Sensitive, priority biodiversity zones no-go areas for development: DEDEAT

SEPTEMBER 29, 2015

The Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism says future development in the province’s sensitive and priority biodiversity areas will be frowned upon.

The Department explained that the scenic beauty of the Eastern Cape provided valuable products for the tourism and wildlife industry. It said that the province’s biodiversity also contributes significantly to rural livelihoods like the hunting industry which in 2013 generated R144.4 million for the province.

These products - from nature reserves, game farms and hunting lodges - it explained, had the potential to generate considerable economic revenue.

However, the province also depended on nature, particularly forests, to absorb the carbon dioxide that its citizens generated, and to regulate the climate.

Later this year, the Department is to yet again review the province’s biodiversity masterplan, the Eastern Cape Biodiversity Conservation Plan (ECBCP).

The plan addresses the urgent need to identify and map out critical biodiversity areas and priorities for conservation in the province.

The plan, which also provides land use planning guidelines and recommends biodiversity-friendly activities in priority areas, is to be reviewed by technical users and decision-makers in the planning, development and environment areas.

The department says that the plan helps it better manage the balance between the province’s rich diversity and scenic beauty, and the unprecedented pressures of development like unplanned development, and urban and agricultural expansion.

Other planning pressures which have the potential to erode the province’s natural resource base include mining, illegal holiday cottages and overharvesting of natural resources.

A key element of the plan is the protection of endangered and critically endangered species such as the Cape Parrot and Vulture.

The Eastern Cape’s high biodiversity value and scenic beauty is also important. For example, the Department is implementing the national plan to save the Albany Cycad from extinction - there are less than 100 individual plants surviving in its natural habitat.

The province’s seven biome diversity systems - the highest number of nine provinces - are also managed through the plan.  The biome systems are forest, fynbos, nama karoo, savanna, succulent karoo and thicket. The province’s three centres of biological endemism: the Albany Centre, the Drakensberg Centre and the Pondoland Centre, are also known worldwide.

The Department said no less important is the remaining parts of the diversity systems that are responsible for clean water, air and soil, as well as medicinal plants, fuelwood, food products (from fishing, hunting and veldkos), building materials and grazing. Plant roots stabilise the soil and prevent erosion..

It explained that rural development, poverty alleviation and service delivery remain key to its mandate. However, government needed to balance this together with Eastern Cape’s natural resources so that these could be sustainably used and conserved.

Last week, the Eastern Government added Mhlonto Nature Reserve to its existing provincial nature reserves. It is situated in the far east of the province and is the Eastern Cape’s third largest provincial nature reserve.

Image: The King Protea is part of the fynbos family and found in the Eastern Cape.  It is also South Africa’s national flower.