Albi & Stephan Brückner
The NamibRand Nature Reserve originated in 1984 as the dream of J.A. (Albi) Brückner (R.I.P. 8 December 2016) to extend desert frontiers by integrating a large number of former livestock farms and developing a wildlife sanctuary. To date, seventeen former livestock farms have been rehabilitated into a single continuous natural habitat. The Reserve was registered as a non-profit private nature reserve in 1992. All landowners belonging to the Reserve have signed agreements and adopted a constitution which sets the land aside for conservation - now and in the future. The Reserve is financially self-sustaining mainly through high quality, low impact tourism.
The NamibRand Nature Reserve, located in southern Namibia, is a private nature reserve established to help protect and conserve the unique ecology and wildlife of the south-west Namib Desert. Conserving the pro-Namib, the area along the eastern edge of the Namib Desert, is critically important in order to facilitate seasonal migratory wildlife routes and to protect biodiversity. It is probably the largest private nature reserve in southern Africa, extending over an area of more than 200,000 ha. The Reserve shares a 100km border with the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the west and is bordered in the east by the imposing Nubib Mountains.
ALBI'S STORY: HE TORE DOWN BOUNDARIES – A TRIBUTE TO ALBI BRÜCKNER
Along the dirt roads that wind their way through the Namib Desert, there are subtle signs of change. These signs read “No Fences.” They indicate areas where fences have been taken down to allow for the free movement of wildlife and the integration of land back to its natural whole.The significance of these signs is so self-evident that we are forced to pause and recognize that it hasn’t always been this way. There were obstacles, barriers to movement, limits to cohesion that had to be forcibly overcome. These signs, their message and their effectiveness, are as understated and important as the man behind them, the late J.A. (Albi) Brückner. An astute businessman and a keen conservationist, who served on the Board of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) and the Chairman of the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF), Albi’s connection to the Namib Desert has become part of desert folklore. In 1984 he purchased the Farm Gorassis for the price of a Volkswagen Beetle. The land was overgrazed, sheep farming throughout the south was in a decline and wildlife had been shot out, so where others saw the chance to sell and get out, Albi saw the opportunity to stake a claim not only to the land, but also to the future. He purchased another farm and then another, and by the mid-1990s, he had established his vision for a private nature reserve where fences would be removed, water points restored and wildlife would return to the land that it is so well adapted to inhabit. Local and international investors were inspired to purchase and connect more farms into the mosaic that formed NamibRand Nature Reserve. For Albi, life was always about tearing down boundaries. This desire may have been ingrained in him when he was a child, growing up in war-torn Prussia where he learned to be both firm and open-minded.
In his teens Albi returned to Namibia, the country of his birth. Prior to Namibia’s independence he was among a group of Namibian businessmen who met with Sam Nujoma, then the leader of the opposition resistance party, SWAPO. Afterwards, some members of the business community rejected Albi and his efforts to understand Nujoma, but for him the meeting was another way of tearing down fences.When he was 60 years old, Albi’s commitment to the environment culminated in this boldest move yet, the purchase of 100,000 hectares of land adjoining NamibRand. “This put him under enormous financial pressure,” says Stephan Brückner, Albi’s youngest son and the driving force behind Wolwedans, a series of high value, low impact tourism lodges on NamibRand. “But it was never about the money. It was always about the land, about leaving a legacy for future generations.” The colours of the desert and the sheer sense of space always captivated Albi. Whenever he got the chance, he left Windhoek to explore NamibRand, visiting every corner of the property and often returning to the Farm Gorassis where it all began.
“I believe that my father wanted to inspire people to do more, to give more, whether it was to conservation or socially. He believed in growing old with a purpose,” Stephan says.For more than 30 years that purpose was NamibRand. By combining farms to re-establish the integrity of an eco-system and using sustainable tourism to pay for the long-term preservation of the land, NamibRand became an international model for private sector conservation of large landscapes and for its contribution of the unique and fragile Pro-Namib ecosystem. “My father’s biggest hope for the future was that NamibRand would continue as is, that through our tourism model the land would be sustainable and that greed would not interfere. NamibRand has a sound constitution and structure, so he left knowing that it is in good hands for generations to come,” says Stephan Brückner. NamibRand was Albi’s inspiration and his solace. When his wife of 55 years passed away, he found peace in the desert, and now they lie side by side in a fairy circle, the perfect place for one who gave so much to conserve the space, the integrity and the mystery of the desert.
