Award winner 2023
Location: South Africa

Pieter Van Wyk

Pieter van Wyk is a South African botanist committed to conserving the unique flora of the Richtersveld region in South Africa. Pieter is not holding back when it comes to environmental crimes and armed with knowledge and dedication, he works to preserve precious succulent species.


Ever since he was a little boy, Pieter has been dedicated to studying and protecting the uniquely South African flora. The Richtersveld region in the northern part of South Africa is renowned for having the highest percentage of succulent plants in the world. However, over 400 of these species are now threatened with extinction due to mining, poaching, overgrazing, and climate change. Pieter has been gathering data about many endemic succulents over the years and uses it to advocate for their endangered habitats on a provincial and national level.

Pieter’s knowledge about flora has been proven to be crucial in the fight against diamond mining in the area and poaching of flora, and he has contributed to many poaching cases and helped stop mining in sensitive areas. Together with his team, Pieter managed to save over 100,000 poached succulents and many other plants from mining. He is working on involving local communities and having them grow endangered flora in their gardens. This will help preserve the species in their natural habitat, while also generating an income for locals and reducing poaching.

Pieter established the Richtersveld Desert Botanical Garden & Nursery, which developed into a living gene bank and stores both seeds and plants from the Richtersveld region, and Gariep and Namib desert. This provides a backup for when species might go extinct in the wild and allows the support of existing but fragile populations. The botanical garden also serves as an education center and provided jobs for local people.

Vision and approach

To safeguard future generations of South African endemic succulents, Pieter’s conservation work takes place both in the field and indoors. His collection of plant species provides a backup for future reintroductions and by working with local government, mining companies, farming communities, and the police he helps conserve the important plants in the region.

Impact of the Future For Nature Award

With the FFN Award prize money Pieter will:

  • Establish a new greenhouse to keep over 400 species of plants safe from extinction.
  • Involve local communities in his project and develop a ‘green’ economy, where people can financially benefit from natural resources while conserving them at the same time.


"Pieter has an exceptional story, having committed himself to documenting and conservating some of the most world's threatened plant species since he was 11 years old. He has a very broad set of skills, ranging from research, monitoring, and assessment, through to establishing ex-situ populations of plants to save them from otherwise certain extinction, institution-building, leadership, combatting poaching, and advocacy to expose plans and activities that drive the extinction of plants. In the future, he plans to make greater use of ex-situ technologies and gene-banking, and will engage impoverished local human communities in a growing programme to save the Richtersveld's extraordinary flora."
Simon Stuart, member of the International Selection Committee