GroundTruth provided technical support to the 2017 Karkloof River Walk initiated by the Karkloof Conservancy with support from WWF-SA. Inspired by the DUCT River Walks, one of the aims of the Karkloof Walk was to inspire others across South Africa to initiate a River Walk in their catchment.

A video documenting the walk can be found here.

The River Walk Toolkit provided below outlines some considerations when planning a walk, and resources and tools which may be of use. 

The amount of planning and resources required to do a river walk will depend on factors such as the size and nature of your river, the topography and the adjacent land uses.

If you have the resources and support you might want to undertake a major walk from the source to the confluence (or even the river mouth at the sea). However, if the planning requirements highlighted below are more than you can manage it may be better to walk just a small section of river within your community. Every bit helps to highlight the plight of your river!

Below are some of the important considerations when planning a river walk.

Resources and support

First you must plan the scale of your walk, based on the available resources and your capacity. You can speak to important community members and businesses to lend support and sponsorship to your initiative. Are there representatives of government authorities in your area who can support or endorse your initiative, such as a ward councillor or officials from water or environmental affairs?

It is best to walk in a team. Find a group of like-minded people and decide on roles based on their skills or interests (sampling, planning, photographer, observations etc). Most importantly you must have a dedicated support person who has a very good understanding of where you are going each day, and how to find you if you do not arrive at the destination. This person may also need to drop you at a starting point and collect you at the end of the day.

Land owner permission

You would need to obtain permission from the owners of any private land which you will be crossing. It is best to have a strong plan in place for the river walk, and have the plan endorsed by other supporters and role players before approaching the land owners. If permission is granted treat all areas with respect. Leave no litter, close all gates as needed and ensure you do not damage fences. Encourage land owners to join you on the walk.


It is very important to cover personal safety in your planning, based on the unique risks of your river, community and the areas you will be walking through. In any event, it is best to form a group of walkers for safety and in case of injury. Safety considerations must include;

·         Is water pollution a risk to your health?

·         How deep and strong is the river, are there any waterfalls or steep valley sides?

·         Will you need to cross the river, and where is it safe to do so? (rather use bridges etc wherever possible).

·         Are there risks from any animals which may be dangerous? (i.e. crocodiles, hippos or other wildlife).

·         Who in the walk team can swim, and do any have particular health limitations or needs?

·         The personal safety of the river walk team from mugging or other criminal activity.

·         Is there mobile phone reception along the whole route and are there any potential zones where there is no signal (i.e in a deep valley).

·         Do you have a plan B for communication?

·         Who do you call in the event of an emergency? Have a plan B.

·         You must always ensure you have enough clean drinking water on your person while walking.

·         Who is trained in first aid within the walking team, and do they have a first aid kit.

Route planning, mapping and logistics

You need to plan your route very carefully, and ask yourself these types of questions;

Which sections can you walk, and are there areas where you have to leave the river a bit (vegetation, too dense, too rocky/steep, waterfall etc)?

How far can you walk in a day, and where will your finish point be? Don’t underestimate how long it takes if there are no cleared paths along the river, particularly if there is dense bush, and even more so if there is invasion by alien plants. Don’t underestimate fences and walls as barriers to your planned route.

Who will your support person/people be? A dedicated support person must be appointed. This person must have a very good understanding of where you are going each day, and how to find you if you do not arrive at the destination. This person may need to drop off the walk team at the start, and collect at the end of the day.

Where are your daily end points? Plan a meeting point and time for day end in advance in case you lose communication with your support team.

Where to go in case of an emergency? During planning, see where there are roads or houses near your daily route that you could walk to in an emergency.

Can you carry sufficient food and especially water on your person? This is extremely important as you will need the energy, and you must not dehydrate.

Do you have printed maps of your route? These are very important as it may be dangerous if you get lost.

The spatial database of the miniSASS website can be a useful tool for you to explore the river on the interactive map. You can pan along the river, zoom in or out and can even change between satellite image or map views.

Google Earth is also useful for planning and map printing.

Information and data collection

What are you going to measure and record during the walk, and how can you take this information forward to work together with authorities, land owners and the community to improve the river health and water quality? Below are some of the citizen science tools you can use, and other resources which may be helpful.


Photographs are a very useful way of recording habitat condition. A photograph can say a 1000 words.

Photograph particular areas of impact, good areas that need preservation or where good work is being done to improve the river and environment. Also photograph the upstream and downstream view of every sample site.

Have a careful system for recording the location of each photograph (some cameras or mobile phones record a GPS point).

Always be careful not to give away the location of important, endangered or sensitive species which may be at risk if people know where to find them.

Riparian Health Audit (RHA)

The RHA is a citizen science tool for assessing the habitat integrity of rivers. It is based on a method used by river scientists (Kleynhans et. al. 2008), and was adapted for citizen science use by GroundTruth through research sponsorship from the Water Research Commission.  The method gives a score of the habitat integrity for a defined section of river, based on your scoring of various impacts such as bank erosion, flow modification, exotic vegetation etc. The RHA is under final development, and will be distributed by the Water Research Commission within a broader citizen science tool kit covering water resources (including citizen science tools for investigating wetlands, springs, estuaries etc).

miniSASS river health

miniSASS is a test that can be learnt by almost anyone to discover the health of a river by looking at what aquatic invertebrates can be found within submerged rocks and vegetation in the river channel. You will be surprised how much river life is there! miniSASS testing requirs the correct type of river bed (ideally rocks and stones) within a section which has flowing water (a pool is no good). So you will need to look for such sites on the route. You will also need to buy or construct a few items needed for sampling. To learn more about miniSASS go to the miniSASS website where you can download the instructions and field sheets. Another recent development of miniSASS undertaken by GroundTruth through research sponsorship from the Water Research Commission is the miniSASS map on the website. The miniSASS map is a spatial (map-based) database which is useful for exploring your catchment and planning your route. Most importantly the miniSASS map and database can be used to capture the location of your sample sites and certain data such as the river health score, a description of impacts and basic water chemistry.



Water Clarity Tube

The water clarity tube is a citizen science tool which measures how cloudy the water is. This can indicate the amount of suspended sediment that is present in the water and other pollutants such as dissolved salts and nutrients.



Geo-ODK mobile phone application

The Geo-ODK application (downloadable from the Play store) can be customised to capture whatever information you are collecting on your walk. The data can be entered onto your mobile phone and saved (whether you are within mobile phone signal or not) for later upload to the web. Once back from the walk the information can be downloaded off the web for analysis and processing. Any type of data can be captured, including photos.

If this is not a good option for you, then simply make your own field sheets on paper, with spaces to write down the information needed at each site. Keep these safe and dry until you can write up your results.

Other useful resources and links

River walk page of the Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) 

Umgeni River Walk Blog