WHAT FOLLOWED HIS VISION:
With a generosity of space and spirit, the late Albi Brückner’s vision for NamibRand inspired new initiatives that support conservation, our visceral need for wild places and the future of our planet. They include:Tourism concessions – NamibRand is an internationally renowned model for using low-impact, high-quality ecotourism to support conservation. Tourism concessions pay a daily, per-bed fee to the reserve, generating funds that enable NamibRand to be financially self-sustaining. The vast space is dotted with a selection of unique accommodation options and activities with guaranteed privacy and respect for the environment. They include the Wolwedans Collection (Wolwedans Dunes Lodge, Mountain View Suite, Boulders Safari Camp, Dune Camp and Private Camp), andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, Tok Tokkie Trails Namibia and the NamibRand Family Hideout. Adopt a Fairy Circle – For those wishing to share in the mystery of the Namib Desert, Wolwedans has come up with the innovative ‘adopt-a-fairy-circle’ concept, which encourages nature lovers to ‘adopt’ one of the thousands of fairy circles that dot the landscape. One hundred percent of the funds collected from the adopt-a-fairy-circle programme go to the NamibRand Conservation Foundation (NRCF), which supports conservation and environmental education projects on the reserve. The International Dark Sky Programme – The magic of the Namib is everywhere and it shines most brightly at night, when the Milky Way expands and the Southern Cross appears in the night sky. Recognizing the importance of the dark sky to animal behaviour and the delight of its guests, NamibRand instituted a light management programme that reduced the number of exterior lights, shielded the few remaining lights and undertakes a light audit each year. On 24 May 2012, NamibRand was recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as an International Dark Sky Reserve, the first of its kind in Africa and the first to be given a Gold Tier award as one of the darkest places on earth. Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) – Located in the southern part of NamibRand Nature Reserve, the NaDEET Centre is an example of sustainability and environmental education in action. Since its founding in 2003, NaDEET has provided more than 10,000 children and adult Namibian participants with the opportunity to learn first-hand about sustainable living, biodiversity and the balance between humans and the environment. Namibian Institute of Culinary Education (NICE) – Recognising that growth in the tourism industry in Namibia and the expectations of discerning guests need to be aligned, nice and the Wolwedans Desert Academy work together on a joint finishing and training programme for chefs that exposes trainees to both lodge and city based hospitality and restaurant operations, while providing a balance of theoretical and practical exposure to ensure that all graduates are ‘employment ready’ at the end of the programme of their choice.
Courtesey: Travel News Namibia
ANOTHER TRIBUTE TO ALBI
For Albi Brückner, the visionary ‘wildland philanthropist’ who started NamibRand Nature Reserve, it was all about the environment and the protection of the fragile and endangered ecosystem, maintained through low impact travel. Tourism, which enabled the non-profit reserve to collect park fees, was seen as a means to an end and not the ultimate purpose.Today, four years after Albi left this world, this primary purpose remains. It has, however, become more accepted that ‘the paradigm’ needs to shift to include a social development agenda too. This next generation of NamibRand stakeholders will get on with Albi’s dream – growing the reserve, tearing down fences and boundaries for the sake of nature, improving work efficiency, and collaborating on a global level – while also addressing the human development agenda. Stephan Brückner – Albi’s youngest son – has been at the ‘helm’ of Wolwedans since inception. He wants to build on this solid and healthy conservation foundation and, in addition to planet and profit (Wolwedans is also about running a prosperous enterprise after all), establish ‘people/human development’ (‘Menschenbildung’) as a primary purpose at Wolwedans. Developing “Social Capital” (for the lack of a better term), mainly through the Desert Academy and a ‘consciously’ lived value system might arguably be the biggest positive impact Wolwedans can achieve, thereby contributing to the development of Namibia as a whole. People – employees and trainees – and their well-being, development, empowerment, growth, inspiration, and importantly ‘happiness’ in harmony with nature (the latter includes guests), are at the heart of the Wolwedans philosophy and The AridEden Project.
