Conservation in the 21st Century - Is it needed?

Since I am currently completing my PhD focusing on Grassland conservation, I have decided to focus the next series of our newsletter on this subject. My thesis is titled “Identifying a grassland national park to contribute towards achieving South Africa’s conservation goal.” For many the people this would immediately raise some of the following questions: “What is SA’s conservation goal; why does SA have a conservation goal; why is it necessary to conserve grasslands to achieve this goal?”

The value of conservation is a much disputed issue. Obviously the monetary value is debatable when land can be used for so many more profitable exercises, especially in a time when the issue of land ownership and land value is such a contentious one. One of the things that caught my attention while doing research on this matter was Section 80 of NEMPAA (National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003 – Act No. 57 of 2003). This Section refers to the acquisition of land by the State as follows: “(1) The Minister, acting with the concurrence of the Cabinet member responsible for land affairs, may acquire land, or any right in or to land, which has been or is proposed t

o be declared as or included in a national protected area, by: (a) purchasing the land or right; (b) exchanging the land or right for other land or rights; or (c) expropriating the land or right in accordance with the Expropriation Act, 1975 (Act No. 63 of 1975), and subject to section 25 of the Constitution, if no agreement is reached with the owner of the land or the holder of the right in or to the land.” Why would the acquisition of land for conservation be of such importance that expropriation is written into the legislation?

Over the next few months I will give you a summary of South Africa’s conservation goals and how they were established. Then we will assess the purpose of conservation, if any, as understood in general and finally have a look at the future of conservation and how it can be applied in the modern economy.

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity South Africa is considered as one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. Data collected by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) show that SA occupies approximately 2% of the world’s land surface area while being home to *6-10% of the world plant species, *5-7% of reptile species, 8% of bird species and 6% of mammal species. It is also important to note from this data that about half of our plant species are endemic to SA, meaning it does not occur in any other country. Even though National Land Cover data from 2000 show that 86% of the terrestrial surface area remains in a natural state (regardless of quality), it was shown in 2004 that only about 6.5% of this is formally protected. At the same time National Red List assessments of the status of South Africa’s species indicated that 10% of birds and frogs, 20% of mammals and 13% of plants are threatened.

(*data from different publications give varying percentages within this range)

One major question that I would like to ask is the following: Does an area need to be formally protected to be conserved in practice? At the flip-side of the coin we can also ask: Are all formally protected areas contributing to practical conservation.

I invite you to join me over the next few months as I intend to explore this issue and many related side-issues in order to ultimately come up with a “modern” view on conservation that is practical and applicable to the economic climate in the 21st century.

#Conservation #Grassland

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