The Kruger National Park, private nature reserves, rural and peri-urban communities and the agricultural sector in the Lowveld all rely on the great Drakensberg Escarpment where grasslands, forests and wetlands form the headwaters of the rivers that flow through the K2C Biosphere region. The escarpment is also one of the most biodiverse parts of the country. We need to work to protect and better manage these critical catchments that form the foundation of the thriving tourism and agricultural sectors. Sectors that are intrinsically linked to the livelihoods of the people in the landscape and biodiversity stewardship is an important tool identified by the K2C to achieve this.

Biodiversity stewardship is an approach to secure land in biodiversity priority areas through entering into agreements with private and communal landowners. All this is done through the framework of the National Environment Protected Areas Act (NEMPA). Biodiversity Stewardship has been developed in South Africa by the South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) with a number of NGO partners. Biodiversity stewardship is recognised as a critical tool for South Africa to achieve its national protected area targets as set out in the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy. South Africa is also a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Aichi Targets. In terms of Aichi Targets South Africa has committed to increasing the protected area surface in South Africa from 6.5 to 17%. For South Africa to achieve these targets through traditional land acquisition strategies would not be feasible and only by working with private and communal landowners can this be achieved. In fact, a recent business case for biodiversity stewardship has shown that it costs the state between 70 and 400 times less per hectare than land acquisition and 4 to 17 times less to manage the land per hectare than the cost to the state of managing a state-owned protected area itself. To date over 450 000 ha, have been declared through biodiversity stewardship programmes in South Africa. This illustrates the crucial role landowners can play if we are to achieve these targets.

In addition to the financial benefits of biodiversity stewardship it is a model that is particularly suited to working with landowners embedded in complex production landscapes that have multiple land users. This is illustrated by the range of biodiversity stewardship sites that range from communal, private and corporate owned land in South Africa. These sites also vary from Nature Reserves declared in grassland catchment areas where cattle grazing is an important focus of the land-use to communally owned and managed nature reserves with tourism and hunting ventures. In KwaZulu-Natal almost half the land that is part of the biodiversity stewardship process is communally owned and biodiversity stewardship can form an important and complementary part of the land reform process.  A key strength of biodiversity stewardship is that it is not just about declaring land as another protected area but about working to capacitate landowners to firstly, understand the important role they play at a landscape scale in supporting important ecological process and secondly, at a local scale to conserve biodiversity. This knowledge base is then built on to help landowners through the process of formally declaring their land. Biodiversity stewardship is ultimately a tool that seeks to unlock the ecological, economic and social benefits that can be derived from healthy and resilient landscapes. Concepts that have important synergy with the K2C Biosphere Region that aims to promote solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity and its sustainable use.

For more information, please download the SANBI biodiversity stewardship information here.

For more info on the K2C Stewardship programme click here.

To become a part of the programme contact