Courtesey: The AridEden Project
Wolwedans – A lesson in sustainability in the Namib Desert (and Stephan Bruckner's story)
We normally assume that an architect, an artist, a businessman wishes to create something that will outlive them. Something which will exist long after they are gone, as a symbol of their creativity, their greatness, their influence. Yet Stephan Brückner, the creator of the spectacular Wolwedans Lodge collection in Namibia, has quite the opposite intention.“In 200 years,” he explains, waving his hand towards the cluster of structures that make up the main lodge, “there will be no evidence that thousands of people stayed here.” It’s an impressive mission, and one which is all the harder to fulfil in the otherworldly surroundings of the Namib, the world’s oldest desert. Far from the nearest town, impossibly distant from any building materials, with no electricity lines or water pipes, and virtually no rainfall, building any accommodation which could be attractive to visitors, let alone one which would leave barely a trace, seems like an enormous, expensive challenge. But what I found when I arrived on site was truly impressive. Wolwedans, meaning “where the wolves dance,” is known as one of Namibia’s most luxurious, high-end lodges. Dreamlike images of its open sided safari tents scattered on wooden walkways across rust-red dunes are the thing that fantasy holidays are made of. The kind of image you see in a “Luxury Escapes” magazine, and think, sadly, “when I win the lottery…
Wolwedans camps are located in the middle of the Namib Desert, and visitors can enjoy the incredible scenery as well as plenty of visiting oryx.But this level of simplicity is the result of a long and complex process. Everything which is normally taken for granted must be created at Wolwedans with great effort. Water is scarce, electricity is limited, staff must be trained and housed, food must be transported vast distances or grown on site. Stephan’s creative approach to these problems includes managing everything – food storage and preparation, staff training, vehicle maintenance – from the main lodge, to reduce the need for an extra generators or staff at the camps. The camps themselves are powered by the desert – each chalet currently has three solar panels. But even this is not quite good enough for Stephan; having realised that empty rooms result in generated power being wasted, he intends to move the panels to a central system so that the energy can be harnessed more effectively.
Creating a place for tourists when you can not rely on outside resources means that many services have to be provided in-house. Stephan led us to the workshop where safari vehicles are serviced. Currently this small facility can only cater for Wolwedans’ own vehicles, but an expansion means that it will be able to receive vehicles from other operators and lodges in the area. This is significant, as currently vehicles must travel hundreds of miles to the nearest town for repairs and servicing. Having a local mechanic in this remote region reduces fuel consumption and wasted driving time. It also allows Stefan to provide the most environmentally-friendly service possible.Food is another resource which is produced on-site. This is a lesson in how the “greener” option can often be not only cheaper but much more enjoyable. In the case of fruit, vegetables and herbs, as many as possible are now grown out here in the desert. Netting shades the crops to reduce water loss and keep pests out, meaning the plants can be grown organically. This works out less costly then shipping them in from far-flung farms, especially as much produce in Namibia has already travelled from the much more verdant South Africa. Additionally, many items – such as fresh herbs and salads – would simply not survive the long journey, arriving limp and tasteless. The in-house allotments provide employment for local people; tasty, fresh produce; and save Stefan a lot of money at the same time. Food also offers an opportunity for cultural interaction: the night’s menu at the main lodge is read out first in English, and then in Damara – one of Namibia’s click languages -much to the enjoyment of the guests.
Having your own mini farm also provides a convenient way to dispose of organic waste – it’s all turned to compost. Some in the traditional way, while the harder-to-decompose stuff is fed to the noisy, happy-looking pigs. To complete the cycle, Stefan hopes that soon the lodge will be able to harvest its own seeds, to make the entire process sustainable right here, in one of the world’s most inhospitable deserts.
But it’s not true that Wolwedans will leave no trace at all. Some of Stephan’s efforts, he hopes, will have a long-term impact on Namibia. The Wolwedans Foundation has trained 170 Namibians in hospitality, giving them the chance to secure well-paid, long-term work in the growing tourism industry. The Foundation also supports and initiates cultural, community and conservation projects, ensuring that the Namib’s precious landscapes, wildlife and people are protected well into the future, maybe a long time after this beautiful lodge has ceased to leave a trace on these shifting sands.
Courtesey: Vicki at La Nomadita (https://lanomadita.com/)