WESSA honours Environmental Champions in the Western Cape

WINNERS: from left to right: Tim Jobson (Friends of Rondebosch Common), Annalene de Beer (for Vernon Gibbs-Halls), Braam Malherbe, Elma Pollard, Suzanne du Plessis, Martin Thompson, Jean Fillis, Jonathan Deal (behind), WESSA CEO Mumsie Gumede (behind), Kelvin Cochrane, Marilyn van der Velden, Pierre de Villiers, Janette Maree du Toit and Niel van Wyk. Not present: Green Renaissance Filmmaking Team.

Thirteen outstanding individuals and groups were formally acknowledged by WESSA for their contribution to the South African environmental conservation and environmental education sector at a special ceremony, which took place on Thursday 18 August 2011 in the Silver Tree restaurant at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

The annually presented Regional WESSA Awards attracted many nominations this year, all of which spoke of excellent work being done.  “Though not all nominations were selected for an award, WESSA will  reconsider them for future recognition, especially those linked with environmental initiatives that are likely to gain further evidence of sustainable positive impact over time”, said the organisation’s Patrick Dowling, Head of Environmental Education for the region.  “We gratefully acknowledge the efforts of all the nominees and honoured each one of them at the event”, he added.

The 2011 Regional WESSA Awards were presented in a variety of categories to Suzanne du Plessis  (Friends of Die Swart Tobie), Niel van Wyk (Friends of Rietvlei and Blaauberg Conservation Area), Jean Fillis (Friends of Kirstenhof Wetland), Kelvin Cochrane (Dressing of the Princess Project at Princess Vlei), Jonathan Deal (Treasure the Karoo Action Group),  Friends of Rondebosch Common, Marilyn van der Velden (Recycle Swop Shop in Hermanus), Martin Thompson (City of Cape Town, Catchment Management), Pierre de Villiers (Programme Manager:  Marine Protected Areas, Islands and Estuaries; and Co-ordinator: CAPE Estuaries Programme), Vernon Gibbs-Halls (Eden District Municipality Planning and Environmental Unit), Janette Maree du Toit (Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve), the Green Renaissance Filmmaking Team and Elma Pollard (the Green Times).

The Awards had particular significance this year as the presentation ceremony formed part of a special programme of celebrations to mark the occasion of WESSA’s 85th anniversary – that is, 85 years of caring for the Earth through pro-active engagement with the challenges and opportunities presented by South Africa’s unique natural heritage and with the social and economic systems that depend on it.

WESSA CEO Mumsie Gumede gave the evening’s opening address, in which she outlined the organisation’s national strategic direction, and this was followed by number of regional conservation and education reports, which highlighted more local achievements over the past year.

The guest speaker at the event was Braam Malherbe – extreme adventurer, conservationist and 50/50 presenter – who presented an inspirational talk entitled “Re-connect with the wilderness, both without and within”.  Braam’s affiliation with WESSA goes back to the 1970s when he ran 532km in 11 days from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town to raise funds for WESSA’s conservation work with the protection of the Langebaan Lagoon.  For this remarkable effort, Braam was Awarded Life Membership of the organization.

Also included in the programme for the evening was the exhibition of an exquisite series of wildlife pencil drawings by local artist Bowen Boshier who generously donated the bulk of the profits from the sale of his works to WESSA’s Rhino Fund.   Bowen is no stranger to WESSA, having received in 2008 a WESSA Volunteer Award in recognition of the time and energy he had put into tackling various environmental issues, from inappropriate developments to alien invasive plants.

The convivial event drew a strong attendance of WESSA members, Friends groups, partners, funders and sponsors, and wine for the evening was generously sponsored by Vondeling Wines, a Biodiversity and Wine Initiative-certified estate in the Paardeberg wine region near Wellington.

The Award citations follow below:


Suzanne du Plessis – Friends of Die Swart Tobie
For her uncompromising energy over many years in dealing with the struggles and challenges facing the environment of the Cape West Coast.  She has shown commitment, courage and creative enthusiasm in running environmental projects, confronting issues of governance and accountability, resisting inappropriate development and promoting public participation and social upliftment in the Doringbaai – Strandfontein region.

