On the 21st and 22nd of May, a two day conference was held at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The conference was made possible due to the partnership between the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) and the South Africa National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).
In attendance were officials from the national, provincial and local government who are directly or indirectly involved in Protected Area Expansion, such as the Department of Mineral Resources, the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, the Limpopo Department of Economic Development Environment and Tourism, CapeNature, SANParks, NGOs and conservation partners interested in land protection and legal representatives involved in stewardship contracts and declaration processes.
The National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment 2004 effectively demonstrated that the current national protected area system does not adequately conserve a representative sample of the countries biodiversity, and that it is not is it adequate to maintain key ecological process across the landscape and seascape. Therefore in 2008 a National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy (NPAES) was developed.
Since the approval of NPAES of 2008, five years of implementation is nearly completed. During this implementation period a number of positive actions have taken place at national and provincial levels, and the official database of protected areas has shown a steady increase of the protected areas estate. A number of problem areas hampering the progress towards achieving the targets identified by NPAES have also been identified and were explored at this conference.
The conference was set in motion with a welcome by SANBI’s Chief Director, Kristal Maze followed by an opening address by Skumsa Mancotywa, Chief Director at DEA. This was followed by a presentation from Amanda Driver, also from SANBI who spoke about the National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA), and pointed out that the NBA sets biodiversity targets and assesses the protection level of each ecosystem. She noted that the NPAES outlined not just the priority ecosystems for protection, but also the optimal areas to secure for climate change resilience and freshwater protection. It profiles large, intact areas in which to meet targets for protected areas.
Driver also indicated that through the biodiversity stewardship program, 24 contract nature reserves have been signed, over 100 are awaiting proclamation and 430 000ha of land has been added to the national protected area estate. She emphasized that biodiversity stewardship is a highly cost effective mechanism to secure hectares towards meeting protected areas targets.
Other interesting talks and presentations focused on matters such as the progress of NPAES implementation; case study experiences were shared; the crucial role of land owners, government, and establishing good relations with them was emphasised; finances required during declaration processes; innovative developments in protected area expansion such biodiversity offsets, tax rebates and tax incentives; and the successes of community conservation areas where local communities are benefitting from projects by means of green jobs, eco-tourism, business and biodiversity initiatives.
Challenges of the NPAES were also highlighted during the conference, and these included limited resources to accommodate more land under conservation, and a lack of clarity regarding administrative processes and legal expertise available to support management authorities.
This conference provided a useful platform amongst the state officials, conservation agencies and practitioners to share and exchange knowledge of experiences in the declaration of protected area expansion in the country, and on how these challenges could be addressed.