Landowners have given overwhelming support to explore the potential to establish a mega game reserve along the West Coast, stretching from the Blaauwberg Nature Reserve to the West Coast National Park . The Darling Hills could form the eastern boundary. This West Coast Corridor is known for its natural beauty, wide open spaces and string of formally declared private and public nature reserves spanning the coastline. Its biodiversity and cultural significance has been recognised globally through international and national declarations of wetlands, birding areas, threatened vegetation types and paleontological and heritage sites. The soil and climatic conditions of a large portion of this Corridor make it unattractive for agricultural development and much of the Corridor is currently utilised de facto for conservation.
SANParks has led an initiative over the past eighteen months to identify economic opportunities linked to biodiversity and heritage protection. The aim is to practically demonstrate that conservation can be a driver for rural economic and social development. The key partners have been Cape Nature, the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve, City of Cape Town, West Coast District Municipality, Swartland and Saldanha Local Municipalities, landowners and Corridor communities. A Survey was undertaken of all the public and private landowners within the Corridor in May 2014 to ascertain the current level of economic activity within the Corridor and to assess interest in the establishment of a mega game reserve as a viable business alternative for landowners.
The idea is for landowners to take down fences to enable the establishment of a mega game reserve. This would enable new game introduction and freer game movement. Possibilities for facilitating this through culverts under the R27 have also been proposed. This would catalyse related-investment into the West Coast Corridor, such as the development of hiking and biking trails along the full length of the Corridor, including the coastline; a variety of tourism accommodation and conferencing facilities; terrestrial and marine adventure experiences; and different game-related tourism products. Carmen Lerm from West Coast Way stated that:
“The mega reserve would become the playground of the City of Cape Town and a must-experience for both domestic and international visitors. We are already marketing 101 attractions in the West Coast and this mega project would lead to endless possibilities”.
Benefits to landowners would include cost and management efficiencies through shared services (e.g. marketing, conservation and game management, infrastructure maintenance, fire prevention, waste removal, anti-poaching, alien clearing) and expanded market demand. Benefits to communities would include substantial number of green jobs on offer in the market linked to tourism and biodiversity management, such as in the hospitality industry and through massive public works programmes related to alien clearing, fencing, anti-poaching services and trail development and maintenance. Benefits to conservation authorities would be the declaration of a vastly expanded formal protected area within the Corridor by private landowners who voluntarily commit their land with the highest biodiversity value for conservation.
SANParks and its partners formally handed over the Survey Report to its funding partner the Green Fund administered by the Development Bank of South Africa. Willem Louw from SANParks stated that:
“The exciting element of this initiative is that the report will not gather dust on a shelf in someone’s office. The presence of the key partners at the event, the UNDP, Department of Environmental Affairs, SANParks and Green Fund demonstrates the high level of interest that this project has generated.” The recommendations of the report will be implemented in terms of an agreement entered into between the South African Government and the UNDP’s Global Environmental facility (GEF 5) Programme. The GEF 5 Programme is aimed at establishing 197,000ha of new protected area within South Africa. Three biodiversity hotspots have been identified in South Africa, namely the Succulent Karoo, Maputaland Pondoland Albany Hotspot and the Cape Floral Kingdom. The West Coast Corridor is the last intact lowland fynbos region within the latter and both private and public landowners have bought into the idea that it is worth protecting. Further enticement, however, is the real business case that protecting the biodiversity and heritage of the Corridor makes real business sense!!
Minister Alan Winde provided the keynote address at the formal handover event and emphasised that:
“The success of the initiative will depend on landowner buy-in, and that in turn will depend on the level of direct economic benefit to both landowners and communities. The impact of such an initiative, however, will be felt far beyond the West Coast boundaries.”
For more information on the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor and the Landowner Survey Report contact SANParks Process Facilitator, Karen Harrison at +27 (0)82 4144 750.