How the branch operates
The Branch’s work has focused on specific local projects (Friends of Pigeon Valley, Umbilo Conservancy, Lower Umngeni River) and environmental activism across a wide area of central Durban. The committee members have links and activities across the Durban area, and sometimes beyond.
The advantages of having the link to the local projects is that this stimulates local activity, perhaps at the cost though of contact between the branch committee and WESSA members who are not linked to a local project.
It was decided to move from having meetings every two months to having a monthly meeting, hopefully somewhat shorter, as some issues need greater communication than was possible before.
WESSA as a resource
Increasingly we have realised that a particular role for a branch like Durban is that it is a resource for various groups, a network of people with skills and information related to various aspects of the environment and its protection. Within the Branch is a wealth of information and experience for others to draw on. We are keen to make this available.
This also extends to the links between the Branch and the WESSA regional and national organisation. I think there has been improved communication.
Collaboration with other conservation groups
The approach has been work in a positive way with other groups, such as Botsoc and the Bird Conservation Monitoring Group. What is emerging in particular with regard to the latter is the gradual development of a system for natural areas where there is an identifiable champion who can be a focal point for information on birds, vegetation, mammals, insects, bats and so on even when that person is not an expert on more than one area. This would best be undertaken through the use of the internet, and links. We have not gone far down this path, but it has the potential for aligning our limited resources in the most effective way.
Relationship with the eThekwini Metro
This is a complex issue; much of our work involves linking with staff in departments such as Parks, but not only that department. There have been some very positive links, for example with regard to the work the Metro is doing on alien clearing. There have also been some difficulties which arise when some workers who have been taken on to undertake cutting cut down indigenous as well as alien plants and damage the natural environment. It seems from our recent experience that it is best to handle these problems at a local level, involving the lower levels of management, and taking a positive attitude to the times when the Metro staff go out of their way to ensure that issues are addressed effectively. Two recent cases = discussions about problems at Umbilo Ponds, and a recent case of the deaths of two Spotted Ground Thrushes at Pigeon Valley, both indicate a high level of responsiveness and willingness on the part of senior Natural Areas staff to resolve the underlying problem.
While this is not the financial report, it is worth noting that we have been enterprising and have not hesitated to use our resources, but have nonetheless kept reserves in a healthy state. Particular tribute must go to the tree label work undertaken by Margaret Burger, which generates a steady stream of income. Our approach has been to support the work of some specific groups, on a once-off basis, and that frees them up to be more effective. We have also invested money to enable Suburban Wildlife to be printed and sold.
A key innovation is the new WESSA Durban branch blog: http://wessadurban.blogspot.com/. This is still being tried out, but it means that we can reach membership who access it much more fully, by presenting tables, photographs, and full reports. Concerns have been raised over the publicity and information provided to members without internet access.
Specific local areas
Without going into full details, members of the committee have been actively involved in the conservation of Pigeon Valley and surrounding areas, the Lower Umngeni, Msinsi Reserve, Monteplier Road, Umbilo Ponds and surrounding areas, Roosfontein nature reserve, and some initiatives in Lamontville.
We have learnt that Cheryl Borresen, who has provided a kind of administrative backbone, energised by passion, will no longer be secretary. We are hugely indebted to her for her contribution, and keenly await seeing where her energies will now be expressed.
Chairperson, 28th May 2011