About Stewardship

For the first time, landowners can actively participate in conservation activities, by setting their land aside for biodiversity conservation. Many landowners are wanting to do this, whether for philosophical reasons, or wanting to develop the area for ecotourism purposes. Either way, the Biodiversity Stewardship programme is now providing the framework and mechanism for landowners to do this.

Reasons for landowners to become involved in Biodiversity Stewardship

  • Be a trendsetter and become involved in an initiative that is the first of its kind in SA. This process will redefine the approach to conservation on privately owned land – and you can be part of it!

  • Getting involved shows that you are informed about the natural habitat and biodiversity which occurs on your property; that you are proud to become a custodian of the natural habitat and in such a way contribute to securing its long term sustainability.

  • By becoming involved in conservation on your land, you will have access to support, advice and other assistance from dedicated Nature Conservation staff in your Province. Other incentives are currently in the process of being developed.

  • By conserving natural habitats on your property you may be keeping certain plants and animal species from extinction while dramatically improving the survival chances of many others. You may be able to diversify your income base through the wise use and marketing of your natural resources e.g. ecotourism opportunities, professional hunting etc.

  • If you are part of a commercial sector whereby international approvals are required to market your produce overseas (e.g. Eurepgap, ISO1400), participating in a stewardship initiative may contribute to qualifying for these approvals.

  • Please note:
    Draft management plans available to be downloaded and review for public participation process of the notice of intention to declare properties described as a Nature Reserve, as contemplated in terms of section 23(1) of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003, by the MEC of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs:

    1. Northern Drakensberg Framework Management Plan Draft

Biodiversity Stewardship South Africa

The Biodiversity Stewardship South Africa (BSSA) programme is an initiative of the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) in partnership with key conservation organisations. The BSSA programme was conceptualised by a coalition of non-governmental organisations during an exploratory workshop in 2005. The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) then approached DEAT’s Directorate: Biodiversity Conservation with a proposal to develop the stewardship concept further. A Memorandum of Agreement was signed by the two parties and the EWT started Phase 1 of the programme in August 2006.

The BSSA is an umbrella programme that provides a powerful new tool to assist national and provincial government in fulfilling its mandate to conserve biodiversity outside of state-owned protected areas, in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas (Act 57 of 2003) and Biodiversity (Act 10 of 2004) Acts. The programme helps to implement provincial conservation plans through a consistent, national, landscape-scale approach to stewardship. It also assists government in meeting the targets set out by the National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment and the National Biodiversity Framework (NBF).The BSSA’s goals are aligned with those of DEAT’s National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy and Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme.

The vision of Biodiversity Stewardship South Africa is:

for all land with high biodiversity value outside of formally protected areas to have secure legal protection through conservation stewardship agreements and be linked to a network of other conservation areas in the landscape. This will be based on strong partnerships between conservation agencies and landowners that result in good biodiversity management practice and in tangible benefits for landowners.

The goals of Biodiversity Stewardship South Africa are:

  • to provide guidance and co-ordination to agencies managing sites of biodiversity importance to ensure that natural systems, biodiversity and ecosystem services are maintained and enhanced for present and future generations

  • to support, motivate and co-ordinate provincial and other biodiversity stewardship initiatives within an enabling national framework, contributing effectively to achieving the various national, provincial and local biodiversity conservation targets outside of state-owned protected areas

  • to promote the provision of incentives for landowners to commit their property to a stewardship option through the relevant conservation authority, including assistance with the development and implementation of a management plan for optimal natural resource productivity and ecosystem functioning.

Responsibilities for implementation

The current institutional structure of the BSSA programme is represented in the diagram at the end of this section. In Phase 1 the programme has been driven by an Executive Reference Group with representatives from the Botanical Society, the EWT, WWF-South Africa, the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Project and the Directorate: Biodiversity Conservation of DEAT. A National Advisory Committee ensures that development of the initiative is in line with the biodiversity goals of the provinces, drawing particularly on the experience of KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

The National Biodiversity Framework provides that DEAT (Directorate: Biodiversity Conservation) will actively co-ordinate the programme once the developmental phase (Phase 1 & 2) is complete in 2008/9, with responsibility for implementation delegated to the provincial conservation authorities. Each Province needs to identify a conservation agency or organisation which can be the Implementing Agent for the programme in that province. One of the main objectives for the second phase is for DEAT and the coordinator of the BSSA to play a more supportive role towards the provincial authorities in developing their approach.

