Tag Archives: Barry de Groot

Identification of Invasive Alien Plants

Objective of the flight

The primary objective is to assess biomass availability to support identified eco-furniture factories in nine separate regions in South Africa. This particular mission was flown in and around Hillcrest in KwaZulu-Natal.

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Kgalagadi Cheetah Project Radio Tracking


Mission: Kgalagadi Cheetah Project Radio Tracking
Date: 24 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Gus Mills of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project
Location: Kgalagadi, Northern Cape
Pilot: Barry de Groot

Barry de Groot volunteered to fly this mission for Gus Mills of the Kgalagadi Cheetah Project (and the one for the Kgalagadi Raptors, our next story, over the same weekend in late August this year).  This is the brief report by Gus Mills:

“On Monday 25 August the fourth Bateleurs Kgalagadi Cheetah Project radio tracking flight took place. This time our pilot was Barry de Groot who had flown his Cessna 172 all the way from Pietermaritzburg to help us. This trip was combined with another Bateleur mission, that of counting raptors in the Northern Cape with Abrie Maritz from the Zurich Kalahari Raptor project. Abrie has prepared a detailed report on the raptors mission, pointing out some of the serious logistic problems that were faced.

From the cheetah project point of view the flight was an unqualified success and we once again managed to track all 8 of our radio collared cheetahs (2 males and 6 females) in three hours. Although we were only able to get visuals on two of them, we were able to do so on the most important one, the female Thelma and her one year old cub, Louise. They stick to the dune areas nearly all the time and are the most elusive of our radio collared animals, so we were particularly pleased to see that the cub was still alive and with her mother.

The second most important female on whom we had hoped to get a visual was Maple. However, in spite of several low passes over the area from which the signal was strongest we failed to see her.  She is an old female and one who we have not seen since she lost her two six month old cubs to starvation in April this year. Our follow up observation on the ground confirmed our fears that she was dead. We found the badly chewed up collar and some bones in the vicinity, but are unable to be certain of the cause of her death. A sad but important observation.

As always we are indebted to The Bateleurs for their skills and much valued support for our project.  We hope very much that the logistic problems of getting fuel in drums to Twee Rivieren can be overcome as these flights are like gold to us.”

Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project


Mission: Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project
Date: 24 August 2008
Requesting organisation: Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project

Location: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Pilot: Barry de Groot

This is the African White-backed Vulture

We have included here some extracts from the detailed account by Abri Maritz of the Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project, describing the mission to survey raptors in the Kgalagadi flown by Barry de Groot.

“At 15h20 on the Sunday afternoon of the 24th of August 2008 the blue and white Cessna 172, registration number ZU-AFP, with veteran Springbok pilot Barry de Groot at the controls, touched down on the tarmac runway of the Upington airport. Barry had flown solo from the lush green of Kwazulu Natal to the tawny brown of the semi-desert Kalahari to provide assistance from The Bateleurs to the Zurich Kalahari Raptor Project in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KGNP).

Our objectives were to find and plot, as much as possible, the active vulture and eagle nests in the KGNP and in inaccessible areas of the Kalahari region, for future inclusion into the national vulture ringing and wing-tagging program.

The target species were: Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius), African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus), Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus), Tawny Eagle (Aguila rapax), Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) and Black-chested Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus).

The survey was conducted, mostly, along stretches of the following rivers:  the Molopo River, the Southern Nosob River, the Auob River, the Kuruman River – and the adjacent dune veld.  We also surveyed the inaccessible high ridge and kloofs of the Korana and Langberg ranges, and checked on real and potential breeding sites in the Scheurweberg and Kameelpoort ranges. For security reasons the location of the nests as plotted with a GPS will not be published.

We were all a little sad when the survey was all over. We will miss the vast open dune veldt, dotted with salt pans, the snake-like windings of the fossilised rivers, and the raptors flying past.  But most of all we will miss the hours spent in friendship. Thanks to The Bateleurs for their contribution, input and the opportunity to expand our knowledge, especially pilot Barry de Groot who contributed his time, aeroplane and flying skills.”

