Campaign to save the Brenton Blue

Unfortunately the piece of land where the butterfly breeds at Brenton-on-Sea had already been proclaimed a decade earlier for housing development, and the developer, the Brenton Development Company (BDC), announced its intention to develop and sell stands on the site in early 1994.

The Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa (LSA) informed the BDC of the presence of the butterfly and began negotiations to prevent its destruction. The weakness of LSA’s position legally impelled them to launch a public awareness campaign to save the butterfly from extinction. Society member and Knysna resident Dave Edge and his wife Esmé played a prominent role in the early campaign, supported by Ernest Pringle and other society members. LSA formed an alliance with local interest groups (the Brenton Council represented by John Plumstead, the Wildlife Society’s Knysna branch led by Lorna Watt, and the Brenton-on-Sea Hotel’s Greg Vogt), and this became the Brenton Blue Campaign (BBC).

Local and national awareness was raised by articles in the media; letters were written to conservation authorities and politicians; and a fund raising campaign was initiated. Television producer Richard van Wyk (Red Pepper) then joined the BBC and filmed several endangered butterflies, including the Brenton Blue, for TV screening. SABC’s 50-50 nature programme then became interested and did a number of features on the butterfly. The public interest generated was enormous and the Brenton Blue became a household name in South Africa. The BDC found it had become impossible to sell stands at the butterfly site and declared a moratorium on further sales until funds could be raised by the BBC to purchase the site or the state intervened. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) was then approached by the BBC, but since they were mainly involved with large projects such as the Save Table Mountain campaign, they asked the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to become involved. This took the campaign to a new level as the EWT under then director John Ledger, applied a professional approach, taking advantage of their influence in NGO and government circles.

The sustained and now more focused pressure on the authorities continued to rise until on 30 April 1997 the then Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Pallo Jordan, decided to invoke his powers under Section 31A of the Environment Conservation Act (ECA) to prevent further development on the site, pending more detailed scientific investigations and possible acquisition by the state.

Stand number 442 (part of the intended reserve) had in the meantime been sold by the BDC to a private individual, who intended to build a house on it. A court interdict was obtained through the Cape Town Supreme Court restraining the owner from clearing the stand or building. Subsequently this stand was bought by the The Green Trust (Nedcor) and now forms part of the reserve. This landmark court ruling provided legal precedent for the state’s responsibility to protect biodiversity.

The scientific investigations that had been set in motion by the EWT confirmed the uniqueness of the Brenton site and the certain extinction of the butterfly if development proceeded. Consequently government was advised by DEAT that acquisition of the site was essential if South Africa was to meet its obligations under international biodiversity treaties that they had committed to. Subsequent negotiations with the BDC led to a market related price being agreed, and the Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve (BBBR) came into being on 1 May 1998 when DEAT expropriated 11 erven from the BDC for  R2,2 million plus R300 000 interest. Since it was owned by central government and not by the Western Cape Province, there were prolonged negotiations over who would pay for its ongoing upkeep. This issue was finally resolved and the BBBR was proclaimed as a Special Nature Reserve (the highest category of protection possible) on 4 July 2003, under the management of CapeNature.

Further details of the Brenton Blue campaign are given in the book “The Brenton Blue Saga” written by Steenkamp and Steyn, and published by the EWT.

All these efforts have culminated in proclamation of the only special nature reserve in South Africa  at Brenton-on-Sea. Research into the ecology of the butterfly over the last ten years has informed management of the reserve and the butterfly population is thriving. The reserve is not normally open to the general public, because of the sensitivity of the environment, but those who wish to see the butterfly flying, during November and February, can apply to join an exclusive tour guided by a butterfly specialist.