As the co-ordinating agency, DEAT will have the following areas of responsibility:
  • building its own human resource capacity to co-ordinate the BSSA programme effectively and integrate it with the broader policy framework and related programmes

  • making funding available to the provincial Implementing Agents to undertake biodiversity stewardship work through relevant sector plans or conditional grants

  • assisting the provincial authorities and Implementing Agents to build internal high-level political support for the programme (highlighting the links with existing requirements)

  • receiving reportbacks from the Implementing Agents on programme implementation according to the procedures and provincial biodiversity targets set out in the NBF

  • liaising with private sector role-players, NGOs and land care management initiatives who want to get involved in biodiversity stewardship

  • working with other national departments involved in sustainable land use management, promoting the value that biodiversity stewardship can add to their work.

  • working with other government agencies to promote the provision of incentives for landowners to commit their property to a stewardship option.

Roles and responsibilities

For the purpose of achieving biodiversity stewardship with the primary goal of site security, the objectives during the process need to include the following (in order of priority):

  • Conservation agencies must develop durable relationships with landowners, communities, local authorities and other government departments that control areas of biodiversity priority.

  • The costs of conserving biodiversity must be shared between the public (through the state), the local municipality, the landowner and any specific direct beneficiaries of the resources conserved or the area protected, on a basis which is equitable in relation to the benefits accrued to each party.

  • Conservation agencies must strive to minimise costs and maximise efficiency (in terms of resources and personnel) in conserving biodiversity outside of state-owned protected areas.

  • Options should be provided to recognise commitment to and investment in voluntary biodiversity conservation within farming and other land use systems.

  • Securing conservation investments must be of paramount importance, to ensure the sustainability of conservation effort and funding. Any conservation status afforded to critical biodiversity sites must thus be well managed, durable, legally sound, resilient to changing opinion on land use, and easily audited.

  • Prerequisites for meeting the above objectives are as follows:
  • Consideration needs to be given to investing in the skills needed to achieve the objectives. Encouraging conservation action is not an event, but a process that will require using specific skills over a long time. These skills are difficult to acquire without a long tenure of conservation personnel, and are easily lost through institutional restructuring and low level job-grading. The importance of retaining and skilling staff is often underestimated by conservation agencies.
  • A systematic and defensible conservation planning process (with 5-20 year goals) for a specific region at a cadastral scale is very useful to build consensus on common objectives. This will not only greatly assist in focusing expenditure and conservation action, but is a ready means of determining capacity needs to meet the local challenges.

  • Securing land for conservation requires a focused approach. The new conservation objective of securing biodiversity through landowners and/or managers (i.e. stewards) retaining legal ownership will not be met if personnel have many and divergent responsibilities. Those agencies mandated to achieve this new conservation aim must have specifically appointed and dedicated staff.

KZN Spacial Framework

The KwaZulu-Natal province, which is approximately 92 000 square km in extent (7.6% of South Africa) has two World Heritage Sites and over 100 formal protected areas. It also forms the central component of the Maputoland – Pondoland – Albany hotspot as identified by Conservation International. However, less than 47% of the more than 4000 species found here, not to mention the diverse landscapes and vegetation types are conserved in the current system of protected areas. Most of these areas are being rapidly transformed or degraded at an alarming rate, as the province has a high rainfall and extensive well-drained deep soils, ideal for intensive agriculture. Many of these areas need to be secured in the short term if we are to meet our obligations of maintaining a representative sample of the diversity of life or to sustain ecosystem functioning that supplies critical ecosystem services to the people of the province. A further 1.4 million ha or 14.5% of the area of the province is required in order to ensure representative protection of the province’s biodiversity.

KZN Biodiversity Spatial Framework

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in partnership with the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the KZN Planning Commission embarked on the development of a province wide conservation plan in 2002. The express aim of this plan was to contribute to the Municipal planning process, highlight critically important biodiversity assets in the Province, provide a focus for protected area managers and provide a rational and transparent framework for evaluating the impact of proposed developments, on biodiversity. In addition it aims to preserve an acceptable and productive environment for all the people of KZN. The primary product of the planning process is a map showing those parts of the province where conservation action is required to prevent further loss and degradation of critical biodiversity.