Wild Coast Monitoring

Mission: Survey of Illegal Cottage Developments on the Wild Coast
Date: 24 July 2008
Requesting organisation: Department Economic Affairs, Environment & Tourism (DEAET), Eastern Cape
Location: Wild Coast
Pilot: Barry de Groot and Peter de Villiers

Our latest flight to survey illegal cottage developments on the Wild Coast was undertaken by Bateleur pilot, Barry de Groot and his colleague, Peter de Villiers.  This is the report from Barry:

“Our brief was to collect Ruaan Botha of Cape Conservation plus a member of the South African Police Service, at the Mthatha airport. There was to have been a third observer from the legal fraternity but he was in court on the day.

The flight to Mthatha was smooth in the early morning air, and flight time was 1 hour 20 minutes.  After refuelling and meeting  the passengers we were airborne out of Mthatha, routing down the Mthatha river valley and intercepting the coastline at the river mouth, at which point we headed south coastwise to Kei river mouth. No sooner had I trimmed ZU – AFP to a comfortable cruise speed at 500 foot above the beach when Ruan was asking to divert and circle over an illegal dwelling under construction among the sand dunes. Photographs and GPS co-ordinates were taken before continuing on our way. This diversion to take photographs and co-ordinates was repeated several times along the route.

Once we reached the Great Kei river mouth we swung the trusty Cessna 172 through 180 degrees and headed north east back up the coastline passing the Mthatha river mouth and continuing on past the magnificent Waterfall Bluff and on to Mkambati where we once again turned through 180 degrees and headed back to Mthatha routing via Port St Johns. The entire inspection of approximately 480 kilometers of coastline taking at least 20 photographs of infringements at various sites took exactly 3 ½ hours.

After further upliftment of fuel in Mthatha at R16.03 per litre, saying goodbye to Ruan and Ishmail, we had a most enjoyable one hour and twenty minutes flight back home, content in the knowledge that we had just completed another successful Bateleurs mission.”

Following this flight The Bateleurs received a thank you message from Ruaan Botha:

“I would just like to thank you, Barry, for your assistance with the flight, and tell you that the data we recorded is helping me very much.  I would also like you to tell the co-ordinator of The Bateleurs that I really think what you guys are doing for this department cannot be measured in money or words.  Without your assistance with these flights, we as a department would not be where we are currently in relation to coastal management along the Wild Coast.

I want to applaud you and all your colleagues for the wonderful work that you guys are doing.”

Formation Flight in Support of Xolobeni Sands


Mission: Formation Flight in Support of Xolobeni Sands
Date: 20 July 2008
Requesting organisation: Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC)
Location: Xolobei Sands area on the Wild Coast
Pilots: Barry de Groot, Kim Robertson, Paul Dutton, Bill Yeo and William O’Driscoll

Scratching with the chickens or soaring with the eagles, by John Clarke
Participants in the Beach Walk/March


It was Bateleurs pilot Barry de Groot who offered to co-ordinate our Formation Flight over the Xolobei Sands area on the Wild Coast, in solidarity with the community and the NGO Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) who were protesting against the proposed mining of the area.  The flight comprised three Bateleurs aircraft with four Bateleurs pilots – Barry de Groot, Kim Robertson, Paul Dutton and Bill Yeo, plus a guest pilot who has since become a member – William O’Driscoll.  Here is Barry’s story of the flight.

“My reward for having to remove myself from a warm cosy bed at 05h00 on a Sunday morning was to witness a magnificent sunrise in front of my hangar, bathing my pristine aeroplane in a warm orange glow once the hangar doors were opened.

Our mission was to have four light aeroplanes fly in formation to show solidarity with walkers who were walking from the Wild Coast casino along the beach to the area known as the Red Sands. The purpose of the walk was to protest the proposed mining of these sand dunes of their mineral content by an Australian mining company.

The four aircraft are all based at different airfields so it was arranged that we would all rendevouz at Margate Airfield at 08h30.  The four pilots – Paul Dutton with another Bateleurs pilot, Bill Yeo, as his passenger, Kim Robertson, William O’Driscoll (a guest pilot on the day) and I all touched down at Margate within ten minutes of each other. We were very fortunate to have William, an experienced formation flier, with us on the day and he immediately set about briefing us on the finer points of formation flying, with emphasis on the safety aspect. So confident were we after the briefing that we even did a formation takeoff and set course for the Wild Coast casino.

