Lessons Learned in the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve

gcbr lessons learnedWith help from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), CapeNature catalyzed funding to continue efforts for the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR), South Africa’s newest member of the internationally designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, and the first in Africa to be designated as a Cluster Biosphere Reserve.
Cluster biosphere reserves are internationally recognized for conserving natural resources in sustainable ways and strengthening agriculture while accommodating the growth and development of communities. The GCBR encourages sustainable farming methods and land conservation among its partners, including existing nature reserves and private landowners.
Some of the noteworthy keys to success in this project were catalyzing funding for increased action. Although CEPF’s funding to CapeNature ended in 2009, local stakeholders have continued the efforts and have successfully catalyzed funding for increased action. Core funding for CapeNature was secured annually from the provincial government of the Western Cape as recurring grants. This was only sufficient to provide for the basic management costs of CapeNature and all project funding was secured from other sources, mainly government.
The project encountered many challenges and have some noteworthy successes to celebrate. Challenges such as an overly ambitious project with a too extensive planning domain, lack of socioeconomic expertise and facilitating consensus among stakeholders were encountered. 
Due to capacity and time constraints within the project, the available resources were revised to focus on a primary area, the Gouritz Corridor. The revised project was successful in achieving all its outputs and paved the way for further project implementation and expansion by CapeNature and its partners. 

Conservation can only be achieved by balancing the needs of society with those of the environment. Furthermore, conservation achievements can only be sustained in an environment where there is ongoing engagement of the various sectors to address human threats and impacts on the natural environment. To help ensure that a diverse group of people were involved in the project, socioeconomic experts should have been involved during the planning and implementation of the complex landscape initiative.

Dr. Annelise Schutte-Vlok, regional ecologist for the Gouritz Region with CapeNature, noted that, “The vision needs to be developed by all the stakeholders together and regular interactions need to take place. We focused on building trust amongst stakeholder groups and individuals and providing learning opportunities.”

To execute the project it was realized that efforts should be focused to get to the people rather than expecting people to attend advertised meetings and workshops. For the local, historically disadvantaged communities, the approach was to engage and involve them directly in employment opportunities within CapeNature projects that focus on establishing a conservation economy. Government agencies as well as local authorities were consulted and involved in decisions around policy, legislation and actions involving priority measures. Involving the local authorities in tangible partnerships remains one of the ongoing challenges. 
The high level of support for the Gouritz Initiative project from academic institutions and scientists from various disciplines was not anticipated and this made a significant contribution to the level of funding for research and restoration projects in the domain. These projects contributed to the knowledge base for the area and provided a basis and catalytic effect for other subsequent projects. 

The GCBR project gained additional support as a bioregional program both provincially and nationally. This in turn generated additional support and substantial levels of sustainable funds to execute numerous biodiversity-related projects. For example, additional funding was received from the Department of Agriculture (LandCare), the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) and the Table Mountain Fund (TMF). Although the project was successful in catalyzing funding, according to Dr. Schutte-Vlok, the GCBR has been running without dedicated funding since 2007, relying predominately on volunteers.

To keep the project going with local stakeholders, Dr. Schutte-Vlok recommends keeping “Scientists involved in order to ensure that the projects take local and regional environmental needs into consideration. Provide feedback, celebrate successes and reward those that pour their hearts into the project.” She also noted, “Stakeholders are very keen to learn about their local area. Have regular (at least once a quarter) information sharing meetings where report back on projects, scientific research, new initiatives, etc. are given.”

For more information go to www.gouritz.com

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