The 11th Annual National Biodiversity Planning Forum, hosted by SANBI, was held from the 13th to the 16th of May at Mpekweni Beach Resort in the Eastern Cape. The Forum was set in motion by Kristal Maze, Chief Director of SANBI’s Biodiversity Planning and Policy Advice. Maze welcomed all participants and elaborated on this year’s event by stating the Forum’s objectives, the core principles of biodiversity systematic planning, and the possibility of exploring a new structure and vision for the Biodiversity Planning Forum in the future.
Keynote addresses were delivered by Dr Robert Smith from the University of Kent, who focused on ‘Putting Key Biodiversity Areas in a systematic conservation planning context’, and Mr Sunday Ogunrobi, Chief Director at the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and he focused on the ‘Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act, 2013 (SPLUMA)’.
Main thematic areas at this year’s Forum included mapping ecological infrastructure to inform policy and decision making; the new regulations for invasive species and their links to spatial data and planning; the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the expansion of Electricity Grid Infrastructure (SIP 10); an update on the National Biodiversity Assessment 2017 and the National Ecosystem Classification System; protected areas; the Wetland Offsets Guideline and the application of technology and web-based tools in support of biodiversity planning. National highlights, new projects and updates were shared as well as case studies, lessons and challenges on the implementation of biodiversity plans. The opportunity was also provided for intern and student networking and an interactive poster and exhibition session.
At the Forum Dinner, SANBI CEO Dr Tanya Abrahamse delivered an address to the Forum delegates. Abrahamse said that the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Review of South Africa highlighted the National Biodiversity Assessment 2011 and that the methodology, quality of data and level of analysis revealed that the country is at the forefront of international practice.
“We are picking the brains and harnessing the intellect and information of the whole country through this Forum to produce a world class NBA. Put your hands together for producing the best NBA in the world” she cheered dinner delegates. “The work you do is impacting on the region. It is considered best practice. We are influencing the way the world interacts with information, with science and with planning for biodiversity.”
During her address Abrahamse stressed the importance of creating more scientists and that the science generated needs to be communicated to the ordinary person. She also shared some of the new developments and growth within SANBI such as the new thinking which is emerging on Ecological Infrastructure (EI) at which SANBI is leading; the possibility of a SIP 19 that will focus exclusively on mainstreaming EI; SANBI being appointed that National Implementing Entity for the Adaptation Fund; two new possible botanical gardens in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo respectively and that SANBI has been asked by the Minster of Science and Technology to manage the National Zoological Garden. “In all ways we have grown.” Abrahamse said.
This year’s event was exceedingly well attended, boasting over 200 participants who included biodiversity planners and implementers from national and provincial government, provincial conservation agencies, municipalities, SANBI, SANParks, universities, research institutes, NGOs and consultants. Interns and students were also well represented, with close to 50 Groen Sebenza interns in attendance, of which some of the SANBI Groen Sebenza interns delivered formal presentations during sessions.
“It is with great honour and pleasure that I met all the interns at the Forum and their mentors, and how excited they are to be in the sector and giving solutions for how we can improve human capital.” Abrahamse said. “In building the capacity of young interns that we are privileged to have amongst us, we hope that they increase the curiosity about nature, about biodiversity and what will make us a resilient people, planet and country. That’s why we encourage the young people and that’s why they’re amongst us.” She further mentioned how confident she feels that the new emerging generation will manage the sector well.
The 2014 Biodiversity Planning Forum has illustrated that the science produced and biodiversity mainstreaming efforts shared have a global impact. The various national highlights and projects offer vast potential for sharing lessons and collaboration. The new era in biodiversity information management, tools and data types offer exciting opportunities for releasing powerful data.
The value of attending the Forum has always been that it provides quick access to a large and receptive community of practice that one would otherwise not have had access to. The messaging of the Forum has remained consistent and delegates are excited about new ideas about the Forum’s future role and way forward.