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WESTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA
Grootbos Nature Reserve occupies an enviable spot, on the fynbos and forest-clad hills overlooking Walker Bay in South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region — one of the richest concentrations of flora in the world. This award-winning 6,170-acre reserve is home to more than 790 plant species, including the endangered Overberg sandstone fynbos and ancient milkwood forests. It is also one of the few places in the world where it’s possible to see the ‘Marine Big Five’ — whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and great white sharks.
Since 1991, Michael Lutzeyer and his family, have transformed dilapidated farmland into a melting pot of luxury accommodation, responsible tourism and biodiversity. In 1999 Grootbos was instrumental in establishing the 308,000-acre Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy, encouraging other local landowners to clear alien species and document any plants that are a conservation concern. The not-for-profit Grootbos Foundation leads community outreach and education programs. Siyakhula (meaning ‘growing the future’) is an organic farm on Grootbos providing skills and income for women from local townships, Green Futures offers accessible courses in horticulture, hospitality and guiding and the Football Foundation runs daily sports training for about 7,000 young people every year.
Those fortunate enough to visit Grootbos can choose between two 5-star lodges or self-contained villas. Curated experiences revolve around the pristine nature and wildlife that surrounds the lodges, and often involve an element of conservation and community. Sustainability infiltrates the whole of Grootbos, without jeopardising luxury from the guests’ perspective. For example, 40,000 single use plastic bottles per annum have been replaced with water that is filtered and bottled onsite. Guests can also enjoy products from the Grootbos Foundation’s community projects including honey, candles and organic produce.
Grootbos joined The Long Run in 2012 and has been committed to the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – as contributing meaningfully to the biodiversity and the people of their local region in South Africa.
Grootbos is a registered private nature reserve and has always been keen on innovation and developing the skills of South African youth from local communities. The Cape Floristic Region, where it is located, contains one of the richest concentrations of flora in the world. Within an area of just 90 000 km2 there are some 9250 species of flowering plants, 70% of which are only found in this region. Grootbos itself is home to a staggering 765 species including the endangered Overberg sandstone fynbos, milkwood forests and afromontane forests.
Since 1995 Grootbos has been implementing conservation interventions informed by its conservation management plan. These interventions have included the removal of all alien invasive plant species and the documentation of all species of conservation concern. Grootbos was also instrumental in establishing the 12500 hectare Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy in 1999. Through its non-profit organisation, the Grootbos Foundation has identified four key programmes; the Green Futures Horticulture and life skills program, the Growing the Future organic food production program, the Future Trees project and the Gansbaai sports development project. These projects promote the restoration of the local ecosystems and local food production whilst creating sustainable income generating activities with positive impacts on the environment.
Grootbos has made huge efforts to create long-term relationships between different communities and rebuild their trust in one another to enable the successful implementation of community development activities, which rely wholly on different communities working together. Cultivating a spirit of cooperation among these communities has been particularly challenging due to the history of racial segregation and apartheid in South Africa, which degraded the old social fabric and led to mistrust amongst communities.
Recognising that sport is a great vehicle through which trust, relationships and unity can be built, Grootbos set up the Gansbaai sports development project and built the Gansbaai Communal Sport centre in 2008. Through this initiative, Grootbos has been able to offer professional coaching and environmental education to youth from neighbouring communities. Not only has this helped deter them from engaging in unlawful activities but has also provided a level playing field where different communities can interact freely, build bridges and communicate through the universal language of sport.
Grootbos has also set up a dedicated non-profit foundation, the Green Futures Foundation, to oversee its environmental and social development component. The mission of the Foundation is to conserve the biodiversity of Grootbos and its surroundings and develop sustainable nature based livelihoods for its neighbours through sustainable tourism, research, management and education. Through the Foundation, it has been able to build the capacities of its neighbours and uplift their livelihoods.
In order to ensure the success of this and other community-driven initiatives, Grootbos works closely with the Overstrand Municipality as well as local community leaders. It has set up social responsibility tours which give its guests the opportunity to visit with neighbouring communities.
Grootbos is located on private farming area between the villages of Stanford and Gansbaai in the Overberg region of South Africa. Originally this was home to the Khoi and San people who were driven out by early European settlers. Grootbos keeps their memory alive by sharing stories about these early inhabitants with its guests. Guests not only have the opportunity to visit townships in the area but also internationally significant sites of archaeological and cultural value such as the Klipgat Cave which guides the guests through 80,000 years of human history.
To increase guest’s cultural understanding about the diverse cultures in the region even more, Grootbos is in the process of establishing a cultural centre with traditional dwellings. Incorporation of local culture is a central element to all of its operations evidenced by its architecture and decor. It uses locally grown foods and includes local cuisine on its menu. The Grootbos Lodges are well equipped with books which provide information on the local and national way of life. It is currently working on setting up a garden where traditional medicinal plants will be grown to pay further tribute to local traditions.
Grootbos’ main income generating activity is its tourism business; however, it is continuously exploring new ways to diversify its income streams thus strengthening its business’ ability to withstand the test of time. It has began reaping financial benefit from some of its initiative such as the Growing the Futures initiative under which it trains local communities in the fine art of fynbos – an indigenous shrub – landscaping. It is also dedicated to the development of its staff and offers training to ensure their ability to rise through the ranks.
In addition to providing employment to local communities, Grootbos has gone a step further and built the capacities of its neighbours to ensure that they will be able to fend for themselves. One such example is a Spaza shop – a local term for shops located in informal settlements – in which the graduates from its Green Futures Initiative will be able to sell fresh local produce, traditional clothing, and other items. As a result, of such efforts, Grootbos is establishing alternative sources of income for its neighbours, which has a positive impact on the rest of the 3Cs (conservation, community, culture).