Meet the Mondi Wetlands Programme team
David Lindley: Programme manager
David Lindley grew up in Eastern Cape and after leaving school in Grahamstown, did his national service in the Navy for two years, then travelled and worked in Europe for a year.
On his return to South Africa, he completed a BSc Honours in Zoology and Entomology (insects) at Rhodes University. But the lure of travel was too great, so once more he worked in London and then undertook an epic overland journey on his own, from London to Sydney via central and SE Asia and then home via America.
This took three years and David ventured into parts of Asia seldom visited by tourists and he brought back an impressive slide collection of endangered cultures and little known tribes from way out places in China, the Himalaya region, and Borneo.
Returning to South Africa in 1993, David joined the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) office in Johannesburg and served as conservation ecologist for the old Transvaal region for three years. In 1996 he was approached by WESSA to work on the MWP (then the Rennies Wetland Project), which had changed from being a KwaZulu-Natal initiative to a national project.
“My sister was involved with wetlands through the Audobon Society in America for 10 years,” David says. He was interested in wetlands and also keen to work in a field in which he could make a real difference. With MWP David could be proactive rather than reactive since the MWP set its own agenda in a brand new field for South Africa, that of wetlands conservation. “There were very few people in South Africa with wetland management experience outside reserves with which I could consult, so I learned the best way - by doing fieldwork and walking through thousands of hectares of wetlands,” he says. MWP thus presented David with a huge challenge but these challenges have also been the reason for the immense job satisfaction. “When I began I was the only person working full time on wetland conservation outside reserves so I felt like a pioneer,” he recalls. Now, through the efforts of David and MWP, there are many more people working in wetland conservation. David says his three years as conservation ecologist for WESSA were the perfect training ground since he had to deal with many issues at all levels of society. “I really learned how to lobby, and raise awareness,’ he says.
David is busy studying a Masters in Environmental Education at Rhodes University. He lives with his wife and lots of dogs in Irene, a village in Pretoria, South Africa.
Sharon Wilson: General and financial administration
Sharon Wilson joined the MWP in June 2005 as David Lindley's personal assistant. She was born in Coventry, England. Sharon emigated to South Africa as a child with her parents and younger sister. After completing high school in Pretoria she studied a B Com at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg for two years. Sharon then studied part-time through Unisa while living in Pretoria.
Her career has been varied: Sharon worked for a textile manufacturing company as an accountant for five years, at an IT company for five years and a plastic manufacturing company for a further five years.
With the MWP, Sharon may have found her dream job. She works half day and is able to have more time for her son, Evan, aged four. "I spend time in the afternoon teaching him skills he is not taught at creche," she says. "We cook together, work in the garden, feed the birds and catch snails."
"At MWP, even though the position is not as 'high-flying' as previously in my career, I am given scope to use my own initiative. I like to see myself as part of the team, understanding the Project and the wetlands that it conserves, and not just being 'the admin lady'. Sharon certainly loves nature. ""Our ideal weekend away is to a game reserve where we can just appreciate the beauty of nature," she says.
Her husband is Scottish and they have been married for eight years. They have a son and a dog (rescued from the SPCA). Sharon is an avid reader and enjoys embroidery.
Damian Walters: Co-ordinator, Wise Use of Wetland Resources Programme
Damian Walters obtained a diploma in agriculture from Cedara Agricultural College in KwaZulu-Natal, and then went on to study for a postgraduate B. Tech. Diploma in Nature Conservation through the Port Elizabeth Technikon (at Saasveld) part time over two years. This diploma is the equivalent of an Honours degree. He has just completed his Masters from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in wetland use.
He has worked part time with the MWP since 1998 when he was studying agriculture, and has been with the project on a full time basis since the beginning of 2001. Damian is passionate about wetlands, especially as a fly fishing fanatic, and is particularly keen to achieve the aims of the Wise Use Programme. “It’s not pure conservation but is a crossover between utility (human benefits) and conserving natural resources.
This is more challenging than pure conservation and it is rewarding trying to help people.” He says that people like getting direct benefits from what they do, so convincing them to use wetlands wisely has a built-in incentive.
He lives in Hilton near Pietermaritzburg in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. “I work mainly with commercial farmers, and run the wetland rehabilitation training courses for the MWP” he says.
Vaughan Koopman: Co-ordinator, Sugarcane Farmers Programme
Vaughan Koopman and David Lindley met while surveying the condition of a wetland in 1999, when Vaughan came along as a volunteer. At the time Vaughan was working for the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry for three years looking at water quality in the Tugela catchment.
Before that, he worked for the KwaZulu Natal Department of Agriculture based in Dundee as a natural resource extension officer for one and a half years. Vaughan completed a Diploma in Nature Conservation, and then went on to do a post graduate B. Tech. Diploma also in Nature Conservation at Pretoria Technikon.
Vaughan originally hails from Johannesburg. Although Vaughan spends most of his time co-ordinating the Sugarcane Farmers Programme, he also helps the rest of the team with wise use and forestry issues. “I want to do something positive by working with the sugar farmers and trying to get them to use their wetlands wisely, since it advocates that humans can work with nature to the benefit of all. It’s about the continual quest in harmony between people and the environment.”
Vaughan loves white water kayaking and travelling the game reserves in Africa. He now lives near Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.
Dr Donovan Kotze: wetlands “guru” and advisor to MWP
Donovan Kotze obtained a BSc in Botany and Zoology through the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg. He then did Honours in grasslands science. After a spell of national service in the army, he returned to do a Masters in wetlands, which was extended to a PHD. In his doctorate Donovan developed a system for supporting wetlands management decisions. “I have had a long association with the MWP, for over 10 years now,” he says. What excites and challenges Donovan is the notion of utilising wetlands while protecting them at the same time. He is currently involved with the Mbongolwane community wetland and groups of crafters who harvest reeds to make traditional items for sale.
His official title is Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Natal. “This sounds terribly grand,” he says. “But what it means in practice is that I have to find my own consulting work.” This ranges from investigating the impacts of agriculture on wetlands, developing resources materials for fieldworkers and working with deserving groups like the Mbongolwane craftswoman. “There is always so much to learn” he adds. Donovan lives in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, and his hobbies include painting, drawing and the great outdoors.
Michelle Nel: media consultant to MWP
Michelle Nel is a freelance environmental journalist who has been involved with the publicity outreach programme of the MWP for over 7 years. Her articles on the project have been published widely: from the London Financial Times, through glossy magazines to small regional papers. Her media releases have also reached prime time television shows and radio stations. “I love working for the MWP because it is a small, dynamic group of people working proactively on solving problems,” she says.
“MWP has tangible achievements to show for its efforts – a rehabilitated wetland here, a change in legislation there and it was the catalyst behind government’s multimillion Rand wetland rehabilitation drive.” Michelle has won merit awards for her writing, notably the print category of the prestigious South African Breweries Environmental Journalist of the year Award in 2000 (she was the first free lance journalist to do so).
Besides writing about the environment, Michelle tackles health and parenting issues too. “It’s all related,’ she says. “A clean and diverse environment is essential for health, and we owe it to our children to care for the planet.” Michelle has two children: her son has already visited quite a few (MWP-rehabilitated) wetlands and other wild places, and her daughter made her debut into ecotourism by visiting the Kalahari at the age of six months.