Action research in the upper Umzimvubu landscape, in the southern Maloti Drakensberg transfrontier watershed, is focussed not on research outputs but on learning how to change rural lives most effectively through increased resilience. The citizens of the rural Matatiele area are to a significant degree dependent on the natural resource base for the foundation of their livelihoods. While this montane grassland area is rich in biodiversity, biomass and surface seeps constituting the source of the Umzimvubu drainage system, it is poor in data, trend monitoring and economic opportunity. Along with rangeland degradation, it is also endowed with one of the wickedest problems of all, being heavily impacted by invasive alien plants, which severely compromise the vital ecological infrastructure this strategic water source area. Limited resources give rise to innovative strategies for tackling challenges, and require two key elements: good governance and sound affordable monitoring to measure if these strategies are having the desired impacts. Environmental & Rural Solutions (ERS) has been exploring, together with traditional leadership, youth groups and Umzimvubu catchment partners, how to most effectively prioritise, implement and monitor real landscape-based livelihood needs, fostering an interesting reiterative mix of citizen science, action learning and collaboration with national and international partners. Links with larger national and international research institutions including SANBI, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Rhodes, Dartmouth, Coventry and Cambridge universities, complement a “boots on the ground” citizen science-based approach to action learning and development of baselines and systems for longer-term trend monitoring. The presentation shares some of the vertical learning curves and highlights of the last five years of field-based collaborative M&E and learning, centred around co-design and using a variety of citizen science-friendly tools which involve and enable local land users to restore good governance, to underpin a “landscapes and livelihoods” approach to securing this special montane environment.