June 28, 2023

2023 Symposium – Conservancies and landowners can help change nature’s trajectory.

People are putting the earth – especially the natural world – under considerable pressure. And it will be up to us, from conservationists, to conservancies and private landowners, to change the course from our current trajectory.

This was the message at the Conservation At Work Symposium, hosted at the Graham and Rhona Beck Skills Centre in Robertson on 31 August and 1 September 2023. The symposium was attended by conservation organisations and authorities, conservancies, and individual landowners.

According to Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa, we are within touching distance of a time when the world will have to provide food, water and energy to 10 billion people. “But it’s not just about the head count, but also the individual ecological footprint that matters.” He said there are many reasons for concern. “In 2007 we crossed the carrying capacity of the Earth. Now we’re heading to the point that another full planet will be required to sequester the carbon dioxide on Earth.”

South Africa “should be proud”

Du Plessis said because South Africa has such incredible biodiversity, we also have a responsibility to protect it. “Within South Africa we are one of the luckiest nations gifted rich, natural heritage that is unmatched, which we should be deeply proud of.” This also forms the basis of a significant part of our economy.

Despite this, on average in South Africa and around the world, the abundance of species has declined in two thirds of instances in well-studied populations. “And yet nature works for us. No one know this better than those who work the land. Seventy percent of our food comes from pollinators carrying pollen from one plant to another.”

This places South Africa in the vital position to meet global biodiversity commitments. While we failed to meet the Aichi Targets by 2020, these targets helped to show “that we’re very dependent on good ecosystem services to sustain us,” he said. Now the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework has set out that 30 percent of land and sea must be conserved by 2030. “That means there needs to be large restoration efforts.”

New thinking needed around financing.

Kevin McCann, Director of Conservation Outcomes, said achieving this will be no easy task. Around 11 million hectares of land, or 9.87% is already in the conservation estate. “But we must secure 26 million more hectares by 2030 to meet the target. That’s 3.8 million hectares per year until 2030,” he said.

This can only be achieved through a strong drive to increase the number of protected areas, protect strategic water source areas and to look at new conservation models such as Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECMs). “We also need lots of thinking around sustainable finance options.” McCann added, “Each one of us is a contributor to help South Africa meet these targets.”

Anita Wheeler, Conservation Stewardship Specialist at CapeNature, said the Western Cape conservation authority is celebrating 20 years of biodiversity stewardships. She said, “Stewardships remain the main mechanism for landowners to protect their biodiversity.” While the Western Cape is made up of 13 million hectares of land, only 15 percent is formally protected. Six percent is in biodiversity agreements – which is a contract between a landowner and either CapeNature or another conservation agency. The remainder, however, is unprotected as per the Protected Area requirements.

Demand for help from landowners greater than supply

Mike Fabricius, Chair of Conservation At Work said that there is strong demand from individual landowners and conservancies to better protect natural areas in the Western Cape. Conservation At Work is a non-profit organisation that promotes and supports conservation of private land in the province and is supported by several partners, including CapeNature, WWF South Africa, the Table Mountain Fund, the Western Cape Government and Conservation Outcomes. There are currently 80 registered conservancies and 1600 landowners in the conservation space.

He said, “There is a keen interest from landowners in the Western Cape to implement management in conservation areas, but as a result there is a big shortfall on money received versus the demand.” Thanks to funders such as the Table Mountain Fund, Conservation at Work has R250 000 per year available to help conservancies. “What’s more, we’re seeing a big increase in landowners asking for advice to register as a conservancy.”

According to Dennis Moss of the Dennis Moss Partnership, conservancies hold considerable sway with government, without necessarily realising their power. “As conservancies, we have to work with municipalities. Conservancies should move forward to understand the power they have to advance sustainable development, especially with municipalities. In so doing, we can use leverage points to change the culture we are living in.”

The Cape Fox Awards were held at the Conservation At Work Symposium – rewarding conservancies, conservation organisations and individuals for their commitment to conservation. The winners were:

  • The Mossie Basson Conservation Legends Award: Conservation Outcomes (Kevin McCann & Sarah Hulley)
  • Innovative Landscape Conservation Award: Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy
  • Conservation Driver Award: Grootvadersbosch Conservancy
  • Individual Conservation Champion Award: Mick D’Alton, Nuwejaarsriver Nature Reserve

(written by Heather D’Alton)

Back: Dr Tiaan Strydom (Dunefields), Kevin McCann (Conservation Outcomes) Front: Denis Moss (Dennis Moss Partnership), Dr. Boyd Escott (Cape Nature), Dr Morné du Plessis (WWF- South Africa)
Back: Sean Privett (Grootbos Fondation), Anita Wheeler (Cape Nature), Front: Dr Katy Williams (Cape Leopard Trust), Rudolph Roscher (Western Cape, Dept of Agriculture)
Kerry Maree (Table Mountain Fund), Johan Burger (Cape Nature), Wihan Bekker (African Data Tech)
Cape Fox Winners: Mick D'Alton (Nuwejaarsriver Nature Reserve). Sarah Hulley & Kevin McCann (Conservation Outcomes), Thilivhali Murivami & Mike Fabricius (Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy), Aileen Anderson & Keith Moodie (Grootvadersbosch Conservancy)


Getting to know Camera Traps

During the Conservation at Work Symposium, Mike Fabricius also shared tips on how to use camera traps as a method to monitor wildlife. “Camera traps are ideal to use as a conservation tool. Even as a hobby, you can learn a lot.”

 Mike and Dr Katy Williams, Research and Conservation Director of the Cape Leopard Trust, shared the following tips on using camera traps:

You can learn by simply trying
different things. Through trial and error, you will learn how to get the best
pictures from your camera traps.

You can use camera traps to
photograph insects and rodents on flowers. Two-times magnifying glasses, are
available at Clicks and can be placed over the lens, to better photograph tiny

Camera traps are a good tool to use
to better understand human wildlife conflict, to serve as an early warning
system, or to build compassion for nature.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most
viable for long-term monitoring, while solar powered traps also work well.
Rechargeable batteries are the least viable.

In order to track the movement of
animals, consider putting the camera trap up at bottle necks, where animal
tracks are most prominent, at a scratch tree or similar wildlife locations.

Position traps in a southerly
direction, in order to get the light from behind.

Ensure there’s some distance between
the traps and the animals, otherwise the pictures will come out white-washed.

You can break your conservancy up
into grids and position the camera traps in the various grids over time to
better monitor wildlife.


An app such as WildID can also be
used to identify certain species and reduce time spent sifting through pictures
with no species in them. 

(written by Heather D’alton)


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Conservation at Work in collaboration with CapeNature, Jobs 4 Carbon, Table Mountain Fund, Western Cape Department of Agriculture, Landcare, Rooiberg Breede River Conservancy, and VanWyksdorp Development Institute (VDI) hosted a successful Landowners Day investigating the practical implementation of erosion control measures in the field. The Jobs 4 Carbon project launched in 2014 and has a remarkable impact on the lives of the local community creating 60 jobs while restoring degraded veld in the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve by planting spekboom, clearing alien invasive species and preventing soil erosion through ponding. A total of 312702 spekboom plants were planted between 2018-2023 as part of the restoration of degraded spekboom thicket.

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