Celebrating 10 years of stewardship in the Succulent Karoo

20 December 2016

mediumLocated in and around the towns of Calvinia and Nieuwoudtville, the Hantam–Tanqua–Roggeveld is one of the nine Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) priority areas, and encompasses both the Bokkeveld and Roggeveld escarpments.

The Hantam–Tanqua–Roggeveld, together with four other SKEP priority areas, falls within the Namakwa District of the Northern Cape Province. It is here where biodiversity stewardship in the Province commenced in October 2005. The project ‘Building Stewardship Capacity in the Bokkeveld’ was catalysed as part of the first phase of implementing the SKEP strategy. 

This project subsequently became known as the Bokkeveld Stewardship Project (BSP), and at its core is the promotion of a collaborative and multi-stakeholder stewardship programme, which interacts with government departments, landowners and non-government organisations to promote the legal protection of critical biodiversity areas. The BSP’s main aims were making biodiversity stewardship a functional programme in the Northern Cape and using the Bokkeveld Plateau as a pilot site for biodiversity stewardship. Before the onset of this project there was no conservation extension service, and no awareness-raising about biodiversity matters with commercial farmers in the area.

Fast forward to 2016 and there are now 13 stewardship sites that form part of the Bokkeveld conservation network, including four new nature reserves, which were gazetted by 2013. The Goegap and Oorlogskloof provincial nature reserves were also expanded with assistance from the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust (LHSKT).

Other stewardship highlights include funding obtained from the LHSKT to develop a fine scale vegetation map and comprehensive species list for the Akkerendam Nature Reserve; a Bokkeveld Wetland Assessment and Catchment Action Plan (compiled in 2009), the gazetting of a species management plan for the Critically Endangered Clanwilliam Sandfish and the creation of the Cape Critical Rivers Project, a collaboration between the DENC, the EWT and CapeNature.  

Partnering for conservation has been key and the province has benefited tremendously from the support of a vibrant and collaborative institutional network of SKEP partners. The Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust (LHSKT) in particular has invested in and is promoting stewardship and SKEP partnership activities in the form of a DENC/LHSKT-funded stewardship project, a Wilderness Foundation / LHSKT stewardship and skills development project, as well as the SKEP Interim Steering Committee with the purpose of mobilising support for its work and enabling the remaining implementation of the SKEP 20 Year Strategy.

Key lessons learnt over the years include:

  • A willingness to conserve by landowners does not necessarily translate into a commitment.
  • Legal ownership and title deed diagrams should be verified up front, before time and energy is expended on a site.
  • Potential biodiversity stewardship sites which appear to be ’easy’ to sign up and manage in the short term, may present challenges and issues in the medium to long term .
  • Establish a few pilot stewardship sites with willing landowners in a defined area. This demonstrates the process for less willing landowners to participate, and also allows the opportunity to test the process in the relevant conservation agency and to iron out any issues before finalising pro-formas
  • Have a guideline in place that determines when you walk away from negotiations as the conservation agency.

A Northern Cape Stewardship Forum (NCSF) was initiated by the BSP in 2006 to co-ordinate efforts and to encourage collaboration with the other stakeholders in the province that are also doing stewardship work with landowners. Meetings are held quarterly with the purpose of aligning priorities, sharing information and engaging in problem-solving between the different projects. 

DENC has displayed commitment to stewardship through the creation of a stewardship programme and the appointment of permanent stewardship staff for the Bokkeveld and Springbok areas, a significant achievement that builds on the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) investment in the project, embedding the work locally with local funding.

The stewardship facilitators maintain relationships with the landowners to ensure that the stewardship agreements are finalised and that conservation projects take place in the project areas. DENC has committed to ensuring that all processes that are necessary for the declaration of the properties will be completed once the landowners have signed the legal agreements.

Government is unable to purchase enough sites with high biodiversity value and, with more than 80% of biodiversity located on privately owned land, landowner participation in conservation efforts is crucial to conservation. The biodiversity stewardship model provides a new cost-effective way for government to fulfil its mandate in partnership with civil society by entering into contractual agreements with landowners. These landowners then commit to conserving and managing the biodiversity on their land.

The main challenge continues to be developing an appropriate suite of incentives. Formally conserved areas are not adequate to conserve critically important biodiversity areas and lack connectivity with one another. Biodiversity stewardship creates a mechanism for establishing and expanding protected areas and creating connectivity across landscapes, thereby securing ecological corridors through partnerships with communal and private landowners. Incentives in exchange for land use restrictions therefore form an important part of the stewardship model.

For more information contact Mandy Schumann: bokkeveld@gmail.com

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