Two years ago, you could probably count the number of developments that used the term ‘eco estate’ in South Africa on one hand. During the research of this article, we identified close to 50 countrywide that are currently up and running or in the planning stages and that refer to themselves as eco developments in one way or another.
The purists we spoke to believe that the term ‘eco estate’ can only truly belong to those estates that:
• Do not introduce an artificial concept onto the landscape – such as golfing, equestrian centres or vineyards;
• Allow no agricultural activity at all; and
• Are relatively inexpensive to establish, relying mostly on nature’s own landscaping rather than man-made landscapes (and often the resultant high levies that these man-made landscapes demand).
How then do you categorise estates such as Simbithi, Zimbali and Pezula who – although also golf estates – have spent millions on the highly successful rehabilitation of their natural flora and fauna?
For those thinking of eco estate living, the best way to differentiate between those estates that are putting their eco rands where their mouths are as opposed to those that are merely paying lip service, is to look at aspects such as the ratios of coverage allowed on plots, the overall percentage of land to be taken up by housing (and in contrast the percentage given over to existing, or the rehabilitation of, indigenous flora and fauna) and the rules governing all aspects from architecture and construction to home ownership.
Andreas Wassenaar, sales and marketing manager of Zimbali Coastal Resort, feels strongly about the matter: ‘The word eco estate is completely over-used – often to market a development where no clear environmentally sensitive development structure is in place’.
A traditional eco estate would have a density of between one and five homes per hectare (as opposed to 20 homes per hectare in normal, single home suburbs). An eco estate is also subjected to an ongoing Environmental Management Plan (EMP) which dictates that a yearly report by a conservation office is completed and handed to local authorities for scrutinisation. This is a requirement imposed on the developer at first, but transfers to the homeowners’ association once it has been formed.
This plan includes aspects such as game and bird counts, plant species lists, erosion reports and the progress of re-vegetating the development with indigenous plants and trees.
Simbithi Eco-Estate at Ballito along the KZN North Coast is a 430ha development which boasts a golf course, an equestrian centre and a hotel. In verification of its eco-friendly status, the developers point out that while plot sizes average 1 500m², only 35 per cent coverage is allowed, ensuring houses are well spaced out. A network of dams (fishing of tilapia and carp is allowed) meander across the estate and indigenous forest belts within the estate are home to smaller buck species such as blue and grey duikers, while impala have been introduced to the grassland areas.
One of the first residents and also the resident sales agent, Wolf Vosse lives at Wedderwill Country Estate and Games Park, perched against the Helderberg Mountains overlooking Somerset West in the Cape. Made up of 423ha, it will eventually have a maximum of 78 houses which will take up only 26ha (five per cent of the total land area). The rest of the land will be made up of 43ha of vineyards, 6ha of paddocks and stables and 256ha of game farm and nature reserve, stocked with eland, bontebok, springbok, wildebeest and Burchell zebra. The estate has also become part of the quagga breeding project.
‘On an eco estate there is no agricultural activity,’ explains Wolf.
‘We are therefore an eco-sensitive estate, which means there is agricultural activity, but the estate cares for the ecologically sensitive areas where there is pristine nature.
‘We prefer the status of being eco sensitive to being an eco estate, as the latter has to accept a much higher density of housing in order to be economically viable.’
A number of the more dedicated eco estates have full-time environmentalists on board, one of these being Pezula Private Estate in Knysna which last year received international recognition for ‘exceptional environmental care’ when it was awarded the Most Environmentally Aware Development at the Homes Overseas magazine Awards held in London.
Are they a wise investment? According to Barak Geffen, executive director of Sotheby’s International Realty, operated by Lew Geffen: ‘Eco estates are a win-win for developers and environmentalists. In the past all developments were a threat to nature because of their impact on the environment. Eco estates help protect the environment and have become a major attraction as a residential lifestyle option.’
Source: Excerpts from The Property Magazine
Development is inevitable; sustainable building practices are becoming more of a necessity than an option. Eco estates should be located in the least sensitive areas of the local ecosystem. They should strive to offset any negative effects on the environment by improving the ecological status of the surrounding land and rehabilitating the land within their boundaries. Brightside Aero Estate near White River (Mpumalanga) is positioned on land that was a sterile plantation of exotic Eucalyptus trees. Removing the Eucalyptus plantation is already a positive step as these trees draw vast amounts of water from the ground, measurably affecting the flow and function of nearby watercourses and wetlands. Prior to the widespread planting of Eucalyptus, this area around White River consisted of rolling grassland in the open areas with wooded streams in the valleys; a return to the original, open grassland is well-suited to the requirements of an aero estate. The Brightside Aero Estate is committed to the principles of an eco estate and all buildings will be designed with many water saving and energy saving features in place. Airplane hangars have large roof areas and are ideal for rooftop rain water harvesting. The incorporation of rainwater harvesting systems, grey water recycling systems and other water saving systems ensures that the water footprint of new developments is mitigated. Water Rhapsody water conservation systems can also be retrofitted to older buildings and can be adapted to small households or larger office blocks and lodges. Our systems are all environmentally sound and offer numerous other benefits.