I am sure we are all ready to bid farewell to 2020, which will notoriously be known as the year that the country and the world at large was hit with the covid-19 pandemic. The onset of the pandemic in the South Africa came just as the BLU project entered its last year of implementation, and its impact has been strongly felt and hindered partner institutions’ ability to implement some project activities.

However 2020, is also the year where SANBI and its partners achieved, exceeded and made great strides towards achieving the project’s objective and end of project targets. In the first quarter of this year, SANBI, DEFF, EKZNW and WWF-SA successfully hosted the Land Reform and Biodiversity Stewardship Learning Exchange under the theme ‘reshaping rural development through the biodiversity economy’, in KwaZulu Natal.

An estimated 200 people were in attendance, with more than 80% of the attendees being community representatives. The event provided a platform for community member from various Community Property Associations (CPAs) to share their stories of success and challenges and allowed for the exchange of knowledge and advice as well as capacity building.  This will go down as one of the most memorable learning exchanges ever!

A number of national policy pieces of work were concluded this year. This resulted in the gazetting for implementation of the Terrestrial and Aquatic Biodiversity protocols as well as the Terrestrial Plant Species and Terrestrial Animal Species protocols for integration into DEFF’s national online EIA screening tool. In addition, a Species Environmental Assessment Guideline, a first for South Africa, was developed and finalised in October 2020 in support of the implementation of the species protocols.

We also saw the updates to the 2018 Biodiversity stewardship Guideline being finalised and endorsed for implementation by the Working Group 1, and printed for dissemination. The Guideline provides a comprehensive approach to implementing biodiversity stewardship across the country and it intends to serve as a best practice implementation guide for the community of practice.

Declaration of hectares under biodiversity stewardship is one of the areas of work that has seen a number of challenges. Through the hard work of partners over the past five years, we finally saw the intention to declare being published for the expansion of the iconic Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve by an additional 20 157 hectares.

This is the culmination of many years of work that has been driven by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and ably supported by the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve. The project is also making strides with declarations in the KwaZulu Natal and in other landscapes where the project is being implemented.

Alignment has been achieved between the sustainable financing deliverables of the project and South Africa’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) finance solutions.  Biodiversity Stewardship now plays a role in 4 of the 8 BIOFIN finance solutions and has been mainstreamed within the biodiversity finance strategy for South Africa. Biodiversity Stewardship has moved beyond just being a protected area expansion tool to supporting the development and environmental objectives of the country.

The project undertook a strategic review of the Land Reform and Biodiversity Stewardship Initiative (LRBSI). The outcomes of the review will guide the various conversations that need to be had within the LRBSI going forward. This includes the collation of a National database of land reform and biodiversity stewardship sites including community conservation stewardship sites, the roles and responsibilities of the tripartite partners and inclusivity through a possible name change.

The amazing work being done by our partners in DEA&DP’s Directorate: Environmental Law Enforcement was recognized at Enviropaedia’s 2020 Eco-Logic Awards, where Phil McLean scooped gold in the Eco-Warrior category and the team, which includes Derryn Lendrum, Tashreeqah Sadan, Leigh Kelly and Phil McLean, under the strategic leadership of Nithzaam Albertyn, was awarded silver in the Biodiversity category.

The project and its partners also successfully implemented a number of Ecological Infrastructure Challenge Fund (EICF) projects. These include the Donga Gabion Rehabilitation project in Bushbuckridge which rehabilitated damage caused by erosion, and in turn improved the status and functioning of the freshwater ecosystem, improved water quality and enhanced public safety through the installation of disaster risk preventative infrastructure.

Two EICF projects in the Cape Winelands District, namely the Breedekloof Wine and Tourism as well as the Witzenberg Local Municipality’s alien clearing projects were also successfully completed during this year with the support of the Table Mountain Fund.

The allocation of a Presidential Employment Stimulus Package to SANBI, with some funding being allocated to the project is another major achievement. Funds from the package enabled the employment of young unemployed graduates from around the country to be employed under SANBI’s Research Assistants Programme. A total of 11 Research Assistants have been or are in the process of being appointed to support the work of the project; some being placed with partner organisations project doing Biodiversity Stewardship related activities while others will work directly with SANBI.

We also had the opportunity to share the project’s mainstreaming work national and international platforms. More notably SANBI was invited by the Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences to share biodiversity mainstreaming lessons with our fellow African counterparts at a Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) Project Formulation Workshop in Uganda in February 2020.

This year we also finalised a suite of short films, which was a key deliverable of the BLU project’s communications strategy.  A total of five short films were developed that tells the story of (1) the CPAs representing villages situated along the Mpumalanga escarpment who chose to have their land included in the iconic Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, (2) the journey of an Environmental Officer seconded to DARDLEA and her journey as a young professional to becoming an Environmental Officer, (3) the importance and benefits of having botanical expertise involved in the undertaking of enforcement activities within the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning. The fourth and fifth short films focuses on the EICF projects. This is the rehabilitation of dongas at Mkhululine River that was implemented by Ehlanzeni District Municipality and the Bushbuckridge Local Municipality, and the Mthinzima wetland stream rehabilitation EICF project that shows how EI supports built infrastructure in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality.

Throughout the project, partners undertook a number of capacity building interventions as part of the project’s mainstreaming efforts. The Environmental Management team developed an Environmental Impact Assessment Training Course, titled ‘Biodiversity for Sustainable Development’ and training was undertaken with partners at the start of 2020. The roll out of the training was impacted by covid-19 and the consequent lockdown on travel restrictions.

The recently held ‘Partnerships for Sustainable Landscapes’ dialogue is one of the biggest highlights for the BLU project. All the hard work that you, implementing partners of the project and the team have been doing was showcased. The response and interest from attendees was overwhelmingly positive – a testament to the amazing work that you have been doing amidst challenging circumstances.

These are just some of the highlights but there are so much more that we have achieved, together in this project such as the intangibles – quality of relationships and spaces for engagement – but we will need an additional few pages just to touch on these.

So, as we end 2020 and reflect on the year, we hope that this end of year message will be a mirror reflecting our contribution and achievements to our communities, our landscapes, the sector and the development agenda of the country and that the pandemic will not be all that we remember of 2020.

We salute you biodiversity warrior, for your invaluable contribution! Have a good break over this holiday period and stay safe.

Biodiversity and Land Use project

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