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This biodiversity stewardship project aims to provide formal conservation protection for the area of the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy, and beyond. 

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AGM 2010 Chairman's Speech

This is the 22nd Conservancy AGM I've attended, since the first one in 1988.  That's a big chunk of my and Anthony's lives.  (And here I include stalwarts like the Coles, the Garbetts and the Balfours, who have also been here for a couple of decades or longer.)

At our last AGM I said we'd just had the busiest year ever.  I did not know what was still coming!  I am not going to detail what the committee has done in this past year – that would take all afternoon because quite a few mountains and hills have been moved!  You've received a summary of the activities with your agenda when you arrived.  If you have queries or need details, I'll be happy to provide it.

I do want to mention the Conservation Calendar.  The four aims are fun, conservation education, fund-raising and marketing the RNC.  These events, walks and talks (14 in all this year) are becoming very popular and are strengthening our image as a valuable natural asset in the public mind.

Growing the Conservancy has been a tough road but an infinitely worthwhile one.  Our guiding and unshakeable belief is that this area is one of Gauteng's irreplaceable natural assets and worth every effort to protect. Our guiding principle has been that crises should be used as catalysts.

This served us well when crises hit us – Anglo American and Gencor buying up mineral rights and surveying for gold, a plan for 24 000 houses in Hills and Dales, the disappointment when the Dept of Environment refused us Nature Reserve status in the '90s - to name just a few.

In all this we had to contend with local attitudes such as: “If the government has decided, there's nothing you can do to stop it” (Norweto '86), “You cannot stop development” (a response to the 26 applications we've had for denser development inside and next to the Conservancy).  And the worst of all: apathy. That's a tough one!

Most of you would have seen a beautiful little bright red flower in die veld.  It's called Striga elegans.  Very elegant, but it's a parasite.  It has no roots, it sucks its sustenance from the plant it's attached to.  But everyone admires it.

Striga elegans

We have a choice – either to simply exist on our own patch and draw life from it like the Striga elegans, or be part of what sustains and restores. That means becoming aware of the bigger picture – what are we part of? What builds and strengthens it? What destroys it?

For the past few years we have been in a “holding mode”.  Much energy has gone into prevention – prevention of fragmentation,  prevention of destruction such as mining,    prevention of densification,  preventing an irreversible change in that “sense of place” and space that we who live here, all value.

The underlying feeling was that the field had to be kept open for what wanted to emerge – and we were not sure of what that was.  Just that there was an extraordinary potential wating for us for this part of the world.

That potential is now on our doorstep – what with the Biodiversity Stewardship and Protected Environment options available to us, and the roll-out of the Magaliesberg Biosphere.  We are part of its eastern buffer and Mercia Komen will give you an overview this afternoon.

There are also other exciting possibilities.  To date our properties have cost us – the cost of fighting invasives, fighting fires, labour, maintaining roads and fences, paying rates and taxes a long list.

Steve Panos will give us a glimpse this afternoon of how carbon offsets and the value of grasslands as carbon stores/   could actually turn our properties into income-producers instead of money sinks.

Having been through so many AGMs I thought: What do I want out of this AGM?

I want you to be amazed and excited about what has already been achieved.
  1. I want you to be inspired by what is possible, when you see and realize what can be done.
  2. I want you to stop saying:  Congratulations, committee – you're doing a marvellous job!  I want you rather to say:  I am putting my weight and my support and my resources behind this – what can I do?
  3. I want you to start taking initiative in your own area to support the bigger picture and for all kinds of creative initiatives emerging – for conservation, for community-building, lobbying, fund-raising, for strategic thinking.

They say nature abhors a vacuum and rushes in to fill that space. sUnless enough of us have a clear vision of what our space should be filled with, we will get the default filler – cosmic soup of the day.  Or a general mish-mash.

The majority of people now live in cities and the American author, Richard Louv, questions what is happening to the next generation. “For our children, nature is more of an abstraction than a physical reality. Kids today can tell you about the Amazon rainforest, but not about the last time they went into the woods alone. Or into the veld...They're suffering from NDD - 'nature deficit disorder'.

We are one of the areas in Gauteng where kids can still go into the veld and discover its treasures.  We live here, we own it, we can determine its future.

Paul Hawken, the author and environmental activist, sums it up for me:  “Don't be put off by the size of the challenge,” he says.  “Do what needs to be done, don’t be put off by people who tell you it is not possible.  And only after you've done, check to see if it was indeed impossible.”