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Developing sustainability indicators for two Western Cape biosphere reserves

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UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme aims to set a scientific basis for the improvement of the relationships between people and their environment globally.

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The 100 000 hectare, UNESCO-registered Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve is home to some of the most complex biodiversity on our planet. It accommodates 1 880 different plant species; the next richest is the South American rainforest with just 420 plant species per 10 000 square kilometres.

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The first objective of the research project was to develop sustainability indicator sets for the Kogelberg and Cape West Coast (picture) biosphere reserves, both located in the Cape Floristic Region in the Western Cape.

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The author, Colin Tucker, graduated in March 2013 with an MSc from the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University. Colin’s studies were supported by a SAEON Fynbos Node bursary.

By Colin Tucker

Declines in natural capital, such as the degradation of ecosystems and loss of species, are the result of threats created by anthropogenic activities.

The concept of sustainable development encompasses the economic and social growth of societies, with limited impacts on the natural environment. Sustainable development initiatives are being implemented in an attempt to mitigate the decline in natural capital.

Biosphere reserves, which are designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Programme, aim to be landscape-scale examples of sustainable development.

UNESCO requires biosphere reserves to submit a periodic review every ten years to ensure they are meeting their goals. This requires that they monitor and evaluate their progress towards their sustainable development goals. Sustainability indicators are tools used to assess progress towards ecological, social and economic goals, and can thus be useful tools for biosphere reserves to ensure they are achieving their goals.

Action research

This research project applied an action research approach. The research objectives were achieved through collaboration with biosphere reserve stakeholders. The first objective was to develop sustainability indicator sets for the Kogelberg and Cape West Coast biosphere reserves, both located in the Cape Floristic Region in the Western Cape. The second objective was to formulate a national protocol for the development of sustainability indicators for South African biosphere reserves.

The first stages of this research involved investigating monitoring and evaluation in biosphere reserves through a systematic review of the peer-reviewed and grey literature, interviews with management representatives of South African biosphere reserves and a web-based questionnaire survey of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Sustainability indicators for each biosphere reserve were developed through a collaborative process involving workshops with local stakeholders and focus groups with specialists.

The global review of the peer-reviewed and grey literature revealed that monitoring and evaluation studies in biosphere reserves are mostly conducted in the developing world by authors from the developed world, and many of the studies and indicators that were developed focused on ecological dimensions. These results show that biosphere reserves need to enhance their local capacity for the development and implementation of improved monitoring and evaluation methods and frameworks.

The outcomes of the interviews with representatives of the management of South African biosphere reserves and a survey of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves found that many biosphere reserves identified in this survey are reportedly implementing monitoring and evaluation, but few have developed sustainability indicators. It was found that there are many similar challenges with regards to monitoring and evaluation in biosphere reserves, most notably the lack of capacity and funding.

Sustainability indicators for each biosphere reserve were developed through a collaborative process involving workshops with local stakeholders and focus groups with specialists.

Collaboration

The collaborative process used to develop sustainability indicators for the Kogelberg and Cape West Coast biosphere reserves proved to be useful and produced the desired outcomes.

The local stakeholder workshops produced large sustainability indicator sets, with many indicators that were not measurable, but most were relevant to the biosphere reserves. The specialist focus groups produced more focused and feasible indicator sets. The local stakeholder and specialist indicator sets were integrated to produce a final set for each biosphere reserve that was relevant to the social-ecological systems of the biosphere reserves, with indicators that could feasibly be implemented.

The lists below contain the goals identified for each biosphere reserve and an example of an indicator from the final set under each goal.

Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve

Goal 1: Conservation
Indicator: Hectares of alien invasive vegetation

Goal 2: Sustainable development and planning
Indicator: Number of development applications commented on by biosphere reserve committee members

Goal 3: Stakeholder support
Indicator: Increase in the number of hits on the biosphere reserve website

Goal 4: Research and monitoring
Indicator: Increase in number of research publications conducted in the biosphere reserve

Goal 5: Education/capacity
Indicator: A sufficient portion of the budget is allocated for environmental education

Goal 6: Operational/institutional governance
Indicator: Staff members are paid based on national salary and wage standards

Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve

Goal 1: Increased land for conservation
Indicator: Hectares of priority vegetation types under stewardship contracts and agreements

Goal 2: External leverage for generating conservation funds (externally viable)
Indicator: Three years guaranteed funding for the funding of a co-ordinator

Goal 3: Increasing numbers of projects creating jobs
Indicator: Increase or maintenance of skilled staff working for the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve Company

Goal 4: Increased community awareness
Indicator: Increase in the number of items in the media

Goal 5: Water quantity and quality
Indicator: Quantity of water at key sites is sufficient to meet the ecological and basic human needs reserve

National protocol

The national protocol was developed through a synthesis of the results and lessons learnt in the previous stages of the research. This national protocol was designed to be flexible enough to be adapted to the local circumstances and needs of individual South African biosphere reserves. This document will be presented to the National Man and the Biosphere Committee as a guide to the development of sustainability indicators in existing and future biosphere reserves.

The action research approach applied in this study delivered a pragmatic set of sustainability indicators that can be implemented by both biosphere reserves. The National Department of Environmental Affairs, and the Kogelberg and Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve co-ordinators have encouraged and supported the development of the sustainability indicator sets and the national protocol.

Supporting these with a social learning institution within each biosphere reserve will be required for ensuring their ongoing utility.

For more information, contact Colin Tucker

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