AGM 2010: Report from the Chair

Friends of Liesbeek – 17th Annual General Meeting

Report from the Chairperson: Kevin Winter

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Enviro Centre, Valkenburg Hospital Grounds, Observatory

 Dear Friends

It is with some satisfaction that I report on the activities of the Friends since our last AGM. In summary, it feels like we have made progress but perhaps not always at the pace that either members or public might wish. That is the nature of volunteer organizations! I do think though that the executive committee is in a better position having consolidated a number of matters that will improve efforts to deal with the many issues that confront the Liesbeek in the future. For instance, I am pleased about the upgrade of software that houses our website, and for this we are grateful for the efforts of our Vice Chair, Trevor Hughes. It is worth taking a look at the site from time to time (www.fol.org.za). Moreover the website has made it possible to communicate more efficiently and regularly with our members. We have no intention of bombarding you with email, but we want to keep in touch. I am also very pleased that the Liesbeek Maintenance Project under James Cooper, is developing into a well co-ordinated effort. This has meant that Liz Wheeler, who managed this project daily for the past four years, is now finding welcome relief and that this has enabled her to put her experience and energies into other aspects of the river.  

 Soon after our AGM last year, the committee met to analyse the goals, strengths and weaknesses of the Friends. The workshop revealed a number of key issues, particularly those perceived threats to the ongoing ability of members to steer the Friends as an organization and what the potential implications for the well being of the river itself if the Friends no longer existed. The most resounding concern was the need to recruit new, energetic volunteers, to improve communications and arrange more activities that would enable members to participate in and on the Liesbeek. We need to strategize further to find ways to address these and other concerns.

 In February we received the very welcome news that ABAX, formerly Polaris Trust, had agreed to continue funding the Liesbeek Maintenance Project for 2010, and further to increase the amount substantially from the funds we received last year. ABAX funding is vital to support the salary of James Cooper, the project manager, but the extra funds has given the Friends an opportunity to re-visit a project that has eluded us for a long time. We are very keen to rehabilitate the Valkenburg Wetland, the area north and adjacent to the N2. The Friends will obviously need the support of the City to manage this project, but we have had discussions now and also an on-site meeting with officials to plan the way forward. The intention is to use the generous support from ABAX to employ more workers, and to complete the work in the course of the next 12 months. We look forward to a functional wetland that will not only provide a spectacular site for motorists using the N2 but also provide an important habitat for birds and other aquatic species.

 We are grateful too for the ongoing funding received from the South African Breweries which supports the wages of the workers on the Maintenance Team. This is the fifth year that they have funded the project and we are pleased for the stability that this funding source has offered. Similarly, TUFFY Bags continue to supply the bags to carry the clippings, trimmings, weeds and branches. If you walk along the Liesbeek during the course of the week you are bound to discover piles of these bags stacked and waiting for collection from the City. Cleaning and maintaining to the river does not make headlines, but it is vital if we going to retain the quality of the river and its surroundings.

The systematic removal of the Purple Loosestrife along the Liesbeek has been another important project we have tackled this year. Largely under the care and management of the Liesbeek Maintenance Project, the noxious weed has been identified, mapped and systematically removed from the river and its banks. Members will recall that we highlighted this weed last year at the AGM and explained that the plant has only been identified in the wild along the Liesbeek and no other river system in South Africa. I am happy to report that the plant has been removed! In so doing, the Maintenance Team, together with support and advice of SANBI’s Alien Vegetation Removal Unit, have learnt a considerable amount about methods of control and removal of the plant. The damage that this plant could have done to the Liesbeek catchment has been averted.

As usual we held a number of walks for our members usually around the time of International Environmental days or weeks. Attendance at these walks was a little down compared to previous years and we will need to understand the reasons. Perhaps we need to find a variety of others ways and means of helping our members to participate and involve themselves in the life of the river.

Nearly ten ago we received funding from the City to erect various signs along the river. We workshopped, together with members, the content and presentation of these signs at that time, but signs don’t last. Last year we took them down but were at some loss as to how to do things differently. Some members of the committee then met with educationalists from Australia, who specialize in outdoor and museum signage, and following those discussions a new concept plan emerged. The first experiments in signage were erected along the Josephine Mill and Newlands swimming pool stretch of the river. The signs are simple, cheap to erect and easy to replace. The idea is to help people to connect to the river through a better understanding of the animals that inhabit that stretch of the river. We look forward to expanding this programme to other parts of the river – an opportunity to involve our members further in a creative activity!

 Finally, though I have left out so many other details, I want to pay tribute to the executive committee, all of whom are happy to continue serving in their various capacities. I want to acknowledge them: Liz Wheeler (Manager / Administrator), Francine Becker (Secretary), Di Mellon (Environmental specialist), Trevor Hughes (Vice Chair and Website Manager) and Grant Irlam (Treasurer). Unfortunately we accepted James Irlam’s resignation earlier this year, but were pleased to have had him on the committee for a good while.

 We urge you to continue your membership and contribution to the Friends.

Best wishes

Kevin Winter

About Admin (Trev)

I am the Vice-Chairman of The Friends of the Liesbeek
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