We may not be able to save the world, but those of us privileged to live in the Dargle are in the fortunate position that through conserving our local environment and the crucial ecosystem services that it sustains, we make a huge difference on a regional level. The biodiversity of our indigenous grasslands, forests and wetlands is important in maintaining the natural balance of the system and the Consevancy has engaged in a project to establish a provincial nature reserve on private land, aiming to encourage wise resource use, better custodianship and build cooperation across property boundaries.
Working closely with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife's (EKZNW) Biodiversity Stewardship Programme the Dargle Conservancy embarked on an ambitious plan in 2008 to have a substantial area of the Dargle and Lidgetton Valleys as far as Balgowan, encompassing indigenous forests and moist mist-belt grasslands, formally proclaimed as a provincial nature reserve, equal in status to the provinces flagship Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Park.
In a process involving more than 20 different landowners, over 30 title deeds and many hours of planning and meetings, proposals were completed and all the interested and affected parties signed a declaration of intent to allow EKZNW to formally engage in the process of on-site inspections and biodiversity evaluation to determine the suitability of the area for formal nature reserve status. Three days were set aside for a team of specialists appointed by EKZNW to carry out onsite inspections. Landowners and the conservancy members waited with baited breath as this specialist team drafted their recommendation to be presented to the Executive and Board of EKZNW. At the Annual General Meeting of the Dargle Conservancy in May 2008 Kevin McCann, who heads up the EKZNW Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, announced to the general membership that within the total private landowner area of 6500ha (based on farm boundaries) of the Dargle and Lidgetton Valleys 3400ha has been approved as being suitable for formal proclamation as a contiguous provincial nature reserve. This is the largest area under consideration at present through the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. This lead to the completion of the legal phase where management for the various biomes and landscapes are discussed with ALL affected landowners and formal management plans drafted. Simultaneously, we have a team working on the wording of a generic legal contract which will be negotiated and signed.
Once complete, the nature reserve (which will now be almost 2000ha in extent) will be surveyed and endorsed accordingly on each affected property title deed. The nature reserve will be 'private' which means that the landowner has complete control over public access. Land owners will form a joint management forum which will be the responsible body for the management of the reserve in accordance with the accepted plans. All future developments within the reserve will be regulated in terms of the contract. In addition to limited range of fiscal and material benefits, landowners will be encouraged to generate an additional income (over and above their livestock grazing) from the reserve through ecotourism and other sustainable utilization. In time, the schedule of benefits will increase through active engagement by EKZNW with government, local and international conservation NGO's.
The Map below shows the area that has been approved by EKZNW as being suitable for full Nature Reserve status. You can open a larger image in a new window by clicking on the map.
For the latest news on the development of the reserve click here to go to an article on the Midlands Conservancies Forum blogsite.
South Africa has much valuable biodiversity outside of protected areas, but this is disappearing at an alarming rate. It has been recognised that in order to effectively conserve South Africa's biodiversity, conservation efforts must focus outside of formerly protected reserves, considering 80% of the country's most scarce and threatened habitats are privately owned. It is clearly not possible for government to purchase all the land identified as high priority in terms of habitat or threatened ecosystems to add it to our system of state-owned protected areas. This requires a new approach to conservation extension and a shift away from reactive extension (i.e. responding to problems and enforcing regulations and permitting procedures) to proactive extension (i.e. engaging with a landowner before a problem is created) where stewardship is encouraged. Biodiversity Stewardship provides a new cost-effective way for government to carry out its existing conservation mandate, by getting landowners to commit to conserving and managing the biodiversity on their own land.
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 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.
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.
You can learn more about the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme by clicking here.
For any additional information please click here to contact us.