Of Poplar Trees and Water

Koos Burger is Very Sad

Koos Burger is very sad. “The Else River smells like sewage,” he says, pointing to the thick brown and black sludge lining the banks of this picturesque river that runs through the Glencairn Rotary Camp grounds.

Koos is sad because some 9 000 disadvantaged youth come here annually to experience The Great Outdoors. It is being proven that being in nature heals wounds, boosts the self-esteem and builds pride.

“I feel guilty because I have to keep the kids away from the water, and it was never like this before,” laments Koos. He is the Warden for the Rotary Club Camps in Glencairn and was recently elected Chairperson of Rotary Western Cape.

Water Sewage Pollution

It was never like this when the water flowed strong and clear and smelled like rain. Only a few years ago. Now the water oozes, thick and brown and pungent. Even the usual Grade 10 crowd from Fish Hoek High School could not do their water tests last year thanks to unseen dangers lurking in the Else River depths.

This is an issue. River health is linked to ecosystem health, functioning biodiversity – and ultimately human health and welfare. While Koos briefs the Earth Kids about the status quo of the river, they play music on his musical bridge. Created from gum or eucalyptus trees, the bridge literally plays a tune when the kids hit sticks on the planks.

A Musical Bridge

“We placed two old trees across the river and we nailed planks across these support tracks,” explains Koos. As the planks dried, so they became tauter, pulling across their 2 support logs. Each one makes a different sound when tapped with a stick.

The Else River is actually a stream. 100 years ago the farmer who owned Welcome Glen Farm had riparian rights to pump water using the pump which is now in the Rotary Camp zone. He watered his cows which provided milk to the locals.

“I have been working here for 9 years and the river has never looked like this before!” says Koos. “There is something in the water and I know what it is…”

Thick Black Algae is a Sign

Brown algae blooms in the sunshine and it is very thick at certain points in the river. All the way downstream to the Glencairn Wetland, before it meets the ocean at Glencairn Beach.

Koos encourages the Earth Kids to throw rocks into the stream and they make a curious sucking and popping sound as they disappear into the thick black goo. Koos reckons the bridge at Main Road, where the river flows into the ocean, could collapse one day due to the ongoing buildup of algae against its supports.

Meanwhile, Koos has partnered with the Chysalis Academy to remove a forest of invasive Poplar trees from the banks of the Else River. This is another issue affecting water quality and quantity.

Beautiful Trees in the Wrong Place

These trees may be beautiful and provide a haven for kids and wildlife BUT they spread very fast, taking up river space and drinking far too much water – real aliens in Africa.

Slowly but surely, Koos will remove these, taking into account the strong survival tactics of the Poplar. Their root system is so strong that when the tree is “hurt” in any way, the roots spread further to save the tree. Earth kids met the tree removal team who had fashioned their own raking tools from sticks and branches.

Earth Kids will visit Koos in a few months to see how the tree removal project is going. They hope that the sewage issue will be resolved by then! If not, they will take more action and never stop until the river is clear again.


  1. Trees and plants are the only nature’s self cleaning mechanism. It is ectremely important for trees to shade the river and hold the sponge of all plants and roots to function properly as a natural purification system. If the trees are removed, the situation will get worse. It is extremely sad to see people to eradicate all nature’s living components, instead of understanding properly all its functions. There might be a sewerage pipes going into the river somewhere, creating the polution, (same like many other places)- that is what needs to be removed, not the trees. It is unbelievable, that people do not understand the truth about our natural environment and use “eradication” policy instead of true conservation.

    1. Thank you for your concern regarding this issue. Koos Burger is very environmental and very aware of all conservation issues within this context. He has thought long and hard about this, and he is doing what is best for River, Trees and Catchment. The trees are alien to this area and are a constant drinker of the water. You are right that the trees assist with the purification of the river but there are so many there and Koos is trying to envisage the river as it was before the tree were brought in by the settlers…

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