Investigating the contribution of the biodiversity stewardship programme in achieving grassland biome conservation in KZN, South Africa.
Research into biodiversity stewardship and its potential as a mechanism for conservation implementation in South Africa is limited. Conservation implementation tools aimed at achieving conservation targets are espoused in systematic conservation planning (SCP). This research investigated the SCP approach in South Africa and sought to develop a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of the biodiversity stewardship programme as a tool for grassland conservation in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Geographical Information Systems (GIS) operations were performed to ascertain current site selection and identify potential future site suitability, and to understand the implications of these outputs in meeting grassland biome conservation. A case study analysis of three biodiversity stewardship sites was undertaken to provide an overview of the KZN biodiversity stewardship programme and to understand the role it plays in grassland biome conservation. Biodiversity stewardship site assessments were conducted at all three case study sites by Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNW), to identify and assess the biodiversity value, threats associated with the land uses and the potential for conservation based on the principles of SCP. This research utilised these assessments extensively to answer key objectives and the GIS operations was used to understand the spatial considerations. Primarily, this research sought to understand the implementation prospects of biodiversity stewardship and develop insights into how implementation can be improved. A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted with a number of key stakeholders in the biodiversity stewardship programme. Through a thematic analysis and coding process, the key themes, which emerged included lack of capacity, lack of funding and poor follow-up. Despite the obstacles and risks identified, the perceptions of the key stakeholders towards the biodiversity stewardship programme were found to be mostly positive. Strengthening linkages with NGOs is perceived by many stakeholders to be the key to overcoming capacity problems within the biodiversity stewardship programme. The strengthening of aspects of management is fundamental in achieving grassland conservation, as the effectiveness of biodiversity stewardship achieving targets is based on the probability of the management objectives being met. Improved support, follow up and extension on grazing, burning and IAS clearing will aid in successful management of the grassland biome. The implementing of biodiversity stewardship is seen as a credible process to secure critical grassland biodiversity.