You will all have been approached by a member of the interim committee or a neighbour, received an email or an sms in the last month – and perhaps even more than once.
This is as we bump-up against a self-imposed deadline to deliver signed Biodiversity Agreements to the Province. These agreements are intended as a “stepping stone” towards our end vision. We will apply to the Province to become a formally protected area under legislation. Individual landowners will agree to either be a formal Nature Reserve or a Protected Environment. Both fall under the management of an elected Management Authority, and that authority will be tasked with ensuring conservation objectives are met.
Who sets the objectives? What are the restrictions? What will happen to our land? How can we trust the State to do the right thing? These are some of the many questions we have fielded in the last while.
So, one at a time.
Why would we want to do this?
To secure the land use in the area permanently. With that comes certainty, which is good for how we invest our resources, and for the value of our land. But it is also about protecting some of the most threatened living things. The grasslands are the least protected, but highly diverse biomes in South Africa. And here we have no less than three threatened ecosystem which have been identified by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in need of protection.
What will a conservation ethic do to our rights on our own land?
There are restrictions, most of which are quite sensible and probably what you do anyway. However, the process allows for you to decide what part of your property is your “private” area, and there you can still do some of things which are restricted elsewhere.
What are the restrictions?
Any activity that has a negative impact on achieving the purpose and objectives we collectively decide we wish to pursue
Dumping of refuse, rubble or other waste
Introduction of alien invasive plants
Introduction of non-indigenous species (with the provision that there can be an authorization for this to happen)
Removal or destruction of indigenous flora (except for seed collection for restoration projects, with prior authorisation or incompliance with the Management Plan – so that may include in the reduction of fire risk to personal property)
Removal or destruction of any indigenous fauna (except as may be required and authorized to manage game)
Removal of any wood products. This excludes alien vegetation.
Use of off-road vehicles unless their use is consistent with the purpose and objectives, and in compliance with the Management Plan (so that plan may designate areas)
Public access unless by agreement or with permission
Division of land (note: the Local Authority already discourages divsion, and will only consider in extraordinary circumstances an application to divide)
And there may be other rules which we may choice to impose on ourselves collectively, by region and by consensus.
What are the obligations? What am I expected to do?
In short, implement a Management Plan, which has specific objectives. Those objectives are agreed to by all, and then approved by the State.
What has been proposed at this point, is that we are obliged to do the two things our law needs us to do anyway – invasive alien control, and fire management. In principle, you should not be spending any more than you ought to be anyway.
You are required to make it possible to meet the obligations, not do anything to obstruct the objectives in the plan from being reached. You can - if you wish - be a fairly passive participant, paying some fee and allowing others to “do the doing”. You should ensure that things not allowed, do not happen.
What will it cost me?
We hope, less than at the moment. If we do the two things required by law in a more organised, collective way, individually, we should save money. And as an Not-for-proft, we will also be able to raise funds for a “collective pot” and put that to projects and requirements. That will not happen straight away, but will help.
Who decides what is done where?
We are proposing that smaller areas work closely together. Not farms, but groups of landowners who have similar landscape and easy access to each other. At this level, there can be sensible decisions about local spending, local planning, all of which aligns with the management plan for the region. We are also proposing that these local areas elect a representative to the management authority that will be their voice in matters administration and governance.
When do I get to have a say?
We will be calling a general meeting of all participant in May (after the April holidays and the demands those bring!) At this meeting, you will be asked to vote on a number of items. You will be told of these soon, allowing enough time for research, questions, and consideration.
The role of the State
Landowners have mixed and strong feelings about the role of the State. We have taken the principle decision of not being reliant on the State as far as is possible. It is only the State that can proclaim a Nature Reserve, though that can be the MEC of the Province, or the Minister of Environmental Affairs. The State does have incentives in places, and public works programmes will be very useful to the conservation effort.
What troubles people more, is the possibility of the State interfering on their land. The role of the State is to audit the implementation of the Management Plan once a year. The officials have to make an appointment to come onto your land, but you may not refuse the audit permission.
The State is also going to liaise with the management authority, and not with individual land owners on the conservation objectives and progress.
It is important to know that the Nature Reserve status can be removed if we fail to meet Conservation targets. At the same time, “nature reserve” is endorsed on title deeds so that you sell not merely a portion of land, but a part of the nature reserve in future. This is how we ensure the protection and conservation of the area into the future, no matter who owns the land.