Sixty years after being founded and established in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve (FNR), the Hermanus Botanical Society (HBS) has been informed by the municipality that it needs to vacate its buildings in the FNR by July, as the lease will not be extended.

According to municipal Director of Infrastructure and Planning, Stephen Müller, the municipality has a shortage of office space and therefore the buildings in the FNR will be used to house the staff members of the Environmental Department.

“The Environmental Department will be housed in the existing buildings, while they take over the day-to-day running of the reserve and the nursery. The hall will still be used for public gatherings, as before,” said Müller.

He said this did not mean that HBS would no longer have a role to play in FNR. “What we are aiming for is to create a partnership between the municipality and HBS. We cannot take over all their functions and will create a space for them to be housed.

“It is important for us that HBS continues with its work, such as the upkeep of the herbarium and the seedbank, the weekly displays of plants and flowers that are put in the visitors’ centre, the organisation and hosting of the annual Flower Festival and the establishment of a fully-fledged botanical garden,” Müller said.

He said it was proposed that the municipality take over the running of the indigenous nursery. “The nursery plays an important role in ensuring the survival of our indigenous plants. As the biggest client of the nursery, it makes sense that the municipality should appoint its botanist to run the nursery on its behalf.”

According to him, HBS has been asked in a meeting to ascertain how much space it will need and to come up with suggestions as to how a partnership agreement can be reached. “By these means we will be able to lift the burden of continuous fundraising by HBS in order to pay for the lease and the general upkeep of the FNR.”

Di Marais, HBS Chair, said the society had received a letter out of the blue from the municipality informing them that their lease would not be extended. “This came as quite a shock as we had not been expecting it at all. HBS has been planning the creation of an internationally-accredited botanical garden for several years now and we are well on our way to make this a reality. However, for HBS to establish this garden we need to show tenure. Should we be forced to move, it will jeopardise the establishment of the botanical garden.”

According to Marais they have obtained legal opinion on the issue and after a special meeting resolved not to accept the proposal. “We do not think that this is the best option for the FNR, and we will persist with our request to negotiate a 45-year lease agreement with the municipality. We have already informed the municipality of this.

Society part and parcel of FNR

“HBS celebrates its 60th anniversary on 8 March and has become synonymous with the FNR over the years. All the buildings and facilities, including the nursery and the hall, were funded and built by HBS over the years with money that was raised by us. I think it is unfair that we are treated in this way and we will fight this plan. The FNR is too important not to put up a fight. We do not think that the municipality is capable of running the FNR on a day-to-day basis and it will not be able to do so without the HBS,” said Marais.

The HBS has had a major influence on the establishment of the FNR as a top tourist attraction. Paths were laid out throughout the FNR and alien vegetation cleared by its members.

The Indigenous Plant Nursery began informally during the 1960’s. It is now a popular commercial nursery, financed and administered by the HBS, exclusively selling indigenous plants, and has played an important part in the education of the public as regards the value of their local plants.

The visitors’ centre was built by the HBS in 1972 to display a sample of the flowering plants which visitors could encounter as they walked in the FNR. HBS members still renew and name the collection of flowers every week. For the past 48 years an HBS member has been on duty every Sunday to offer information to visitors on the FNR and its flora and fauna.

The Botanical Society Hall was built by the HBS in 1980 after saving for twenty years for enough money to build this multi-purpose meeting place. The Hermanus Herbarium was built by the HBS in 1983. It houses over 4 000 pressed specimens of local plants. The collection was digitised to the BRAHMS programme in 2016 and appears on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) data base.

The Research Centre houses the extensive botanical library built up from HBS funds and from generous donations of books from many sources. HBS recently purchased microscopes, the most powerful of which allows the design of the smallest of fynbos flowers to be revealed. Also housed in the Research Centre is the plant material collected by members as the HBS’s ongoing contribution to the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP). The Seed Bank Partnership is the largest conservation initiative in the world.

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