A series of ten case studies that demonstrate how the wise management of biodiversity and ecological infrastructure contributes to economic and social development has recently been completed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). The case studies further warn of how poor environmental management can drain municipal coffers and increase the vulnerability of marginalised communities.

Case studies are an important tool for communicating to people how biodiversity is relevant in local situations. This is being put into practice through the Making the Case project that has used marketing and branding experts to help develop a communications strategy for the biodiversity sector. The work is part of ProEcoServ (Project for Ecosystem Services) – an international project currently operating in Chile, Tridad and Tobago, Vietnam and South Africa (including Lesotho), funded by the Global Environmental Fund through United Nations Environment Programme.

ProEcoServ aims to support the incorporation of ecological infrastructure and ecosystem services into national development planning and policy. In South Africa, the project is being implemented by the CSIR and SANBI. Part of SANBI’s role in ProEcoServ is to develop innovative communication tools aimed at supporting the work at the science-policy interface. These tools are aimed at communicating complex scientific concepts to non-technical audiences. These case studies offer good narrative evidence and aim to appeal to the audience on a personal level, facilitating emotional investment around the issues in question. These case studies serve as powerful evidence of biodiversity communication. They are based on practical cases that have occurred across the country.

These case studies are as follows:

Case Study 1: A stream ran through it: How a healthy river system cleans up effluent and improves water quality to the economically critical Midmar Dam.

Case Study 2: Water thieves: Dense growth of invasive alien plants dry out water catchments,  drops the water levels in rivers and increases fire risk. River banks and surrounding grasslands become erosion-prone, meaning the water that does make it into the river is sediment-laden and of poor quality.

Case Study 3: Dam busters: Investing in ecosystem restoration is an investment in built infrastructure, such as dams. Catchment restoration extends the life of existing dams, protects them in various ways, and makes them more efficient. It is also cheaper than building new dams.

Case Study 4: Washed away: Losing healthy catchments upriver can have devastating consequences for built infrastructure further downstream, due to flooding. The study calls for better decision-making in the management of landscapes.

Case Study 5: Scrubbing out waters clean: Wetlands scrub pollutants out of the water through various natural processes, making these systems invaluable allies when dealing with water contaminated by mining processes, industrial effluent, sewage, and agricultural runoff. But even the most robust wetland has a breaking point.

Case Study 6: Before & After: Cleaning up the Zaalklapspruit: Healthy wetlands are an invaluable ally which can clean water contaminated by mining, industrial effluent, sewage, and agricultural runoff. Documenting the restoration of the degraded Zaalklapspruit will show a healthy wetland getting back to work.

Case Study 7: A Flower in The Heart of Eden: Working together in water catchments, municipalities, farmers and the private sector can build a shared response to managing communal water supply. This can help them to better manage the negative impacts of climate change on the water resources on which they all depend.

Case Study 8: A Cup of Tea: Rooibos tea grows wild in the Fynbos of the Suid Bokkeveld, and small scale tea farmers harvest it for a living. Wild rooibos is more drought and heat tolerant than the kind of rooibos that commercial farmers have been cultivating for 80 years. Wild rooibos may yet be the answer to commercial farming of rooibos tea, and sustaining the associated jobs and downstream economic benefits, in a hotter, drier, climate-altered world. Nature has many such plants we depend on for medicine and agriculture.

Case Study 9: The Buzz Factor: Important fruit and seed crops in the winter rainfall area of the country depend on the pollination services of wild and domesticated honeybees. Since seasonal crops only produce flowers for some months of the year, these insects need to forage for food elsewhere at other times of the year. Wild veld gives them the flowers they need to feed on during some winter months, allowing hives to grow strong, produce ample honey, and so their workers can be ready for pollination season. This is important for the economy and agriculture-linked jobs.

Case Study 10: Push-pull For Sugar Pest Control Farmers: South African sugarcane farmers’ most serious pest is a small grey moth that lives naturally in wetlands on the East Coast. They’ve recently found that if they keep wetlands intact, the natural vegetation draws the pest out of the crop.

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