South Africa, like many other developing counties, is becoming increasingly focused on improving the economic and social wellbeing of its citizens. Development is seen as a way of achieving this, and the resultant drive to develop can lead to transformation of the natural environment and an ever increasing pressure on natural resources, and in particular biodiversity. This pressure arises from two domains. The first is the consumptive use of biodiversity and the second is the competition for physical space between development (landscape transformation), and the protection of biodiversity and its services to humanity.

The National Environmental Management Act expands on the trusteeship of biodiversity in its principles, the most important being – ‘The environment is held in public trust for the people, the beneficial use of environmental resources must serve the public interest and the environment must be protected as the people's common heritage’. This principle establishes a balance between use and protection. The use of the natural environment must be in favour of all South Africans and should not benefit a select few to the detriment of others. Protection on the other hand is embraced because the use of biodiversity may result in some loss. Accordingly, components of biodiversity may require protection and this protection should be facilitated by the State as well as landowner / land users.

Thus, the KZN Nature Conservation Board, as the authority and organ of state in KZN to direct the management of the natural environment (including biodiversity) inside and outside protected areas is the statutory body to promote the conservation of biodiversity within KwaZulu-Natal – in partnership with other organs of state, private and communal landowners and civil society. It is thus incumbent on the Board, in collaboration with these partners, to oversee/guide the States trusteeship of biodiversity.

Although not all facets of biodiversity may be set aside for protection as argued above, it is recognized that the natural environment forms the platform for economic development (people’s livelihoods) of South Africa. In order to ensure the integration into land-use planning and decision making, the implementation of the legal / policy framework for biodiversity conservation must be coordinated between all relevant organs of state, NGOs, and the communal and private sectors. This framework also forms the norm and standard for provincial and municipal environmental conservation plans. However, before implementation of this framework can take place, the national biodiversity framework (National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP)) and hence the provincial conservation plan (KZN Biodiversity Conservation Spatial Framework – see separate page section), must ‘identify priority areas for conservation action and the establishment of protected areas. Thus it is incumbent on the Board to set in place a provincial biodiversity plan within which representative samples of the natural environment are set aside for protection.

The type of protection that can be afforded to the various representative areas/parts of biodiversity in the province is primarily centred on Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife establishing a partnership with the landowner. Here the conservation of the natural environment is entrusted to the landowner or owners, with the conservation agency playing an oversight function, as it is mandated to do so. It is this partnership that forms the foundation of the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, being used as a tool in securing priority areas as identified in the KZN Biodiversity Conservation Spatial Framework.

Legislation is the fundamental building block of conservation action, and new environmental legislation in South Africa provides the platform to ensure long-term security for and encourage stewardship of biodiversity and natural resources. Legislation by itself, however, is an insufficient and incomplete tool, and needs to be supplemented by additional actions, regulations and implementation policies.

The BSSA is an initiative of DEAT which has the ability to bring life to the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004) as well as to the Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003). The sections which follow will elaborate more on the role which these two pieces of legislation have played during the first phase of the development of the BSSA in 2006/2007.

The Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004)

The Biodiversity Act is the logical consequence of South Africa’s ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity (the CBD) signed at the Rio Summit under the auspices of UNEP in 1992. The primary focus of the CBD is the conservation of biodiversity and the equitable distribution of its benefits, with a refreshing new holistic and integrated approach, rather than a species-based approach to the conservation and sustainable utilisation of natural resources.

Though the Biodiversity Act, for the first time in South Africa we have dedicated planning instruments to cover various aspects of biodiversity. A three-tier hierarchy of plans is catered for, providing for both spatial and strategic management planning. The biodiversity planning regime is a useful tool for prioritising areas, defending conservation action and direct investment of future resources. The planning process could be streamlined by producing draft plan pro-formas, training people in their use, and minimising time and production costs.

Biodiversity Management Agreements (BMAs)

The Act caters for Biodiversity Management Agreements (BMA) to implement any Biodiversity Management Plan. This is intended to formalise the emerging relationships between government and landowners and communities, but remains an adaptable and flexible option. To ensure uniformity in these agreements, only the Minister is allowed to enter into them, and not an MEC.

This conservation option may very well be a vital means of making landowners eligible to receive assistance from government for land management in future. This assistance could be in the form of alien clearing investment from Working from Water, dedicated extension support from a conservation agency, or the ability to deduct land management expenses from income tax. A BMA should flow directly from a Biodiversity Management Plan. Because a landowner must consent to a BMA, there is an obvious element of willing compliance.

