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Legal process that helped clear the path for KwaZulu-Natal reserves to access a tax break could help conservation areas across the country.
A year-long team effort on the part of NGOs WWF South Africa and Conservation Outcomes and legal firm Ndlovu de Villiers Attorneys has cleared the path for 26 areas in KwaZulu-Natal to be legally recognised as nature reserves.
The areas in question are all important for biodiversity and consist of a mixture of communal, private and state-owned land that are now receiving South Africa’s unique biodiversity tax incentive, section 37D of the Income Tax Act, to support their conservation efforts through Wilderness Foundation Africa’s Environmental Tax Services.
Although these reserves were originally gazetted, legal omissions in the title deed endorsement process meant that none had been properly registered at the National Deeds Office and so they were unable to access the biodiversity tax break. In addition, because of these omissions these properties were not secured for perpetuity as is required for nature reserve declarations in South Africa.
Now, through this collaborative effort, all the reserves have been provided with the correct legal paperwork needed for their title deed endorsements.
To date, 18 nature reserves have completed and finalised the declaration process. This amounts to some 21 600 ha and includes the popular Karkloof Nature Reserve, unique Red Desert Nature Reserve near Port Edward (billed as the world’s smallest desert), and the Ncandu Private Forest and Grassland Reserve – with another 50 000 ha pending finalisation.
The documents adopted for this declaration process are now available for use across all provinces in South Africa. These updated templates and guidelines will also make it easier for other nature reserves going through the same process to become legally compliant and to access the tax break which is an important tool for the financial sustainability of conservation efforts.
Kevin McCann, Director: Conservation Outcomes: “Securing new protected areas is a crucial response to addressing our biodiversity conservation challenges, and in order to involve private and communal landowners in this process, we need to get the legal process right and to incentivise their participation through innovative tax benefits. These aspects have been achieved through this strategic partnership of different organisations, and we thank WWF for catalysing this initiative.”
Angus Burns, Senior Manager: Land and Biodiversity Stewardship, WWF-SA: “WWF funded this process because we wanted to see these critically important areas secured for perpetuity and to unlock a range of fiscal benefits. This is a good example of a catalytic piece of work that will help to secure more conservation areas going forward.”
Candice Stevens, Head of Innovative Finance: Wilderness Foundation Africa: “We commend all those involved in securing the legal status of these areas which has assisted us to unlock access to the tax incentives encompassed in section 37D of the Income Tax Act. Section 37D is a critical finance solution providing South Africa’s protected areas and biodiversity stewardship efforts with financial sustainability.”
Samantha de Villiers, Partner: Ndlovu de Villiers Environmental Law Specialists: “The declaration and security of protected areas unexpectedly involves a variety of specialist input throughout the process to ensure consistency and compliance with the Act and to unlock benefits for landowners and stakeholders in the sector. Working together with a team of experts on these 26 sites has not only directly impacted the individual nature reserves that formed part of this project but the lessons learned have permeated into the broader national sector to greatly improve best practice and strengthen the legitimacy of these processes. The funding from WWF created strategic and robust partnerships between specialists in the sector that will continue to benefit the security of important biodiversity resources in the future. We thank all our partners for their hard work and perseverance and, in particular, recognise the role of WWF in unlocking this initiative.”