Achieving Landscape-scale Ecological Restoration

If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.
African proverb

We need to go a long way, we need to go together; and, as the recent COP26 confirmed – with a sense of urgency. We have to quickly find a way to change; to increase awareness about exactly what we’re facing, and why we have to work to solve it.

We are all aware that humanity entirely depends on the natural ecosystems that support us and all other life on Earth. Only through consistent, long term, trust-based partnerships can humanity move out of the currently unsustainable, destructive patterns of behaviour. Only through such partnerships can we scale up the minor, pilot interventions that comprise all of our interventions to date.

For at least 160,000 years, humans have lived along the southern coast of Africa. We have lived and worked in small communities that have had minor impacts on natural ecosystems. During the last 400 years, the size of the communities have expanded exponentially. So have the negative impacts, as a result of our actions, on ecological infrastructure.

Biosphere Reserves

The UNESCO developed the Man and Biosphere programme 50 years ago; the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) forms part of a global network of over 720 Biosphere Reserves. There are currently at least 50 Biosphere Reserves in sub-Saharan Africa.

The majority of the southern African Biosphere Reserves lie along the west, south and eastern coastlines. They are a series of linked jewels, forming a “Smile of Africa”; fundamental to the health and wellbeing of future generations.

Given the likely scenario of hotter and drier conditions, allowing species to migrate, to move along gradients, is important to the long-term resilience of ecosystems. The renowned Cape Fold Mountains allow for movement along an east-west axis. Strengthening connectivity between terrestrial, coastal and marine environments is a primary responsibility of the respective Biosphere Reserves.

Conservation Through Partnerships

Only through robust, long-term, multi-stakeholder partnerships, across the southern African landscape, can we hope to restore the landscapes and ecosystems that will support future generations. Strengthened by these partnerships, the GCBR aims to be a catalyst for change towards solving one of humanities’ biggest issues: the disconnect between people and nature.

2021 marks the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

Humanity has a good track record of creating partnerships for commercial enterprises. We now need to focus on ecological restoration at a landscape scale; this must be one of the foremost commercial activities for the next 100 years.

A significant portion of current land use practices (e.g., vast areas of monoculture crops) across the GCBR domain, and beyond, are unsustainable. As part of a global effort, the GCBR focuses on restoring degraded river, wetland, mountain, and thicket ecosystems.

The more complex, but considerably more sustainable “stacked” approach of sustainable / regenerative agriculture, incorporating carbon sequestration, biodiversity offsets, water resource management, and tourism must be developed.  However, despite the best efforts of field teams, and donor-funded projects, the GCBR and other organisations involved in restoration, rehabilitation and the reduction of impacts are having only a minute impact at the landscape scale.

Making It Work

In partnership with colleagues such as Nature For Justice, AfriMAB, the broader World Network of Island and Coastal Biosphere Reserves, other local and international environmental NGOs, and the corporate sector, the GCBR:
  • Advances landscape approaches to restoration and rehabilitation, building on long-term, multi-stakeholder partnerships.
  • Will, with donor funding, continue to implement high quality restoration work in our domain.
  • Will continue to plant hundreds of thousands of indigenous plants and employ hard working field teams that clear thousands of tons of invasive plants from waterways and catchments.
  • Has identified opportunities that form part of our unique value proposition.
  • Builds resilience into the DNA of future sustainable supply chains (for example, the production of invasive alien plant biomass-infused concrete, for building products).
  • Is actively expanding operations to a landscape scale. (There is an important “economies of scale” element to both restoration activities, and the economic viability of products and services (carbon, water and biodiversity offsets, tourism, regenerative farming etc).
  • Is working with partners to expand (restoration and rehabilitation activities, value added industries) beyond our domain, to the 9 BRs in South Africa, and colleagues in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Embraces nature-based solutions to address biodiversity loss, climate change and poverty in an integrated manner. We live and work in the spectacular, globally important Cape Floral Region; partner with us to create a healthy, resilient, and safe place for future generations.

In closing, we live and work by the African proverb: “If you want to go far, go together”

Author

  • Steve completed an MSc and PhD, focusing on hypersaline environments and has worked for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning. He joined the Wildlife and Environment Society in 2005, continuing advocacy work and contributing to numerous public participation processes. In conjunction with the (then fledgling) Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve, Steve managed the Jobs for Carbon project and in 2017 moved across to the GCBR.

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