If these agreements become the option of choice for landowners or provincial agencies, entering into them will become a significant administrative load on the Minister. Any delay or blockage in the process will frustrate the landowners and agencies trying to promote action at a site level. Frustration is a significant cause of inaction and lost opportunity. The Minister will have to delegate this function to willing and able (i.e. resourced) MECs. A pro-forma has been developed for these agreements (containing the most likely components of any such agreement) to simplify their use and adoption.

The Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003)

Protected areas are a fundamental tool for achieving biodiversity objectives, providing greater security for conservation-worthy land than the agreements or land use limitations contained in the Biodiversity Act. The Protected Areas (PA) Act creates a four-tier framework and management system for all protected areas in SA (for the first time), as well as establishing the SA National Parks as a statutory board. The framework is a sensible administrative response to the global proliferation of protected area categories and the country will benefit greatly from the increased cohesion and understanding of protected areas and their roles in the landscape.

Categories of protected area in the Act

Table 1: A brief summary of the types of protected areas in the Protected Areas Act (No. 57 of 2003)

Special Nature ReserveMinisterParliamentHighestState
National ParkMinisterParliamentHighOrgan of state
Privateland in a National ParkMinisterMinisterHighOrgan of state, by agreement with landowner
Nature ReserveMinister or MECProvincial legislatureHighOrgan of state, by agreement with landowner
Privateland in a Nature ReserveMinister or MECMinister or MECHighAny suitable person, organisation or organ of state
Protected EnvironmentMinister or MECMinister or MECAs above (including the landowner)Any suitable person, organisation or organ of state

New developments in the Act affect private communities and private landowners in the following ways:
  • Any land (private, communal, municipal or state-owned) can be declared as a protected area. This land does not have to be adjacent to an existing statutory protected area. An isolated property can be declared as a protected area if this is warranted by its biodiversity value.

  • Sustainable utilisation of biodiversity is encouraged in most protected areas.

  • Any declaration of private or communal land as a protected area must be made, after consultation, with the consent of the owner and/or lawful occupiers.

  • The requirement for consent implies a serious need to find incentives for people to agree voluntarily to the declaration of their land as a protected area.

Important legislation to be aware of:-
  • The Constitution of South Africa (Act No. 108 of 1996)

  • KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Management Act (Act No. 9 of 1997)

  • Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (No 43 of 1983)

  • Forest Act (No 122 of 1984)

  • National Environment Management Act (No 107 of 1998)

  • National Environment Management Act: Biodiversity Act (No 10 of 2004)

  • National Environment Management Act: Protected Areas Act (No 57 of 2003)

  • National Forests Act (No 84 of 1998)

  • Traditional Healers Act (Act No. 10 of 2004).

  • National Water Act (No 36 of 1998)

  • National Veld and Forest Fire Act (No 101 of 1998)

  • National Heritage Resources Act (Act No. 25 of 1999);

  • Local Government: Municipal Systems Act (Act No. 32 of 2000).
  • Pilot Programme

    The KwaZulu-Natal Biodiversity Stewardship Programme (KZN BSP) has adopted a piloting approach in its first years of operations. During this period, the programme will focus on eight pilot sites, of differing tenures and land-uses, with a view of developing the methodology of the programme and learning about issues relating to the implementation of stewardship. After the pilot phase is complete, the programme will be extended more broadly across the province.

    Potential stewardship sites from across the province were identified through: 1) requests at Regional Operations Committees (ROC) for information on potential sites from the three regions, and 2) interviews with a subset of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNW) officials involved with stewardship related activities. A total of 171 sites were identified as potential pilot sites. These included Sites of Conservation Significance (SoCS), Natural Heritage Sites (NHS), Private Nature Reserves, Conservancies, Community Conservation Areas (CCA’s), land set aside to offset biodiversity loss to development and land required to be proclaimed as a condition of Records of Decisions (RoD’s).

    The following criteria for site selection were identified by the KZN BSP unit:
  • Conservation value of the property – the KZN BSP must contribute to the achievement of biodiversity conservation targets and must secure areas that are important for conservation. Sites with high conservation significance should thus be prioritized over sites with low conservation significance.

  • Landowner’s willingness to participate in the KZN BSP – given the short duration of the pilot phase of the KZN BSP, it is important for the programme to initially work with willing landowners. The transaction costs associated with obtaining stewardship agreements from willing landowners are likely to be far lower than those associated with unwilling landowners. As the programme matures, and after its methodology has been developed and incentives have been secured, we may seek to find ways to incorporate land owned by less-willing landowners.