Ten minutes after takeoff and about five kilometers south of the Casino we met up with the walkers along the beach, all 1000 plus of them. The enthusiasm for this noble cause was very gratifying to see from the air, and we were told that the numbers would swell even further as locals living in the area joined the ranks along the route.  We did several passes over the walkers in a diamond formation, with Paul in the lead in his bright yellow Piper Cub, and then returned to Margate to a very welcome hearty English breakfast.

At 11h30 we again took to the sky in formation, but this time Kim in his immaculate Cessna 182 took the lead role, with Paul bringing up the rear. The brief was to join with the walkers who by now would have reached the area to be mined, and then do several low passes over the group gathered at the estuary of the Mnyameni river. It was a wonderful sight to see such a large gathering of people on the beach with their banners.

After several passes we broke formation and each aeroplane flew back to its respective base, with the exception of ZU-AFP.  As a passenger in my plane on this second run I had John Clarke who is doing a story on the alleged poisoning of a gentleman who had been very vociferous in opposing the mining of the dunes. John wanted to fly over the homestead of the late Mr Scorpion which is situated about 15 kilometers inland from the coast, and take some video footage of his home along with the new grave in the front garden where he was buried by his family.

The return flight home to Pietermaritzburg via Margate for fuel was uneventful, but in the glorious sunshine flying south up the coast as far as Scottborough brought home to me once again how privileged I am to be able to fly a small aeroplane in Africa.”

formation_flight2_20072008Scratching with the chickens or soaring with the eagles, by John Clarke [John Clarke is a Social Worker with Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC)]

“Was it a ‘march’ or a ‘walk’?  We were trying to decide how to bill the unusual protest event that SWC’s supporters from the Ramsgate Conservancy on the KZN South Coast wanted to see:  a 7 km solidarity walk with AmaDiba Wild Coast residents, starting from the Wild Coast Sun Casino resort to the Mnyameni Estuary, which lies bang in the middle of the pristine coastal area targeted for heavy minerals mining by Australian mining company MRC Ltd.

On the one hand, we reasoned that since many of the South Coast residents would be older, retired and not quite up to toyi-toying, and that since it wasn’t going to be a formulaic ‘handing over of a memorandum to a government official’ type of event that the pro-mining faction had contrived to do in Pretoria six months earlier, it wasn’t strictly a ‘march’ of angry protesters.  But on the other hand we knew that Wild Coast residents, led by the Amadiba Crisis Committee set up to represent widespread local opposition to the mining, would be wanting to ‘march’ – even if Mr Jacinto Rocha, the Deputy DG of DME whom we had invited to officially receive our petition didn’t turn up.

“OK, let’s simply use both words, and tell supporters that they would ‘march’ with the left leg, and ‘walk’ with the right leg.”

The other issue was to make sure the media covered the event, so that the message got across to government, even if Mr Rocha didn’t arrive personally carry it back to the Minister.  “We can ask The Bateleurs to fly cameras overhead, and maybe 50/50 will cov er it”.   “ Great idea” everyone agreed.

In response to the flight request, Nora Kreher of The Bateleurs called me.  “Thanks John, I got your request.  But we have decided that The Bateleurs want to do something special.  Mining the Wild Coast can’t be allowed to happen.  We want to do a formation flight.  I’ll let you know how many pilots I can muster.”

Social workers are used to dealing with scarcity.  But contending with unexpected abundance poses another sort of challenge.

When the day arrived, instead of the normal constraint of trying to allocate limited seats for a whole ‘click’ of news photographers into a small plane, I had the opposite problem of filling three four seater Cessna’s on a beautiful Sunday Spring tide day, when all that the participants wanted to do was to walk along the beach with the crowd.  I managed to persuade ETV’s Durban bureau chief Dave Coles and his crew to join the squadron.  50/50’s Don Guy ‘reluctantly’ agreed to be embedded in the ‘air force’ instead of filming a worm’s eye view of the 7 km ’infantry’ march.  His assistants, Siphiwe and Sam the ‘klankman’ had to endure the river crossings, the salt spray off the rocks, and the festivity of amaMpondo beauties chanting “iMining iMpumelo. iMining iMpumelo”  (Mining won’t succeed. Mining won’t succeed) with vuvezelas blasting a clarion call to do-no-harm.