Niel van Wyk – Friends of Rietvlei and Blaauberg Conservation Area (BCA)
For his mature, informed and firm approach to addressing environmental issues in and around the Rietvlei Wetland Reserve, and for championing the cause of wetlands in South Africa.  He has valiantly fended off inappropriate developments and provided sound and practical advice on environmental management.

Jean Fillis – Friends of Kirstenhof Wetland
For her unwavering commitment and selfless efforts to improve the environment in her own and our back yard.   Leading by example as an active member of her community and Friends of Kirstenhof Wetlands, Jean engages proactively with City Parks, fundraises, and has established indigenous gardens which are of environmental and educational benefit. Here is a person helping restore the commons.

Kelvin Cochrane – Dressing of the Princess Project at Princess Vlei
For his undaunted commitment to, and hard physical work in the Dressing of the Princess project.  His remarkable and sustained effort to highlight the history and worth of the Princessvlei, his hours of labour on the banks of the vlei and at Bottom Road Sanctuary along with  his unfailing ability to galvanize the community into action for the environment and against inappropriate development make him more than a deserving recipient of such an award.


Jonathan Deal – Treasure the Karoo Action Group
For his tenacity and devotion to the very special Karoo environment. He has worked tirelessly day and night to rally support for the protection of the Karoo against highly contentious exploitation by would be frackers, making this issue a national rallying point around what represents true and timeless value in a world where quick profit drives many actions.

Friends of Rondebosch Common
For their dedicated custodianship of the common for over 20 years in a variety of ways that range from clearing aliens, picking up litter, recording fauna & flora, conducting educational outings and printed material, as well as protecting the common from inappropriate developments.


Marilyn van der Velden – Recycle Swop Shop in Hermanus
For the innovative community upliftment project that promotes both a cleaner environment and individual environmental responsibility by providing an opportunity for  underprivileged children to access much needed basic school supplies.


Martin Thompson – City of Cape Town, Catchment Management
For going beyond the scope of his professional work by focussing community attention on caring  for catchment areas, and for recognising the environmental benefit of  “greening” traditional engineering solutions to catchment management and for supporting local environmental initiatives around water conservation.

Pierre de Villiers – Programme Manager:  Marine Protected Areas, Islands and Estuaries; and Co-ordinator: CAPE Estuaries Programme
For his outstanding work on the development of estuary management plans, and his commitment to championing causes of wetlands in the Western Cape, through an inclusive participatory approach and “can do” attitude.

Vernon Gibbs-Halls – Eden District Municipality, Planning and Environmental Unit
(Award collected on Vernon’s behalf by Annalene de Beer, Director of Corporate Affairs, Eden Municipality)
For his dedication to seeking informed and sustained solutions to both environmental and social challenges in the Eden District Municipality.  Also in recognition of his active participation on numerous environmental committees, and practical support for Civil Society endeavours and eagerness to promote the wise management of natural resources.

Janette Maree du Toit – Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve
For her professional approach to promoting environmental conservation, education and sustainable tourism and for her ongoing and sustained efforts in promoting the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve over many years.


The Green Renaissance Filmmaking Team
(Award collected on their behalf by Jonathan Deal)
For their excellent  voluntary contribution in film making aimed at raising the level of consciousness about the dangers of fracking in the Karoo and travesties of environmental decisions at Mapungubwe, and thereby making important national issues part of  global awareness raising and a call for action.

Elma Pollard – The Green Times
For her outstanding work in the field of environmental education as a reporter, editor, writer, activist and avid recycler.  Through the Green Times she has encouraged and motivated many in the South African context to live more sustainably, by making green information freely and inspirationally available to the community.

WESSA (The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) is a key environmental education and conservation non-governmental organisation that has been actively working for 85 years to ensure environmental sustainability for current and future South African generations through responsive conservation action, innovative educational intervention and human capacity development that empowers people to make sustainable lifestyle and environmental management choices.  WESSA addresses hands-on, the issues our planet is facing such as global climate change, the destruction of natural resources, polluted and degraded water systems and biodiversity impacts.  WESSA’s core mission is to promote public participation in caring for the Earth.

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