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KwaZulu-Natal is fortunate in having a rich diversity of plant and animal life. However, only a small proportion of this diversity, and only 53% of priority species, receive protection within the existing protected area network. A further 1.4 million ha or 14.5% of the area of the province is required under formal conservation land-use in order to ensure comprehensive protection of the province’s biodiversity and thereby comply with the legal mandate and mission statement of the organisation. Most of this area is being rapidly transformed or degraded at an alarming rate (given the number and extent of EIA applications processed by staff) and if not secured in the short term then EKZNW will have failed in its obligations to maintain a representative sample of the diversity of life or to sustain ecosystem functioning that supplies critical ecosystem services to the people of the province. The current lack of resources has inhibited the ability of EKZNW to acquire critical land that should be formally protected, with effective natural resource management being hampered by reduced operating budgets. Combined with this is the recognised fact that 80% of the priority biodiversity is located outside of formally protected areas, making strategic partnerships with private and communal landowners crucial if our natural heritage is to be conserved.
For many years EKZNW has been a leader in working with landowners in support of biodiversity management outside protected areas, with a well-established system of District Conservation Officers and Community Conservation Officers. While the efforts of these staff have certainly had a positive impact, it is becoming increasingly clear that a more focussed programme is required with an enlarged and improved suite of tools to facilitate long term conservation of biodiversity on private and communal land. Past stewardship programmes have had limited long-term success, with a confusing and cumbersome system that included up to 25 stewardship options, and lacked legal security. Innovative approaches are required that will enable, encourage and assist landowners to protect priority species and habitats. With these needs in mind, EKZNW has launched a dedicated Biodiversity Stewardship Programme through which a number of conservation options will be offered to landowners. The new biodiversity stewardship approach provides a small number of simple, legally-aligned options nationwide and ensures that landowners benefit from participation. These tools need to offer various types of incentives to offset any potential costs incurred by landowners associated with conservation commitments.
The STEWARDSHIP concept is a new way of achieving these conservation goals, where positive, proactive partnerships and cooperative management are the key ingredient of natural resource management, and custodianship and responsibility for natural assets is maintained in private / communal ownership, supported by EKZNW.
What is stewardship
Stewardship definition – refers to the wise use, management and protection of that which has been entrusted to you as a landowner or is rightfully yours. Biodiversity stewardship is therefore the practice of effectively managing land-use outside the existing state-managed protected area system to ensure that natural systems, biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide are maintained and enhanced for present and future generations.
What is different to other approaches?
There are many past and existing conservation designations that can be applied to privately or communally owned land. However, there are a number of limitations in each of them which has led to the re-evaluation of their effectiveness. These limitations include:
· Limited to no site security
· Often reliant on individual enthusiasm
· No management objectives developed for the property
· No management obligations enforced (no management plan)
· No auditing of sites
· No penalties of biodiversity value is not maintained.
Therefore, there developed a need for a mechanism which:
• recognises the role private / communal landowners play in the conservation of biodiversity;
• rewards those landowners contributing to biodiversity conservation through financial benefits;
• provides incentives for landowners to become involved and see the relevance of conserving biodiversity;
• uses the current environmental legislation to back it up – National Environmental Management Act – Biodiversity Act and Protected Areas Act.
This mechanism is STEWARDSHIP, which differs from other approaches is that it provides options that:
• Require commitment from landowners;
• Provide long-term security to biodiversity;
• Require that sites be managed for conservation;
• Require monitoring and auditing of sites;
• Reward landowners for committing land for the public good.
The principles of Biodiversity Stewardship South Africa are…
· Landowner-focused extension – Biodiversity stewardship agreements between landowners and conservation authorities must be backed up with resources to ensure that there is extension capacity within those authorities to inform, help and support landowners who enter agreements on an ongoing basis.
· Acknowledging people’s needs – Extension work can only be effective if it is based on an understanding of the attitudes and motivations of those who own, live and work on the land, striving to meet their needs while practising better conservation management.
· Focus on biodiversity priorities – Resources, time and energy must be focused on areas already identified as priorities, drawing on spatial information available from DEAT, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the provincial conservation authorities.
· Biodiversity as the bottom line – Decisions on conservation investment should be defensible and based on the biodiversity value of the land, not on ownership, political affiliation or economic status.
· Site security – In order to maximise use of the state’s resources and guarantee ongoing conservation, the legal status of land with high biodiversity value must be secured through biodiversity stewardship agreements between landowners and conservation authorities.
· Building co-operation – Co-operation across property boundaries is often necessary in landscape-scale conservation management, e.g. in controlling fires, alien invasive species and flooding rivers. Partnerships need to be built between conservation agencies, the state, NGOs, private landowners and communities, based on mutual trust.