The loss of natural habitat is one of the most significant threats to the continued existence of South Africa’s incredible plants and animals. Although the rest of the country is more famous for its biodiversity and splendour, Gauteng contains an exceptional number of species that are globally unique. These are mostly found in the grassland biome, which in South Africa is second only to the fynbos biome in terms of species richness. The grassland biome is a rich store of biodiversity assets and includes 52 of South Africa’s 122 important bird areas, 15 of its endemic mammals, nearly 3 500 plant species and specialised habitats such as wetlands.
In contrast, while Gauteng contains globally significant biodiversity, it is also the economic centre of South Africa and indeed of the rest of Africa. The pressures of increasing economic development, including the clearing of natural areas for agriculture, residential developments and industrial premises, have led to significant habitat loss and fragmentation, resulting in severe threats to the survival of the province’s species. An estimated 56% of the natural habitat in Gauteng has already been lost. The 2011 National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment identified the grassland, thicket and Nama-Karoo biomes as the most severely under-protected ecosystems in South Africa. Only 2,2% of the country’s grasslands are formally protected, and much grassland habitat is privately or communally owned. It is therefore imperative that any efforts to conserve these threatened grassland areas consult and collaborate strongly with private landowners and communities.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has entered into a partnership with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) and the WWF Nedbank Green Trust to spearhead a new project that aims to work towards securing valuable biodiversity on privately owned land in Gauteng. The Gauteng Biodiversity Stewardship Programme (GBSP) aims to establish positive, proactive and formalised partnerships between conservation authorities and private or communal landowners and to support and encourage these landowners to formally commit to the sustainable management and protection of the natural resources on their land, for the benefit of all.
Landowners with important biodiversity on their land can now, under the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003, legally protect important biodiversity and habitats on their land through the establishment of a protected area. Activities required for the management of a protected area have the potential to contribute to sustainable rural development through diversifying the array of available livelihood options for local communities; stimulating job creation and contributing to skills development. There are certain criteria that have to be met for landowners to qualify for participation in the programme.
For more information visit www.ewt.org.za.