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Mounted river rangers patrol northern Joburg's water courses and parks, reporting environmental and social problems to the City.


HORSEWOMAN Lyndall Murray likes to put her hobby to good use: for nine years she has been part of the Johannesburg voluntary mounted river rangers (JVMRR), a group of dedicated environmental watchdogs established in 1984.

Keeping watch: members of the JVMRR

Murray, who enjoys giving back to the community, is the chairperson of the rangers. She says their main aim is to keep an eye open for sewage spills, illegal dumping, littering and water pollution, which they then report to the authorities.

They conduct the environmental patrols daily from two equestrian bases on the north side of the city - in Paulshof and Parkmore - patrolling land that falls under the jurisdiction of City Parks.

"We use horses for our patrols because they offer a low-impact solution for observing and reporting problems we come across."

The volunteers monitor public parks in the northern suburbs of Riverclub, Parkmore, Bryanston, Paulshof and Sunninghill. "We report problems we come across to city authorities so that they can see to it that they are taken care of. Our patrols cover a 17km stretch of city parkland and river trails along the Braamfontein Spruit and the Sandspruit Rivers. The two rivers meet in Sunninghill."

Braamfontein Spruit

The Braamfontein Spruit is the city's longest and most popular river. It is covered and canalised near its source, on the grounds of Barnato Park High School in Berea and runs right to the edge of the city. The spruit has two major tributaries - from Westdene Dam and Albertenville.

From Berea, it runs through Pieter Roos Park, down Empire Road to Frank Brown Park, then on towards the German School in Auckland Park. The stream then flows towards the Parkview Golf Course, where sections of it are channelled into canals. It exits the golf course and runs through Parkhurst, where it meets its second small tributary, the Westdene Spruit.

The Sandspruit's origins can be traced to three places: the Orange Grove Stream starts on Mountain View ridge, near the corner known as Death Bend on Louis Botha Avenue. It flows down to Houghton Drive, and along the edge of the Houghton Golf Course. At Melrose North it meets with a second, smaller stream that rises in the vicinity of the Houghton Golf Course and lies buried as it flows through Norwood.

The third stream has two sources: in Pine Avenue near St John's College, Houghton, emerging again in the Killarney Golf Course. These three streams join just north east of the Melrose Bird Sanctuary, flowing under Corlett Drive and north into Sunninghill Park.


Environmental activist

Murray says the rangers were established by James Clark, the popular columnist on The Star newspaper and an environmental activist, to conserve the rivers and keep them in good condition so that so that Joburgers can still enjoy them in their original state. "Walkers, runners, dog walkers and cyclists use a trail along the river banks every weekend."

Around 2002, the number of homeless people inhabiting informal squatter camps along the Braamfontein Spruit increased, but since then the numbers have dropped. The JVMRR supply regular updates to the police as well as community forums and security managers so that the size and spread of these camps can be controlled.

"We also report fallen trees, fires, flood damage, the spread of invasive vegetation and the illegal pumping of water out of local rivers. At the moment we have 40 rangers who patrol in the morning and afternoon. We do our rounds according to the availability of the rangers because they also have other things to do. Riders are asked to commit to one or two patrols per week," she says.

Once the rangers return from their patrols, they report whatever problems they have encountered to the relevant with City officials and write up cases in the case report book. Most contacts are made with the South African Police Service, Pikitup, Johannesburg Water and the Roads Agency.


Problems solved

The City has solved several issues reported by the volunteer rangers. A leak below Park Lane was fixed, debris was cleared and a broken manhole cover was replaced. A fire at the top of the Paulshofspruit was put out. Concrete street bins in Paulshof are emptied from time to time, although they do need more frequent emptying. Pikitup acted promptly when contacted before Christmas when they were overflowing.

Over the years Murray has seen a lot of changes around the areas rangers patrol. "The squatter [numbers] have decreased, the rivers are cleaner and most importantly, the public are aware that they should keep their areas clean."

Jenny Moodley, City Parks' media manager, says the utility works well with the rangers and the arrangement is effective. "We hope that the arrangement we have with them will grow from strength to strength as they give us consistent reports and we act on what they tell us."


How to volunteer

To volunteer to join the rangers, visit their offices at Louis Avenue in River Park, Parkmore, at the Field and Study Centre. You must be over 18 years old to be a volunteer ranger, although high school pupils can become rangers but only patrol under the supervision of at least two adults.

You need to complete an indemnity form and give the JVMRR emergency contact numbers. You also undergo an assessment test, which includes four horse riding lessons at no charge for people who want to brush up on their skills. Rangers pay annual subscriptions to the JVMRR of R500 for administration, such as the maintenance of the website and fax.

Volunteers do not have to own horses to become rangers as horses are supplied by JVMRR, which bought the animals for this purpose. The rangers supply their own uniform - khaki shirts, beige jodhpurs and dark green jerseys in winter. Lime vests are supplied at each base and must be worn over shirts or jerseys. All riders are required to wear solid helmets. The rangers are supplied with yellow bibs. Murray says they wear these colours so that they can be seen.

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◊ For more information, contact Lyndall Murray on 083 459-1971, or visit the Johannesburg voluntary mounted river rangers' website.

◊ Find out all you need to know about keeping safe in our parks by visiting our special Park safety section