Duncan MacFadyen has worked for environmental sustainability for more than two decades. Through his efforts at Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation, he has helped ensure the preservation of African ecosystems. One of his legacies is the restoration of the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve. Duncan and his team have been rewilding the area and implementing breeding programmes for endangered species such as the brown hyena and pangolin. Tswalu also hosts the Kalahari Endangered Ecosystem Project, which examines the effects of climate change on the Kalahari. At the Telperion Nature Reserve and Wakefield Farm he has worked to preserve species and restore ecosystems. Telperion, on the border of Mpumalanga and Gauteng, is a vital site for the conservation of the endangered Bankenveld grassland, which is under constant threat from mining, agriculture and urban development, and Telperion plays a crucial role in preserving this unique ecosystem. Duncan has acted to protect the indigenous mist belt forest through his work at Wakefield’s Umgenipoort research centre. Understanding the threat posed by invasive species, he has controlled their spread and revitalised the indigenous mist belt forest by combining alien clearance, rehabilitation efforts and sound management practices. Duncan’s commitment to protecting indigenous forests is a shining example of environmental stewardship. His commitment to the future is further evidenced by his support for Future Ecosystems for Africa (FEFA) to amplify and deepen learning through science communication to steer development in Africa toward nature-supporting paths, using a transdisciplinary approach that recognises the value of indigenous and local knowledge.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
Establishment of Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation, and the development of continent wide-programmes that address tipping points and understanding resilience in ecosystems in Africa — Future Ecosystems for Africa, Oppenheimer Programme in African Landscape Systems, Rewild Capital, and the African Wildlife Economy Institute. The research and science which leads to impact across the continent.
Please provide specific examples of how your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
The development of Oppenheimer Impact Scholars across the continent, mitigation of Tipping Points in rural and urban environments, and the development of inclusive wildlife economies across the continent, including understanding and implementing sustainable harvesting rates in Miombo woodlands. We have also supported Rewild Capital, which focuses on rewilding in community land, claiming carbon credits, and empowering and enriching communities.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
Climate change, unemployment, biodiversity loss
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
It will exacerbate existing vulnerabilities such as poverty, hunger and poor health, and hamper progress toward a dignified way of living. In addition to this, when the rural populations in South Africa are exposed to climate risk, the vast majority of the rural poor do not have the means and conditions to adapt.