from Coalition Training and Skills Development. The participants wanted to know how to use a chainsaw as well as the safety procedures and requirements during the felling operation. Lesley went through the theory and assisted with the practical aspects and Themba also supported with theory and was mostly involved in the practical assessment.
A chat with Themba, revealed that he was excited about the team who were committed to get the chainsaw qualification. “I’ll work with them when they do their practical’s, they’re still young and fit.’’
Content of the training
Exhaust fumes and white finger disease were among the health risks discussed with the participants. White finger disease is a syndrome that affects the blood vessels, nerves, muscles, joints, and connective tissue of the hand, wrist, and arm. Employees who use handheld or hand guided power tools for more than a few hours per day are at risk of vibration white finger. The facilitator further discussed the consequences of an operator not wearing proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
The participants learned about transporting the chainsaw and the dangers of reactive forces. They were made aware of tree felling and the important aspects of it, for example, felling direction, felling quality and preparing for felling. They also learned about the maintenance of the chainsaws.
The Protective Clothing
The facilitators made it a point that the team, had all the right PPE to do the practical application. The following PPE is required when operating a chainsaw.
Outcomes of the Training
When the trainees completed this specific training, they needed to be familiar with chainsaw parts and basic mechanics. They must be able to ensure safety when using a chainsaw. They had to be able to start and prepare the chainsaw and be able to fell trees using standard techniques. The importance of cleaning the chainsaw after use was also discussed. Lesley always emphasized the importance of keeping the chainsaw clean because chainsaws emit oil and grease. When the machine is turned off and cold, the oil gets stuck between the chain, guide bar, and sprocket and can shorten its life span; therefore, it must be thoroughly cleaned after each use.
Routine maintenance, and knowing when to service chainsaw, or change chains or adjusting the tension of a chain was also covered. Other outcomes from the training were that trainees must be able to communicate with the right chainsaw linguistic to ensure safety during operation.
The chainsaw course went very well, and the participants reaped the benefit of working hard to pass the course. They are now qualified chainsaw operators. We have great confidence in them, as they are now officially competent.
The brush cutter training was also coordinated by Coalition Training and Skills Development and funded by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. Brushcutter training is vitally important for fire break maintenance. Siyabulela Xaki was the person in charge of the training and the participants completed theory and practical components. Siyabulela was good with the trainees. He made jokes at times but when it was time to work, it was time to work!
What is a brush cutter?
A brush cutter is a powered garden or agricultural tool used to trim weeds, small trees, and other foliage that a lawn mower or rotary mower cannot reach. For specific applications, various blades or trimmer heads can be attached to the machine, which is powered by a unit held close to the body.
A brush cutter is classified as a heavy machine which poses safety risks due to their external blades and cutting components and it is therefore mandatory for the trainees to pass the practical 100% to ensure the facilitator that the participants will not be at risk when operating the specific machinery.
Like the chainsaw training, the brush cutter was divided into two sections which was the theory and the practical. With the theory, we covered all the parts of the bush cutter, the dangers, and the disease that you might get when not using the proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
Safety is very important. PPE was one of the most important safety measures. PPE consists of a safety helmet, eye protection, leg protection, footwear, ear protection and gloves or mitts.
Siyabulela made sure that every participant had PPE and was wearing their PPE when operating the brush cutter. Before starting the participants needed to go through the parts of the brush cutter, see if all is in good order and record if something is not and ensure that the brush cutter is safe to use.
While operating a brush cutter the students were taught that a safe distance between two operators is 15 meters and Siyabulela made sure of this rule. The trainees were also shown how the refuelling works with the brush cutter and how to do so safely.
The practical application was done at strawberry hill farm, and the participants learned how to switch on and off the brush cutter and operate it. They learned how to use the choke and the handles. They practiced how to change the brush cutter blades and nylon string. An interesting part for the trainees was to learn which blade is used for which vegetation. When the participants did the practical assessment, the operation switched from cutting grass to cutting younger trees (alien trees), and a different, stronger blade was used, instead of the nylon.
Siyabulela joked that the one trainee did not want to give the others a chance to use the brush cutter. Everyone laughed because they knew how much fun cutting could be, once you have mastered the brush cutter. The brush cutter training went very well as well. We were overjoyed and had no reason to complain. We are grateful to Coalition Training and the funder, SANBI, for helping us to master this important skill. Thank you.
Before the SASS training
We gave ourselves nicknames like Piet-my-vrou, FreshwaterFreak, and Porifera when we first started studying for our SASS training. We used the Kahoot! educational game app (which requires nicknames for the games) to study for SASS as we got pumped up, supported one another, and committed to the upcoming training. We tried for a long time to do this training, and now we're here. We were ecstatic because, if we worked hard, we would be accredited and able to conduct SASS on a regular basis and record the results. Thank you to the Table Mountain Fund for funding this training.
SASS (South African Scoring System) is a quick bio evaluation technique. It is based on a single component, benthic macroinvertebrates. Each taxon is assigned a tolerance or sensitivity score, which is then added together to provide a total score.
Dickens and Graham
SASS is performed to determine the health of the river (Dickens and Graham, 2002). Dickens and Grahams (2002) explains that Bentic macroinvertebrates are what we use for the assessment because they are visible to the naked eye and thus easier to identify. SASS is an appropriate tool for assessing the ecological state of our aquatic ecosystems. To assess emerging problems and set goals for emerging problems. To predict changes within the ecosystem, it is necessary to assess the effects of developments and contribute to the establishment of the ecological reserve.
