When you’re conserving incredibly special natural veld – over a 47 000-hectare area – you need a team to help you. And not just any team. This team must know and understand nature, to help improve the way our unique ecosystems function.

That’s why this team – under the capable leadership of Denver Engel – is known as our Ecosystem Services team. For the past four years, Denver has brought his love for and knowledge of this landscape to the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA).

Denver and his team of three: Morné Engel, Gershwin Natal and Gerrit Prins, have a contract with the NWSMA for full-time work. This is supported by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust. They are all from the town of Elim – which is one of the 25 members of the NWSMA.

But permanent employment wasn’t always a given for Denver.

For many years, Denver worked as a contractor in the invasive alien clearing sector across the district. While he has never been scared of hard work, nor of taking on a leadership role, this work was never permanent – with Denver and his team often at home without work for months at a time.

When the formidable Joey Cloete of Elim finally retired as the Ecosystem Services team leader in 2018, Denver was the natural successor, given his experience in a leadership role and running his own small business.

“I had been working in the Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative (ABI) Alien Clearing Project since 2009, where I had my own team. And before that I was the Foreman on a flower farm in Spanjaardskloof. So I’ve headed up teams for around 15 years,” he says.

“I like working with my hands”

Denver and his crew have a wide selection of daily duties – from monitoring the wild animals, maintaining fences and clearing up-and-coming invasive plant threats. They recently completed a bird hide that overlooks a secret section of the Nuwejaars River, as well as a bridge over the river – part of the WWF South Africa-funded wetland rehabilitation project. Denver says, “I like the practical work, I like working with my hands.”

Undertaking prescribed burns on fynbos is a stressful but essential part of the job. The Nuwejaars team plans and burns fynbos that hasn’t burnt for more than 20 years, as part of the role to manage the vegetation. Fynbos is a fire-driven ecosystem and requires fire every 15 to 20 years, depending on the veld type.

Above: Denver’s team play an instrumental role in supporting our functioning ecosystems. From left they are: Morné Engel, Gerrit Prins, Denver Engel and Gershwin Natal.


He says, “After these burns, it’s great to see which fynbos species come up. We can see the difference we make to help nature with the work we do. I really like working in nature.”

Being born and having grown up in Elim, he also knows the area well. Denver is a frequent visitor to the incredible Elim Ferricrete Fynbos sites around the town and is getting to know many of the species.

“In fact, I learn something every day working in the Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA,” he says. That includes business management courses funded by the National Lotteries Commission, and veld management, first aid courses and chainsaw training, as part of the invasive alien clearing support.

The chance to care for their families

“I’ve also learnt how to work with finances. You must know how to work with your money, in order to care for your family.” Denver is married to Paulette Engel, and has two children, Zoë (19) and Keasha (10). He’s now encouraging his oldest daughter to head to college next year, to fulfil her dream of becoming an educator.

He notes his gratitude towards the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, who have funded the activities of the team over the past six years. “This has allowed me to do what I love, in the area that I live, and for my team and I to provide for our families.”

According to the NRNR’s Conservation Manager: Game & Veld Management, Eugéne Hahndiek, “Denver’s work is all about protecting our ecosystems. They help make sure that those things are in place that allow nature to provide life in our area. They’re a vital cog in the NWSMA wheel.”