Blue Mountains and Golden Grass

The Magaliesberg Biosphere is the nearest place for city dwellers from Johannesburg or Pretoria to enjoy a variety of country experiences. In this expansive and majestic setting, with the blue Magaliesberg Mountain range as the core area, recreational activities abound, places to visit are plentiful, and the scenery is spectacular.

The Festival is presented by the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative,working to encourage the sustainable use of a natural area of great significance and value. These mountains are among the oldest in the world, and bear witness to the start of Life.

Partnering the Biosphere is the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy, custodian of some of the last pristine tracts of Egoli Granite Grassland. This golden grassland is endangered, and a significant part of the Conservancy carries this vegetation type, along with the myriad of species supported by this habitat.

Whether your interest is in things historical, cultural, natural or scientific, the Biosphere has something to offer. The Festival Programme covers that spectrum.

Highlights include:

Reptile Conservation presents a spectacular up-close introduction to South Africa's snake population. The show is the "Myth Busters" of the reptile world. What happens when a snake bites? Which spits and which bites? Are all snakes dangerous? Myths busted or confirmed by the intrepid team from Reptile Conservation and their very ssspecial friendsss.

Reptile Conservation - close and personal

For young scientists who would like to see for themselves how stuff works, Francois Germishuizen puts on a spectacular display. He asks, "if there is so much hydrogen about, why don't we use it for energy?" He shows various polymers, and how these break down - or don't. Be blown away! This is science alive.

The Knock Knock cameras (TV3, Wednesdays and Saturdays) will also be filming the display - but be there early, the show begins at 1pm.

Experilab provides clever kits for young minds to experience science first hand. These will be available and each has full instructions.

(Francois holds a B.Sc(Honns) in Physics and was involved in laser research at the CSIR and National Laser Centre for 15 years)

Ecosolutions in Broederstroom introduces the Owl House Project, and in attendance, the magnificent Owl. Common in Gauteng are the Barn Owl and the Spotted-eagle Owl, while endangered is the Grass Owl.

How have owls adapted to survive? Will they adapt to present changes in their environment? These and other questions answered by EcoSolutions.

Vincent Carruthers, author of the respected book "The Magaliesberg" and several indispensable field guides, will engage with history enthusiasts. The location of the Festival is in the valley of the Kalkheuvel ambush, and Vincent will paint a picture of war, anticipation, terror and confusion.

Grab an award-winning lager or ale from the Gilroy Brewery, and taste naturally brewed beer, created at Nature's pace. Steve Gilroy, the master brewer, is also celebrating the Best of Biosphere with us. With his irrepressible good humour and enthusiasm, he will share the Legend of the Gauntlet, and other quaint traditions and beliefs around beer. Or perhaps he will just share a round of beer...

Date: 13 March

Time: 12H00 to 18H00 (noon to sunset)

Cost: R30 for adults, R10 for school-going children

Place: Alpha Conference Centre, our gracious hosts

And there is more  -

    Building with mud and straw (and not a piggy in sight!)

    Traditional Festival games and activities for the young at heart

    Story telling for the children when they are all worn out

    Aromatic coffee

    Wild flowers for your garden or your walls

    Spiders, scorpions, skeletons!

    Fresh produce

    And plenty about living in the country - including water harvesting, organic farming, and conservation

The Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy - co-host

Community-based conservation - people working through conservancies to look after their areas - is one of the foundation stones of the Magaliesberg Biosphere. There are five active conservancies in the Biosphere area, meaning a good share of the groundwork necessary for establishing a Biosphere and engaging communities is already accessible through people committed to conservation. A valuable network exists among these conservancies with good communication systems in place.

The Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy lies in the eastern buffer area of the Biosphere. This 10 000 ha Conservancy was the first to be established in Gauteng, in 1987. Its approach has been to use crises as catalysts to expand and grow. And crises and challenges there have been aplenty! Inappropriate development applications, mineral prospecting by major companies, apathy, law suits from disgruntled developers...

The Conservancy straddles three major Gauteng rivers: the Jukskei, the Crocodile and the Hennops River – a unique feature in a water-thirsty province. The varied landscapes feature in the Gauteng Conservation Plan 2, which maps irreplaceable and valuable areas in the province. To the north the Schurveberg range stands sentinel, with the flat-topped Rhenosterkop landmark to the west. To the south lie large swathes of endangered Egoli Granite Grasslands, endemic to Gauteng.

The mixture of vegetation types – grasslands, savannah and bushveld - the ridges, the mountains and rivers are an ideal home for 300 bird species, and many free-roaming animals.

Scores of geology students have done their practicals in the Conservancy over the years – the variety of rock formations offering the perfect outdoor classroom. Heritage and historical sites abound.

An active Committee meets once a month, and projects are varied. A Conservation Calendar offers monthly walks and talks, ranging from educational subjects (spiders, scorpions, bats, snakes, geology, botany, birds) to historical tours. The Calendar also includes fund-raising events, such as Ride the Rhenoster, an annual mountain bike ride. A highlight this year is the Living Naturally Festival which the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy is presenting in partnership with the Biosphere on 13 March.

VeldTalk, the Conservancy's e-zine, appears monthly and is distributed to 1 000 readers. It carries news, information, notices and stories featuring local people and happenings. The Conservancy also has two websites - the official site showcasing the Conservancy, and a residents’ site which has information of specific interest and use to those living in the Conservancy.

The Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy has a number of key projects each year, while others have a “maintenance” function.

A concerted effort over the past eight years has focused on alien invaders such as Pompom. While this is still a serious problem, the level of awareness and involvement among landowners has grown.

The Conservancy is actively involved in local schools, such as the Bathabile Primary School, where this year the Conservancy is collaborating in the erection of a “green” strawbale classroom. Donations from local residents and interested members of the public are funding the project. The Conservancy also entered the school for the MmaTsepo Khumbane greening awards and the school walked off with the first prize of R15 000 in the category “Greening Schools”, plus winning half of the overall prize – another R10 000!

One of the most promising projects is a future Grassland Reserve in the heart of the Conservancy. About 300 ha of endangered Egoli Granite Grassland (EGG) had to be bought by a developer as an “offset” for similar grassland being destroyed in a Midrand development. The land was given to the Province, which handed it to the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) to manage. While this could have been an awkward situation to manage with scarce resources, the fact of it being part of a vibrant Conservancy makes it a viable proposition. Biodiversity Stewardship options are being introduced to landowners. This will be a long process, but after keeping the flame bright for 23 years, not impossible!

 Magaliesberg Biosphere

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