Friends honoured for green passion

Yvonne Viljoen, of the Friends of Silvermine Nature Reserve

They called it the BFG, Big Friends Group, a meeting of volunteers from 26 Friends groups and other environmental interest groups from the Western Cape’s conservation scene.

Held on Saturday August 12, the BFG was co-hosted by the Friends of the Liesbeek and the Western Cape membership team of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) which is are celebrating 92 years of caring for the earth – as its slogan goes.

In the Western Cape there are just over 30 environmental Friends groups affiliated to Wessa, but there are also many active environmental Friends groups who are not affiliated. The Big Friends Group event was attended by affiliated and non-affiliated environmental Friends groups.

Often working in isolation, the idea was to get together, brainstorm ideas and challenges while networking in a pleasant environment.

The concept of Friends groups was the brainchild of Claremont resident Ann Bean.

A committee member of the Wildlife Society in the early 1980s, Ms Bean was concerned that lack of money, manpower and interest on the part of provincial and local nature conservation authorities were leading to the degradation, and in some cases even deproclamation, of important nature reserves.

It was her belief that the public had to become involved in protecting these resources and work with the owning or managing authorities.

The scheme was initially only for nature reserves, in an endeavour to protect their integrity.

Keynote speaker at the BFG meeting was Les Underhill, of UCT’s Animal Demographic Unit, who spoke about citizen science and how it could benefit the Friends groups.

Each group then gave a thumbprint description of themselves.

Kelly Izzard of the Friends of Cape of Good Hope said they offerred monthly hikes for members and fynbos hikes for visiting tour groups.

It might possibly be the smallest of the City’s nature reserves, but Janine Ayrton said Die Oog had the mighty challenge of protecting the enigmatic western leopard toad which was a regular visitor.

Named for the natural spring on which a dam was built 250 years ago to supply Bergvliet Farm with water, the reserve is also a sanctuary and comprises five separate biodiverse areas.

Emile Van Rooyen of the Friends of Tokai Park said their task was to clear the vast area of alien vegetation; do fynbos restoration and species surveys and maintain and develop the arboretum. They also help to maintain paths, roads, fencing, trees and signs.

Stuart Hall, of the Friends of Meadowridge Common, said they held spring walks on the area and documented the plants that grow there. For further information about Wessa’s Friends Groups, visit