2013 National Biodiversity Planning Forum Marks a Decade of Excellence

2013 national biodivrersity planning fourmIt is difficult to believe that the Biodiversity Planning Forum has successfully completed ten years of excellence, as this year’s annual conference was held at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State Province from 7 – 10 May.

The 2013 National Biodiversity Planning Forum was co-hosted by SANBI and the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DETEAA), Free State Province, and attracted close to 170 delegates from various agencies and departments.

The 2013 Forum was opened by Dr Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of SANBI, and Kristal Maze, Chief Director at SANBI, who welcomed and set the scene on new opportunities in national policy and planning.  The keynote address that focused on streamlining environmental planning in Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) was delivered by Dee Fischer, Chief Director for Integrated Environmental Management at the Department of Environment Affairs (DEA).

Main themes for this year’s Forum included ecological infrastructure and ecosystem services, mining and biodiversity, national biodiversity planning initiatives and processes, and provincial biodiversity planning. Parallel sessions were characterized by thought-provoking presentations and stimulating discussions with enticing topics.     Since 2007, the Biodiversity Planning Forum embarked on a new biodiversity planning basic training session in order to support better decisions about how we plan and manage biodiversity. This year a two-day training session was held that covered aspects such as the foundations of biodiversity planning, applications of biodiversity planning, practical training on biodiversity planning software, biodiversity planning products in South Africa and offered practical demonstration on the use of biodiversity planning products.

The training session was co-hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and SANBI and was supported by the South African Research Chairs Initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation of South Africa. It was co-ordinated and presented by Prof. Mathieu Rouget from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, with lectures and practical demonstration by SANBI’s Jeffrey Manuel. The National Biodiversity Planning Forum was  first hosted by SANBI in 2004, and has since become an annual event providing an opportunity for those involved in spatial biodiversity planning to share and synthesise valuable lessons from biodiversity planning projects cross South Africa. The Forum is intended primarily for those involved in the technical aspects of biodiversity planning, the production of biodiversity planning products and implementation.

Some of the key products developed during the 10 years of the Biodiversity Planning Forum are the  National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy (NPAES 2008);  National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA 2011); National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas project (NFEPA 2011);  Gauteng C-plan; Mpumalanga Biodiversity Conservation Plan (MBCP 2013) and the  KwaZulu-Natal Systematic Conservation Plan (KZNSCP).

The history of biodiversity planning in South Africa extends beyond the Biodiversity Planning Forum which started in 2004. The thinking around trying to prioritize biodiversity extends all the way back to the early 1970’s when the first map representing 70 veld types was produced. Trying to prioritise at a landscape level was happening in both the terrestrial and freshwater environments. Since then the methodology and thinking has been refined significantly. Through time we have seen the integration of terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity plans and the development of marine and estuarine systematic biodiversity plans (largely through the National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment (NSBA 2004) and National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA 2011) processes).

Along with these developments, the Biodiversity Planning Forum has also enabled a community of practise where technical lessons are shared amongst planners. The evolution of the use of consistently recognised terms such as maps of Critical Biodiversity Areas and Ecological Support Areas was also developed through discussion and decisions taken at the biodiversity planning.

Over the years, the Forum has had massive successes in policy and tools development. These have been critical in biodiversity planning and implementation at local, provincial and national level. Key lessons have included: increased understanding about administrative boundaries and how this affects planning, the necessity of using consistent terminology, enabling user friendly products, developing a common set of tools that are useful for planning and the standardisation of maps. The biodiversity plans now have more of an impact because they are designed with a better understanding of the target audience and their needs. The Forum has enabled a successful community of practice for biodiversity planning and has resulted in ground-breaking work in this field. A short summary of products /tools and more information can be found at bgis.sanbi.org

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