SASS must be performed in low/moderate flow conditions and not in flood conditions. It is also not possible in wetlands or other lentic habitats. The method works best with high biotope diversity, including riffles or rapids.
These are some of the protocols from the paper that we needed to be familiar with throughout the training.
The freshwater gurus
The SASS 5 assessment is included in our GASPP (Grootvadersbosch Species Protection Program) project. During GASPP we are assisted by two freshwater ecologists from Cape Nature one is a fish expert and the other a SASS guru. Jeanne Gouws is the SASS master and the person who usually assists us with SASS but she is busy all over the Western Cape, so we wanted to have people in our organization that are accredited to do this work. The team had previously assisted with SASS under the supervision of Jeanne Gouws (Freshwater ecologist), so we had a few basic theories but now we had to become the gurus.
Helen Dallas, who works under the Freshwater Research Center, provided the SASS training. Helen Dallas (Executive Director and Researcher) has over 30 years of experience in Southern African research projects for aquatic ecosystem ecology, conservation, and management. Helen played a key role in the development of aquatic biomonitoring protocols and databases in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia.
The training was a combination of theory (lectures) that provided us with a foundation, as well as fieldwork. We practiced sampling methods and protocols, as well as identifications, in the field. The theory was founded on Dickens and Graham's (2002) paper, which we had to be very familiar with. For the sampling, we needed to be completely familiar with the SASS 5 protocol. And we'd need to be able to conduct a full SASS assessment in the river.
What we were up to for the 2 days.
Helen did the welcome and introductions in the morning on November 23rd, followed by a biomonitoring introduction. We then moved on to SASS VERSION 5, where Helen provided an overview of the sampling method (the practical application). We then moved on to the introduction of aquatic invertebrates, after which we went out to the field to do some sampling.
We also had the opportunity to do field sampling on November 24th, and we did individual SASS sampling and practiced field identifications. We dealt with the SASS scores from the fieldwork. Helen also guided us through the FBIS System (The Freshwater Biodiversity Information system).
During the training, Helen went through the sampling methods steps. As a result, when we arrived at our locations, we had to thoroughly inspect it. You can examine the various biotopes to see if there is enough variety, biodiversity, and biotopes to sample. Stones, vegetation, sand/gravel, and mud (GSM) are the biotopes that must be sampled.
Helen would ask us which biotope we wanted to sample first during our one-on-one sampling sessions. One would than start to by sampling the rocky biotope. You will then have time to examine your stones and ensure that they are diverse, and you will be able to sample where there are riffles and rapids, in and out of the current, and where the water is fast or slow.
You can then check to see if you have both stones in current (SIC) as well as stones out of current (SOOC) at that location. One must kick stones in current for 2 minutes and if there are large bedrock than sampling may last over 5 minutes. Stones out of current should be kicked for one minute. The sampling of the stones in current and out of should be combined when one is ready to identify.
There are two types of vegetation: marginal vegetation and aquatic vegetation. Marginal vegetation is overhanging vegetation, but it is necessary to sample both marginal vegetation in current (MVegIC) and marginal vegetation out of current (MVegOOC). MVegIC is sampled over 2 meters in total, while MVegOOC is sampled over 1 meter.
One minute of sand/gravel/mud (GSM) sampling is required. This sample is taken in such a way that it can be taken anywhere there is sand, gravel, or mud. You can sample gravel or sand if there is no mud, and vice versa.
Visual observation is also required, which entails taking one minute throughout the sampling process to hand-pick any specimens that may have been overlooked.
The SASS VERSION 5 score sheet.
The SASS 5 score sheet includes the macroinvertebrate taxon as well as the sensitivity scores. The sheet also includes the relevant date, site code, river name, and site description. The HANNA meter is used to record the temperature, pH, electrical conductivity and dissolved oxygen. On the SASS score sheet, you must also write down the coordinates. Coordinates are important, and it can help you if you do it first when you arrive at a site. You can make a note of your riparian and instream disturbances. The sheet also includes a rating that you must complete, which consists of numbers 0-5 and is for the person sampling to rate each of the biotope’s samples in terms of biodiversity as well as how much of the biotope was on the site to be sampled.
Visual observation is also required, which entails taking one minute throughout the sampling process to hand-pick any specimens that may have been overlooked.
The identification takes 15 minutes in total. The way in which you estimate the abundances is 1=1 which means that you have found one of that specific species. A = 2-10 species and B=10-100, C= 100-1000 species and D=>1000.
FBIS (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System).
FBIS is a program that can be used to record SASS DATA. FBIS is a tool that serves as a community platform for the inventory and maintenance of freshwater biodiversity data, with the goal of assisting in the assessment of long-term changes in river biodiversity and ecosystem conditions in South Africa.
We are currently preparing and practicing for our accreditation. Making certain that we are confident and prepared to provide high-quality data.
What stood out for the trainees.
This training taught some of the trainees that the higher you go up the mountain, the greater the variety and sensitivity of your macroinvertebrates. Invertebrates that are less sensitive and more tolerant to things like pollution can be found in more impacted areas.
The interesting macro-invertebrate species stood out for some of the trainees as well. The macroinvertebrates are small and look the same sometimes but it’s interesting work and fascinating to learn this important skill.
We also took with us the incredible fact that there are incredible tools available for conservation planning such as SASS 5, miniSASS (that we can conduct with school learners and community members). This is meaningful data that we will share with the landowners so that they are also aware of what is going on within the rivers.
We are having a wonderful adventure with this work, and we are excited to share our findings in the future.
GVB Conservancy Staff