About the Western Cape Region
The Western Cape Region of WESSA Membership encompasses a geographic region that is best described as the predominantly winter rainfall portion of South Africa. This area is home to an extreme diversity of habitats, ranging from the very dry Karoo, through fire-prone fynbos, to patches of Africa’s southernmost Afromontane forest archipelago. Each of these habitats has extraordinary biodiversity, with the fynbos (Cape Floristic Region) containing the highest diversity of plant species per unit area of any region on planet Earth. Critically, and because of human influence, each of these habitats is also the last remaining home for a great number of endangered species. Any conservation work in this area has the potential to positively influence many species, including those in desperate need of help.
Education: Western Cape volunteers get numerous invitations to speak and present at events hosted by other organizations on water, wildlife, climate change, citizen science, energy, sustainability, palaeontology and more. We do our utmost to meet these requests and to inculcate the spirit of action and participation in caring for the earth. Several of the enquiries and invitations we receive are as a result of coverage in newspapers, on websites or on the radio. Media outreach is an essential vehicle for education, piquing interest and provoking a response. Equally important are the hands-on events, workshops, talks and presentations we organise. Formal education and training are still in the ambit of the professional wing, but as momentum and enthusiasm builds up we hope to contribute more in this area too.
Citizen Science: There are many Citizen Science platforms in South Africa that are involved in collecting data on plants, animals and landscapes. This data is invaluable to researchers and scientists as it allows scientists to access large amounts of data they would not be able to collect in their study period because of access, costs, and of course time. Much of this data is used by SANBI to inform the Red Lists. Very importantly, the data is showing how plants and animals are moving, increasing or decreasing in terms of population distribution across the country as well as the rest of Africa in some instances.
Some of these platforms allow citizens access to distribution maps and other data that is extremely useful to, for example, our Friends Groups, in being able to better manage the patch of which they are custodians. The Western Cape committee, and from this, some Friends Groups, have organised talks and workshops by the Animal Demography Unit (UCT), iNaturalist and Cape Citizen Science, and we are hoping to engage and promote other programmes that are relevant to our membership. Citizen Science is a wonderful way to be People Caring for the Earth by collaborating with other environmental organisations and eco-conscious individuals.
Green Coast Project: The City of Cape Town and Friends of Blaauwberg have applied for Green Coast Status. The application is currently with the Jury and, assuming its success, the Blaauwberg coastal area will be the first to achieve Green Coast status. That will be the first result of the pilot funded by WESSA Members. Once ratified, we will be notified of the launch date. Three other pilot areas are in the process and a private approach has already been made for details.
Friends Groups and affiliates: The Western Cape is proudly home to almost 30 active Friends Groups, all involved in a wide range of amazing activities centred around caring for their patch of our planet Earth. The Friends Groups are run wholly by volunteers on a non-profit basis, truly leading by example by giving their time, effort and skills to these much-needed causes. Amongst other things, these Friends Groups are involved in restoring natural spaces, alien clearing and litter runs, as well as more indirect conservation efforts in the realm of education and public engagement including fundraising, hosting educational events, workshops and corporate days, and participating in public political processes in their areas.
Compliance and advocacy: Since the focus of WESSA professional staff shifted entirely to funded projects there has been a noticeable gap in WESSA’s media presence when it comes to issues of conservation, environmental governance and policy commentary, though some Friends groups and individual members have tried to keep the flag flying. Over the past year volunteers in the Western Cape region of WESSA have participated actively in:
- the campaign to preserve the Philippi Horticultural Area and the aquifer it is situated over from over development
- the protection of the Fernkloof reserve in Hermanus
- support for the West coast Elandsfontein aquifer
- the formulation of the Western Cape State of the Environment report
- supporting the efforts of Habitat council and Cape Trust to protect heritage buildings
- co-operating with Communitree and GreenPop in the formulation of the fynbos corridors concept
- an Earth Day drive to reduce the amount of single-use plastic items in the environment
- reminding government and public about the country’s commitment to cut back on CO2 emissionscontributing to Cape Town’s water dialogue commending
- efforts to reduce demand and linking water to associated issues
Western Cape Projects
Public participation in science is increasing, and citizen science has a central part in this. It is a contribution by the public to research, actively undertaken and requiring thoughtful action. Citizen science projects involve non-professionals taking part in crowdsourcing, data analysis, and data collection. The idea is to break down big tasks into understandable components that anyone can perform.
The Western Cape Region is well placed to work collaboratively with the University of Cape Town’s Animal Demography Unit and SANBI to encourage and facilitate citizen science. Susan Gie, former chair of Western Cape region, heads up the portfolio.
Western Cape Branches
Eden Branch was formed in 1983 and is one of WESSA’s most active branches. It organises and supports many diverse activities such as:
- Talks and Outings on Birding, Botany, Geology, Biodiversity and other environmental topics
- Networking with other environmental and conservation organisations
- Raising Environmental awareness at local level regarding water usage and recycling
- Support for the Garden Route Botanical Garden and Kos en Fynbos activities
- Beach and other clean-ups
The Eden branch committee is made up of Christine Ridge-Schnaufer, Annemarie Gebhardt, Roz Schubert, Monica Vaccaro and Peter Ginn. Annemarie Gebhardt organises the various outings, which are highly successful in terms of both numbers and as fundraisers. The emphasis has been on visiting environmental organisations and donating the funds raised by the participants directly to the host organisation. Monica Vacarro plays a major role in food gardens in both the Kos en Fynbos programme in George (now in its 4th year ), and the Kos en Karoo at van Wyksdorp (working with the Landmark Foundation.) The programme is having a very positive impact within this small community. Monica also maintains the WESSA Eden Facebook page Both Monica and Annemarie (as professional educators ) are very involved in getting the Environmental Education Centre off the ground. The centre was built in late 2016 and is in the heart of the Garden Route Botanical Garden. Another project of the Garden Route Botanical Garden is the collection and release of wattle galls as a bio-control agent. Henk Alting is currently working with members of the WEEDS Forum and others to get an effective system, for dispersal of the galls, up and running.