Abundance again manifested itself while I was still on the ground directing eager South Coast residents through the gates of the Wild Coast Sun to the parking lot.  After about half an hour of hastening vehicles through to avoid a traffic jam at the entrance, (the walk had to get going to take advantage of low spring tide so they could cross the estuaries) the chap on duty below came running breathlessly to tell us to divert cars to another parking lot because “the bottom parking lot is already full. Send cars to the upper parking lot.”

Some 500 South Coast residents had turned out in an astonishing display of solidarity with the Wild Coast residents to make sure the message got across.  After helping ETV get some quick footage of the masses commencing their Beach Walk/March, it was off to board the planes to witness the spectacle from the air.”

formation_flight3_20072008Participants in the Beach Walk/March

“Unsurprisingly, Bateleurs veteran Paul Dutton turned up with his two-seater Spirit of the Wilderness for good measure as well. There was no way he was going to miss this event.  I was pleased to have Barry de Groot as my pilot – again.  He had flown me and a media team over the area early last year in a howling gale, so I knew he wasn’t going to prang in the near perfect conditions, (the presence of other planes in close proximity notwithstanding), and that I could concentrate on getting the still shots, while Don Guy filmed the movie. 

Barry didn’t disappoint.  A very low level pass over the beach provided the chance to see even the facial expressions of the marchers below, showing me that they were ecstatic to have this civilian ‘airforce’ to bolster their morale and confidence. 

The effort by the pro-mining faction to counter the impact of the event by staging a political jamboree a month later, backfired badly.   Yes, they did manage to get Government there – no less a person than the Minister of Minerals and Energy Buyelwa Sonjica herself – but the obviously contrived and manipulated attempt to emboss the Xolobeni mining proposal with credibility left journalists even more sceptical.  As Fred Kockott, veteran Sunday Tribune journalist reported “It was the strangest of meetings, and a blatant demonstration of the buying power of government, the mining industry and politicians”.

And of course, they didn’t have The Bateleurs doing a formation flypast to welcome the Minister, and signal aerial support for the mining.

The Minister then made a crucial tactical mistake by claiming that the anti-mining lobby was simply the work of “rich whites”, led by Richard Spoor, who were dividing the community so that they could stop the mining and continue to enjoy pristine Wilderness areas, and arresting “progress in our community”.

The Amadiba Crisis Committee and their supporters, emboldened by the same banners and placards that had been made for the Beach Walk/March a month earlier, had turned up in significant numbers.  They were incensed at the Minister’s outrageous comments and insisted that she return for another consultation.  But they insisted it would be with directly affected local residents only, and without all the political razzmatazz.   To her credit, humbled by the courage and conviction of the ACC, she returned a month later to hear firsthand why people on the ground objected so strongly to the mining plans.

After hearing one complaint after the other, there was little the minister could say other than to apologise and plead for forgiveness at the manifest failure in the consultation process.
The following week the terse announcement came from DME.  “The Xolobeni Mining right will not be executed as planned on 31 October, pending the outcome of the appeal lodged by the Legal Resources Centre on behalf of the Amadiba Crisis Committee”.

Most of those who participated in the fantastic Beach Walk/March two months earlier believe It was that event which signalled a decisive shift in the overall alignment of forces for, against and indifferent to the Wild Coast dune mining. 

The profound significance of The Bateleurs contribution to the Amadiba communities growing confidence only hit me a day after the historic formation flight.  I happened to drop in to visit my sister who lives in Durban.  Before I could tell her about my fantastic flight with The Bateleurs, she got in first to tell me about an inspirational quote that she had heard in a Sunday sermon, which happened to be around the same time as I was boarding Barry’s Cessna.  “Why keep scratching in the ground with the chickens, when you can soar to new heights with the eagles”.

Surely it is only a matter of time before the Aussie mining company abandons their ambition to peck away at the Wild Coast coastal dunes and starts ‘repacking for Perth’.  With The Bateleurs ever on hand to soar overhead in tight formation to support local residents in their protests, MRC will have no chance of mining the Wild Coast.”