Every so often though, the public service is illuminated by the energy, enthusiasm and innovation of a true leader

Every so often though, the public service is illuminated by the energy, enthusiasm and innovation of a true leader.

Botanical Gardens are amazing places and yet we take them for granted. How often do we wonder about who keeps them neat and up to standard? On a resent trip to the Mauritian Botanical Garden, I once again realized that our own gardens are worldclass - even without those massive waterlilies.

One individual that made this happen is Professor Brian Huntley who, after 17 years of service, has now resigned. Following is the (quoted) much deserved speech of applause and farewell from Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Mr Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

"Many of the men and women who choose to work in the public sector, in life accomplish what is expected of them, what is required of them, and little more. Every so often though, the public service is illuminated by the energy, enthusiasm and innovation of a true leader. Professor Huntley has been one of these outstanding individuals.

Professor HuntleyÆs 17 years at the helm of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has been a resounding success.

His extraordinary vision and powerful and incisive leadership have enabled the scale of SANBIÆs activities to grow exponentially, with the overall budget increasing from R14 million in 1990 to R310 million in 2006, and the influence of the institution unparalleled in its history.

SANBI is now unique in the world as a home to conservation, horticulture, research, education, policy advice and planning, and even artistic and cultural ventures and activities.

Brian has truly created a jewel in the crown of the SA biodiversity scene.

SANBI now comprises eight national botanical gardens, three research centres, over 100 school-based environmental greening projects and four major bioregional programmes.

Under Professor HuntleyÆs leadership, Kirstenbosch grew from being entirely reliant on government subsidies into a profit making organisation, receiving in excess of 750 000 visitors each year. Not only this, but Brian has personally raised millions of rands in funds from donors, both willing and slightly less willing.

BrianÆs colleagues have come to hold in awe his ability to home in relentlessly once he senses a successful grant award, and make sure the ink has dried on the agreement before the donor even has time for second thoughts!

Brian Huntley has served as Chairman of Trees for Africa, a national NGO dedicated to the environmental upliftment of the townships of South Africa. He is the Patron of the Table Mountain Fund, through which millions of rands have been distributed to conservation projects in this National Park.

Brian was one of the founders of the Southern African Botanical Diversity Network (SABONET) in 1996. As founder and chairman of SABONET, Brian Huntley has overseen a training and institutional development programme involving over 150 young botanists from 17 herbaria in southern Africa, and the support for higher degrees of over thirty professionals from throughout the region.

A cornerstone of SABONET has been the creation of a database of the regionÆs herbarium material and the necessary training in computer and software technology for this purpose. Over 200 000 herbarium specimens have been recorded in the programme, which together with the existing PRECIS database at the National Herbarium in Pretoria, brings the total to over one million specimens in the SABONET system.

Brian has also supported the advance in SANBI research wholeheartedly, encouraging SANBI scientists across the board to achieve world leading status from quite humble and introverted beginnings in the early 1990Æs, while also encouraging the development of young scientists from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

Brian is also the only presenter I know to have raised a round of applause at a high level cabinet presentation!

Huntley has been the recipient of various awards:

Botanical Society Gold Medal (1990)

Rotary International Paul Harris Medal (1997)

WWF Gold Medal (1998)

He has served on international review panels for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney; the Centre for Plant Conservation, Canberra and the Limbe Botanic Gardens, Cameroon.

Brian has recently been appointed by the Director General of the United Nations Environmental Programme, to the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel for the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

The panel, comprising twelve scientists from countries throughout the world, will advise GEF on the distribution of its US$2.6 billion budget over the next three years.

Brian has been very ably supported by his wife Merle being very prepared to host high profile visitors and funders, and also in raising the profile of SANBI as a whole. She has added a special touch relating to bringing out the potential for the Gardens to support an artistic dimension (painting exhibitions, sculpture). Merle has also gracefully borne the pressure and drawbacks of having a very well travelled partner.

While we are sad to see Professor Huntley leaving SANBI, we are fortunate to be able to retain his services in biodiversity conservation. He will serve as a Senior Policy Adviser to DEAT until 2009.

Now that Brian has taken up a new position, and still with a fatherly eye on SANBI, it has come to my attention that his choice of office accommodation well suits his love of nature and bird-watching.

Perhaps it is no accident that his new office has excellent views over the mountains slopes, fynbos and forest landscape, and that his binoculars are now an important piece of office equipment.

Brian has always been admirably in touch with the basic concepts and practices of nature conservation, as well as a master of its politics and application.

I hope that the SANBI Board will apply its mind to finding a way to permanently acknowledge Brian Huntley's contribution to our country. If the biodiversity centre here at Kirstenbosch hadn't already been named, it would have been very appropriate to name it after him.

To acknowledge BrianÆs contribution to science and this organization, I believe it would be a good idea to name the new research building that is planned for Pretoria after him. I will leave it to the board members to apply their minds to this proposal. I hope the Board will consider inviting me to officiate at such an event!

I thank you."

And we thank you Prof. Huntley!

All the best,
The Gardening Eden Team

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