Bridging the knowing–doing gap in South Africa and the role of environmental volunteer groups

13 April 2017

The implementation gap between science, policy and practice has led to loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services throughout Africa and is described in a case study from Limpopo Province, South Africa. In 2006, the South African National Biodiversity Institute first highlighted the Woodbush Granite Grassland (WGG) in the Greater Tzaneen Local Municipality as the only Critically Endangered ecosystem in Limpopo Province. Five years later (2011), the Critically Endangered listing was published in the Government Gazette No. 34809. After repeated and sustained efforts for many years from volunteers of a local environmental group - currently known as the Friends of the Haenertsburg Grassland (FroHG) - in 2015 the intent to formally protect 126 ha was published in the Government Gazette No. 2609. Unfortunately, the proposed protected area accounts for only 66% of the largest remaining fragment of WGG, which excludes an important colony of medicinal plants. Considering that only 6% of the original extent of WGG remains in an untransformed state the whole fragment should be conserved. Non-alignment of municipal spatial priorities, as in the Haenertsburg town plan from 1896, to provincial and national environmental priorities has resulted in numerous incidents that have degraded what little remains of the WGG ecosystem. Failure of the provincial authorities to act timeously to enforce environmental regulations resulted in the FroHG successfully involving national authorities to stop illegal land occupation while another incident involving an illegal fence was resolved 9 years after erection. A strengthened relationship with Lepelle Northern Water has resulted in better planning of activities in relation to an existing pipeline. This case study shows various avenues available to environmental volunteer groups in South Africa and suggests that long-term lobbying can yield positive results. Conservation implications: Formal conservation of WGG through the intended nature reserve proclamation represents application of environmental legislation (notably Listing Notice 3, National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998: Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, 2014), scientific recommendations and policy. Better cooperation between provincial administration and FroHG will benefit the protection and management of WGG.