Systematic biodiversity planning forms the basis for achieving conservation goals in South Africa. Broadly speaking, there are two main strategies for ensuring that the geographic priority areas identified in systematic biodiversity plans remain in a well-managed natural state:

  • Strategy 1: Consolidation and expansion of the protected area network.
  • Strategy 2: Integrated management aimed at conservation of critical biodiversity areas outside the protected area network.

The protected area network, for various historical reasons, is biased towards certain ecosystems (such as savanna and mountain fynbos ecosystems) and does a poor job of protecting other ecosystems (such as succulent karoo, grasslands, fynbos lowlands, Nama-Karoo, almost all freshwater ecosystems, estuaries, and offshore marine ecosystems). This makes the second strategy important for ecosystems that are poorly protected by the protected area network. These ecosystems often occur in production landscapes where options for formal protection through the protected area network are reduced.

The Biodiversity Act introduced several new legal tools to assist in achieving the second strategy including:

  • Publishing bioregional plans.
  • Listing threatened or protected species.
  • Biodiversity management plans for ecosystems and species.
  • Alien invasive species regulations.

Systematic biodiversity planning is an important element in the implementation of several of these tools. It provides the basis for bioregional plans published in terms of the Biodiversity Act and for protected area expansion strategies (including the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy), and assists with the identification of threatened ecosystems.

Bioregional Plans

A bioregional plan is a spatial plan published in terms of the Biodiversity Act. It provides a map of critical biodiversity areas (both terrestrial and aquatic), and land- and resource-use guidelines for those critical biodiversity areas. Critical biodiversity areas are identified based on a systematic biodiversity plan, either a provincial spatial biodiversity plan or a fine-scale biodiversity plan.

The purpose of a bioregional plan is to inform land-use planning, environmental assessment and other authorizations (e.g. cultivation licences, mining licences, water licences). Critical biodiversity areas should remain in a natural or near-natural state with no further loss or degradation of natural habitat. A bioregional plan is the biodiversity sector’s input into multi-sectoral planning and assessment processes such as SDFs, EMFs, SEAs and EIAs. It should guide land-use planning and decision-making in all sectors whose decisions impact on biodiversity.

Bioregional plans must align with administrative boundaries in order to make them usable. They can be developed for district municipalities, groups of local municipalities, or metros. The format for bioregional plans as well as the process for publishing a bioregional plan is set out in the recently gazetted Guideline Regarding the Determination of Bioregions and the Preparation of and Publication of Bioregional Plans (Government Gazette No.32006, 16 March 2009).

In some provinces biodiversity sector plans have been developed which are the precursor to a published bioregional plan. These biodiversity sector plans do not have the legal weight of a bioregional plan but can be used in the interim until a bioregional plan has been published.

National Biodiversity Framework

The Biodiversity Act also requires the development of a National Biodiversity Framework (NBF) to provide a framework to co-ordinate and align the efforts of the many organisations and individuals involved in conserving and managing South Africa’s biodiversity, in support of sustainable development. The NBF is based on the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) and uses the same five strategic objectives as the NBSAP. The NBF has identified 33 priority actions to guide the work of the biodiversity sector for the next five years and provides targets for these priority actions.

Provincial spatial biodiversity plans and bioregional plans are both identified as priorities in the National Biodiversity Framework:

  • Priority action 16: Develop provincial spatial biodiversity plans in additional provinces, 2013 target: at least six provinces have spatial provincial biodiversity plans in place, with the necessary in-house capacity to maintain and update them.
  • Priority action 17: Publish bioregional plans in terms of the Biodiversity Act. 2013 target: at least seven bioregional plans have been published and are being used routinely to inform land-use planning and decision-making.

National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy

South Africa’s protected area network currently falls far short of sustaining biodiversity and ecological processes. The goal of the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy (NPAES) is to achieve cost effective protected area expansion for ecological sustainability and increased resilience to climate change. The NPAES highlights how to be more efficient and effective in allocating the scarce resources available for protected area expansion. It sets targets for protected area expansion, provides maps of the most important areas for protected area expansion, and makes recommendations on mechanisms for protected area expansion.

Provincial spatial biodiversity plans provide the basis for the development of provincial protected area expansion strategies. These provincial spatial biodiversity plans are also crucial for provinces wanting to develop stewardship programmes as they guide the identification of stewardship sites.