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Stewardship agreements secure natural bounty

Little Karoo stewardship project shows the way forward for conservation.

Private landowners have joined hands with WWF South Africa and CapeNature to help conserve the sensitive Succulent Karoo vegetation of the Little Karoo and Breede River Valley through a range of stewardship agreements.

The first phase of a three-year WWF South Africa/CapeNature pilot project, which was completed in June this year, has brought an additional 45 615 hectares of land into conservation after 23 landowners agreed to enter into stewardship agreements to better manage their land either as farmland or fully fledged nature reserves.

The stewardship project focused on land in the Little Karoo and Breede River Valley close to some of the Western Cape’s most beautiful provincial reserves, ranging from Anysberg Nature Reserve near Ladismith to the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve near McGregor.

At a low estimate of R2000 per hectare, it would have cost some R90 million to buy this much land for conservation – but the first phase of this stewardship project has cost less than R5 million and allowed landowners to retain ownership. The project is being funded by the WWF-administered Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust.

Among the threats to this region are unsustainable agricultural activities, soil erosion and plant poaching.

The stewardship project, which initially targeted only eight sites in the Little Karoo and four in the Breede River Valley,  has now far exceeded its original ambition and is entering a second phase which will look more closely at how best to help stewardship landowners manage the most sensitive areas of their land.

Ultimately, the objective is to create a network of land under conservation that is still available to local communities for economic activities such as farming or tourism. Phase two will include the finalisation of Protected Area Management Plans and proclamations of protected areas.

Jan Coetzee, WWF-SA programme manager for the Succulent Karoo, commented:  “It is clear that land stewardship is an extremely efficient and cost effective means of achieving conservation security in a large landscape such as the Little Karoo, especially if you factor in the long-term costs of land management.  

“Not only is stewardship more cost effective  than trying to raise funds to buy conservation-worthy land, but in the long run we are ensuring a generation of upskilled, inspired and committed landowners who see, and feel, the economic benefits of investing in the environment.’’

Garth Mortimer, Senior Manager Protected Area Expansion and Stewardship with CapeNature, said: “The funding for this project enabled CapeNature to provide much-needed advice and expertise on conservation and land extension issues to landowners eager to conserve biodiversity on their land. This resulted in agreements with landowners with clear benefits for biodiversity.”

The project wins include:
  • The protection of important populations of threatened succulent plants, such as the Critically Endangered bababoudjie (Gibbaeum nebrownii)and tongblaarvygie (Glottiphyllum cruciatum).
  • The conservation of habitat for a range of animal species, such as leopard and aardwolf.
  • Reducing pressure on natural areas by providing eco-friendly alternatives, such as supplying Wonderbags to a group of local women near De Rust to lessen the need for firewood.
  • Providing information to landowners on issues such as alien plant control and erosion repair.
  • Expanding protected areas and building critically important biodiversity corridors.
More about stewardship agreements

The three categories of stewardship agreements that landowners signed up for include:
  • Biodiversity Partnership Agreements (9) which are voluntary but not legally binding
  • Biodiversity Agreements (6) which are a contract between landowner and CapeNature
  • Contract Nature Reserves (8) which are declared in terms of the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act and have the same status as a provincial nature reserves

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