  • The urgency for the KZN BSP to engage with the site – this criterion prioritizes sites where early engagement by the programme is crucial for success (e.g. sites where biodiversity may be lost without urgent intervention should be prioritized over sites where the biodiversity is not threatened. Additionally, sites where landowners expectations have been raised, and there is a danger of their interest waning, should be prioritized over sites where the landowners’ expectations have not been raised)

  • The presence or absence of an external facilitator – an external facilitator (such as a consultant or involved NGO) may be able to assist the KZN BSP in the development of stewardship agreements and management plans. Sites with external facilitators should be prioritized over sites that do not have external facilitators.

  • The opinion of EKZNW officials on the suitability of sites as pilots – EKZNW officials may have knowledge of why certain sites are suitable / unsuitable as pilot sites for the programme. Such information may not be captured by the other criteria. Sites that EKZNW officials regard as good candidates for pilot sites should be prioritized over sites that EKZNW officials do not regard as good candidates for pilot sites.

  • The property size – it may be more efficient in terms of target achievement (i.e. amount of biodiversity secured in relation to transaction costs per site) to work with larger properties than smaller properties.
  • Identify pilot site categories (tenure and land-use categories) -

    In order for the KZN BSP to gain an understanding of implementing stewardship in varying contexts, the pilot sites should reflect an array of tenure and land-use categories. The KZN BSP unit identified the following pilot site categories:
  • Private land with conservation-compatible land-uses

  • Private agricultural land

  • Communal land

  • Forestry land

  • State-owned land

  • Land required to be proclaimed as a condition of Records of Decisions
  • Specific pilot sites were selected based on their biodiversity value (irreplaceability), landowner willingness, and their urgency for protection. A simple multi-criteria decision analysis model was developed to assist with the selection of the pilot site as indicated in the map below.


    The development of Stewardship agreements with landowners involves legal procedures, and significant commitment from the landowner and provincial conservation agency. Therefore, it is important to focus these efforts onto the most important biodiversity areas in the province, thereby contributing to meeting the national and provincial targets.

    It is important to be aware that Stewardship agreements are relevant for any land or tenure type, including:

  • Communal

  • Private (agriculture, game farms, etc)

  • State / municipal

  • Forestry land

  • Corporate

  • The procedure in implementing Biodiversity Stewardship involves 5 simple steps which must be followed:

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Q: If I sell my property, will the restrictions stipulated in the contract apply to the new owner?

    A: Yes, the same restrictions will apply.

    Q: Will I have to remove existing infrastructure if my property becomes a nature reserve?

    A: No, all existing infrastructure may remain.

    Q: Will EKZNW have unlimited access to my property if it becomes a nature reserve?

    A: No, but terms and conditions regarding access can be negotiated within the agreement.

    Q: Will the general public have unlimited access to my property if it becomes a nature reserve?

    A: No, you as the landowner determine the specific rules and access by the general public that you require.

    Q: Can I be assured that EKZNW can support the terms of the contract agreement in the future?

    A: Yes, EKZNW as party to the contract is legally obliged to honour the agreement.

    Q: Who will bear the legal costs for drawing up a stewardship agreement?

    A: This will be negotiated, but where possible, EKZNW will facilitate reduced costs.

    Q: What will the consequences be if I choose to terminate the co-operation agreement?

    A: You will be liable for the total cost of EKZNW’s management interventions up to the date of termination.

    Q: Is a conservation area applicable to an individual property, a collectively managed/multi-landowner area (e.g. conservancy), or both?

    A: Both. It can apply to a single property or a group of properties, like a conservancy

    Q: What do basic extension services include?

    A: General advice, support and assistance, as well as input into the drafting of management plans.

    Q: Will the declaration of my property prevent a land claims?

    A: No, in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994, should an area be under a claim it may not be proclaimed as a protected area until such claim has been resolved. The existence of land claim needs, therefore, to be verified with the Land Claims Commissioner.

    Q: Can I graze cattle in a protected area?

    A: Yes you may, as long as the stocking rate is determined for conservation purposes (as apposed to commercial stocking rates), using grazing as a grassland management tool.

    Q: Can I declare a portion of my property as a protected area?

    A: Yes, the stewardship mechanism allows an entire cadastre or a portion of a cadastre to be declared a protected area.