Expansion of SA’s protected areas requires management skills


South Africa has to practically and affordably expand its natural environment protection areas to conserve its critical biodiversity and ecosystem services. These include carbon sequestration, clean air, healthy soils, fresh water, healthy insect populations for pollination, and healthy grasslands for grazing. All are critical for our population’s health and survival.

‘To achieve this, communal and private landowners, conservation organisations, business and industries, universities, and government must come together and collectively manage our landscapes and expand the footprint of protected areas countrywide. This is how we can achieve impact at scale,’ says Angus Burns, WWF- SA Senior Manager: Land and Biodiversity Stewardship.

Since the early 2000s, the WWF Nedbank Green Trust has funded the expansion of protected areas throughout South Africa, guided by the country’s biodiversity stewardship programme.

Protected areas include our nature reserves, national parks and protected environments on privately, communally or government-owned land. They are legislated under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 57 of 2003.

Kevin McCann, Director of the KwaZulu-Natal-based conservation NGO Conservation Outcomes, has focussed on the development of biodiversity stewardship for the past 20 years. He says: ‘Declaring protected areas is one thing, but that is where stewardship starts. Landowners and land managers need a lot of support to learn how to conserve, manage and economically sustain their environments. Without this support, expanding protected areas could risk becoming little more than a box-ticking exercise.’

He explains that management support post-declaration focusses on the necessary co-development of tools to improve managing protected areas, such as drawing up an annual plan of operation, which includes:

  • staff management;
  • veld rehabilitation;
  • water conservation;
  • fire management;
  • alien invasive vegetation control;
  • sustainable cattle or game management;
  • road maintenance; and
  • anti-poaching systems.

They can also help landowners with their applications for tax benefits and rates exemptions.

‘Because of the obvious importance of post-declaration support, the WWF Nedbank Green Trust has focussed on supporting both the declaration and post-declaration management processes,’ says Tobie Badenhorst, Head of Group Sponsorships and Cause Marketing at Nedbank. ‘We partner with provincial conservation authorities and a number of NGOs, with Conservation Outcomes leading the highest number of post-declaration projects.’

In KwaZulu-Natal Conservation Outcomes has supported over 25 declared communal and private protected areas, including the Mabaso Community Protected Environment, Nambiti Private Game Reserve, Blue Crane Nature Reserve, the Gcumisa community, Babanango Game Reserve, Somkhanda Game Reserve, the Ingwehumbe Nature Reserve and the Sappi-owned Clairmont Mountain Nature Reserve.

Conservation Outcomes also supports protected area expansion in the greater Kruger National Park (KNP) and the Eastern Cape. They are currently working on the expansion of the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Gauteng.

Deren Coetzer, Project Implementer at Conservation Outcomes says: ‘We are partnering with the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the local Mogale City Municipality, who owns the land adjoining the botanical gardens, to add 700 hectares of grassland on the ridgeline, which includes the largest population of one of the most critically endangered plants in Gauteng, the Albertina Sisulu orchid.’

Each protected area is different and they all need a different set of management tools, ranging from maps of the property to apps to record information. Conservation Outcomes has been working with 8 diverse landowners and land managers over the past 3 years to develop a set of tools that can be adapted to each specific environment, which helps increase management effectiveness over time.

‘We show landowners and land managers what information they need to collect on their land and how to do this over time, while using various mechanisms such as drones or fixed-point photos,’ says Coetzer. ‘We show them how to interpret the information to make better management decisions and we do various trials and tests with them over time.’

McCann explains that on game reserves and farms, for example, ‘all landowners need to know how to monitor animal population growth, including the age and sex structure to align this with veld carrying capacity and veld assessment. We also identify degraded areas and develop strategies to rehabilitate them, including the removal of alien invasive species, specific grazing systems and the judicious use of fire.’

Some landowners and managers need help with budgeting and financial management and a vehicle and infrastructure maintenance schedule.

Conservation Outcomes uses the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) to assess the management effectiveness of the protected area sites. ‘It is a standard tool used worldwide,’ McCann explains. ‘Over the past 3 years the 8 sites where we have been working have all shown an improvement in management effectiveness. We hope this helps demonstrate to government and provincial authorities, as well as other corporates and organisations, the importance of funding post-declaration management.’