Contact Eden Branch
The WESSA Eden monthly Newsletter is a collation of environmental news from various sources and reaches over 2500 individuals in the area covering Mossel Bay, George, Oudtshoorn Knysna and Plett. Recipients include SAN Parks, Cape Nature, NMU employees and other environmental organisations and their representatives.
Western Cape Friends & Affiliates
Western Cape Friends Groups are involved in conservation, rehabilitation, biodiversity monitoring, education, clean-ups, fund-raising, providing community involvement opportunities, social projects, skills and capacity building, cultural and historical conservation, talks … and keeping developers on the straight and narrow where they can. Download the WESSA Western Cape Friends Groups & Affiliates Map here
History of WESSA’s Western Cape Region
Any history must begin on an uncertain note, with wrong turnings and dead ends. The early days of game protection societies were born in response to the century of the big shoot, and we are now in the century of over-consumption! WESSA’s history in the Western Cape starts in 1886 when the Western Districts Game Protection Society (WDGPA) came into existence in the same year as the Cape Colony’s new Game Act was passed because of the growing realisation by genuine sportsmen that game laws alone had failed to protect wildlife. By as late as 1914 there appears to be some truth in the jibes that members of the WDGPA were interested in preserving only what could be put in the pot.
Today the challenge of ‘People Caring for the Earth’ has evolved from protecting Wildlife for the sake of hunting to protecting the very environment on which we, the hunter gatherers of the modern world, depend: no more so than in the very fragile threatened biodiversity of the arid Western Cape Region. The Cape Floristic Region and the Succulent Karoo comprise two of the world’s most critically endangered eco-systems.
The first major contribution of the newly formed Cape Branch of the Wildlife Society was in 1928 to recommend the Auob-Nossop region for the proclamation as the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. In 1929 Dr SH Skaife, first chairman of the Cape Wildlife Protection Society, visited Addo and stayed long enough to form the Eastern Province Branch with the ‘work of watching over the interest of elephants being one of the duties of this new branch’. Addo National Park was proclaimed in 1931 and the Mountain Zebra National Park in 1937 as a result of the combined efforts of these two branches.
While lobbying for these new National Parks, the Wildlife Society was also strongly promoting that the City of Cape Town should preserve Cape Point for the nation as a nature reserve. This was eventually achieved in 1939 but the 1930s – the years of the Great Drought and Depression – were particularly hard on new volunteer initiatives and the Society partnered with the Animal Welfare Society. The current WESSA Western Cape Region was re-constituted after WW2 in 1948.
By 1985, the Cape Branch was very active and Anne Bean founded the project ‘Friends of Nature Areas’ which flourished as new local initiatives, affiliated with WESSA, burgeoned. This included early Friends groups like Cape Point, Liesbeeck River, Silvermine, Helderberg and Kogelberg. Today Friends Groups are fundamental to WESSA’s strap line of ‘People Caring for the Earth’.
In addition to encouraging schools to join as Junior Members with the new magazine African Wildlife as a unique new resource (the beginning of the current imperative for environmental education), members made major contributions in resuscitating the new national parks which had been dormant during the war. They also concentrated on bringing good science into the decision-making processes and encouraged local initiatives to protect many areas which were being impacted by burgeoning post-war development. These included biodiversity areas such as Kogelberg, Paarl Mountain, Lakeside and Brenton, as well as encouraging promulgation of National Parks to protect the highly endangered Bontebok and Knysna elephants, and the biodiversity of the Outeniquas (now the Garden Route and Baviaanskloof National Parks).
In the mid-1970’s Eugene Moll led a team to survey the 6000ha of Table Mountain. This led to the Wildlife Society orchestrating a ‘Save Table Mountain’ campaign which ultimately made a major contribution to the Cape Peninsula mountain chain being declared as a National Park 20 years later. The same year they purchased ‘The Sanctuary’, a small house and barn on the fringe of Kirstenhof Wetlands, a rural area which was rapidly being sub-divided for the massive urban development of the central Cape Peninsula. This became the ‘home’ of the now WESSA Western Cape Region. Many initiatives and projects were launched from the Sanctuary. Of particular note was WESSA’s leadership in empowering concerned citizens to get involved as I&AP’s in new developmental planning environmental incentives in terms of the new National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) in 1998. This included the landmark Paradyskloof case which set the precedent that environmental planning should precede development decisions.
The Western Cape Region also led WESSA’s major involvement in the Rio plus 10 World Environmental Conference in 2002 as well as being the first NGO to be awarded major caring for the coast projects in the forerunner to the Expanded Public Works Programme. More recently the Region made a major contribution in managing the YES project and in promoting participation in Catchment/ Wetland forums in addition to many other EE projects.
Today the membership of the Western Cape is concentrating on rekindling ‘Local Initiatives for the Environment’ especially through Friends Groups, local environmental CBO’s and individuals contributing to Citizen Science. We have a fervent wish to expand the concept of ‘individuals caring for the earth’ beyond the traditional and ageing base of volunteerism. Modern Social Media and technology will be critical in this regard.
WESTERN CAPE REGIONAL COMMITTEE