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) who are celebrating 92 years of caring for the earth – as their 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 brain-child of Claremont resident Ann Bean.

A committee member of the Wildlife Society in the early 1980s, Ann 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 safeguarding 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 their group.

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

They also have an outreach programme, the Redhill Eco Club, through which they take children on various outings hoping to instil a love of nature.

Karen Gray-Kilfoil of Sun Valley Eco Watch said they had a waste reduction programme in the far south and produce eco bricks and other items from waste.

For further information about Wessa’s Friends Groups, visit

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