Securing priority habitat for threatened species

  1. Gauteng Biodiversity Stewardship
  2. Drylands Biodiversity Stewardship
  3. Biodiversity Stewardship for Cranes
  4. Stewardship plans going forward

What is it?
Traditionally, to increase land under conservation, governments and other entities simply purchased or even expropriated land. In the South African context, land acquisition has become increasingly difficult and expensive, especially given the rights local communities have to their land. Competing against social priorities, relatively fewer resources are now available for conservation and the protection of habitat. To counter this dilemma, South African conservationists developed a unique and innovative programme called the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, with the objective of conserving and managing biodiversity priority areas. This programme makes it possible for private and communal land users to enter into a voluntary process/agreement to legally declare their land as part of the formal protected area network in South Africa. To ensure that this arrangement has legal relevance it was enacted in the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (No. 57 of 2003).

Stewardship is essential in securing representative samples of the country’s biodiversity on private and communal land. Furthermore, it will improve the management of natural systems and biodiversity outside of state‐managed protected areas, by providing strategic direction to biodiversity conservation activities within these areas and ensuring that essential ecosystem services continue to operate and deliver benefits to society.

The role of the EWT
Conservation NGOs like the EWT play a critical role in implementing Biodiversity Stewardship. Their input can include facilitating the formal protection process, and advising on the management and restoration of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Stewardship contributes to several broader goals including:

  • Conserving a representative sample of biodiversity,
  • Involving landowners as custodians of biodiversity,
  • Contributing to the rural economy,
  • Investing in ecological infrastructure,
  • Contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation,
  • Supporting sustainable development.

Cost effectiveness
Biodiversity Stewardship Programmes have achieved impressive gains with limited financial or logistical support. Not only are Biodiversity Stewardship Programmes capable of making a
significant contribution to meeting protected area targets, they are doing so at a fraction of the cost (estimates at around 17 times less) associated with establishing or expanding traditional state‐owned protected areas. Biodiversity Stewardship is making substantial contributions to meeting national protected area targets set out in the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy (as at 1 October 2014), which in turn contributes to both the national Aichi Biodiversity targets (2011-2020) and the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030).

Legislative backing
Nationally the Stewardship Programme is run by the Department of Environmental Affairs. The programme aims to make conservation more attractive to landowners and to encourage effective conservation commitment in exchange for tangible benefits to the landowner. Biodiversity Stewardship offers four basic options/categories for participating landowners with legislative backing. The different categories offer different levels of protected area security and require different levels of commitment, each with its own incentives and benefits. All options are voluntary and the landowner retains title and ownership of the land.

Diagram of the four basic options for the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. The two most robust options are Nature Reserve, which is equivalent to a provincial park, and is usually a 99-year-agreement signed into the title deeds with minimal to no agriculture or transformation allowed. Protected Environments are also formally recognised protected areas and are signed into the property title deeds (usually a 30-year-agreement). These are designed to allow some negotiated agricultural production with specific conservation limitations.

Some of the financial incentives currently offered include property rates exemptions/rebates and tax benefits, the feasibility of the latter is still being established.
Non‐financial support includes assistance in the development of a management plan, , conservation management advice, support, expertise, assistance with law enforcement, etc., reintroductions of species, training – providing the skills for conservation managers/field rangers, and marketing. Government’s Working for Water (alien clearing and herbicide assistance) and Working for Wetlands (wetland rehabilitation) schemes provide important support too.