The first national list of threatened terrestrial ecosystems for South Africa was gazetted on 9 December 2011 (National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act: National list of ecosystems that are threatened and in need of protection, (G 34809, GoN 1002), 9 December 2011).
Listing threatened or protected ecosystems
The Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004) provides for listing of threatened or protected ecosystems, in one of four categories: critically endangered (CR), endangered (EN), vulnerable (VU) or protected. The purpose of listing threatened ecosystems is primarily to reduce the rate of ecosystem and species extinction. This includes preventing further degradation and loss of structure, function and composition of threatened ecosystems. The purpose of listing protected ecosystems is primarily to preserve witness sites of exceptionally high conservation value.
It was agreed early on in the listing process that a phased approach should be taken, given the complexity of the process. The first list of ecosystems consists of threatened ecosystems in the terrestrial environment. Future phases will deal with threatened ecosystems in the freshwater, estuarine and marine environments, and with protected ecosystems in all environments.
The ecosystems listed make up 9.5% of the country, with critically endangered and endangered ecosystems together accounting for 2.7% and vulnerable ecosystems a further 6.8%. Figure 1 and Figure 2 show the original and remaining extent of the ecosystems respectively
The first national list of threatened terrestrial ecosystems has been gazetted, together with supporting information on the listing process including the purpose and rationale for listing ecosystems, the criteria used to identify listed ecosystems, the implications of listing ecosystems, and summary statistics and national maps of listed ecosystems (National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act: National list of ecosystems that are threatened and in need of protection, (G 34809, GoN 1002), 9 December 2011).
Figure 1: Map of listed ecosystems, showing original extent of ecosystems.
Figure 2: Map of listed ecosystems, showing remaining extent of ecosystems.
Principles for identifying threatened or protected ecosystems
As a starting point, the following principles were established for identifying threatened or protected ecosystems:
- The approach must be explicit and repeatable
- The approach must be target-driven and systematic, especially for threatened ecosystems
- The approach must follow the same logic as the IUCN approach to listing threatened species, whereby a number of criteria are developed and an ecosystem is listed based on its highest ranking criterion
- The identification of ecosystems to be listed must be based on scientifically credible, practical and simple criteria, which must translate into spatially explicit identification of ecosystems.
How were listed ecosystems identified?
The purpose and rationale for listing ecosystems as well as the legal implications were considered when deciding on the appropriate spatial scale to list ecosystems. These considerations combined require that listed ecosystems be defined at the local rather than the regional scale. For this first national list, threatened terrestrial ecosystems have been delineated based on one of the following: the South African Vegetation Map, national forest types recognised by DWAF, priority areas identified in a provincial systematic biodiversity plan, or high irreplaceability forests patches or clusters systematically identified by DWAF.
Criteria for identifying threatened terrestrial ecosystems
All listed ecosystems have been identified based on carefully developed and consistently applied national criteria. There has been strong emphasis on the use of best available science as well as on the realities of implementation, to ensure that the list of threatened ecosystems is both scientifically rigorous and implementable.
Six criteria were developed for threatened terrestrial ecosystems. Of these six criteria, four (A, C, D and F) were used and the remaining two (B and E) are dormant owing to lack of data. Two of the criteria (A and D) were split into sub-criteria. The six criteria for threatened terrestrial ecosystems are:
Criterion A1: Irreversible loss of natural habitat
Criterion A2: Ecosystem degradation and loss of integrity
Criterion B: Rate of loss of natural habitat
Criterion C: Limited extent and imminent threat
Criterion D1: Threatened plant species associations
Criterion D2: Threatened animal species associations
Criterion E: Fragmentation
Criterion F: Priority areas for meeting explicit biodiversity targets as defined in a systematic biodiversity plan
The criteria and thresholds for critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable ecosystems and explained in more detail in the gazetted documentation (National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act: National list of ecosystems that are threatened and in need of protection, (G 34809, GoN 1002), 9 December 2011).
Implications of listing threatened ecosystems
There are four main types of implications of listing an ecosystem:
- Planning related implications, linked to the requirement in the Biodiversity Act for listed ecosystems to be taken into account in municipal IDPs and SDFs;
- Environmental authorisation implications, in terms of NEMA and EIA regulations;
- Proactive management implications, in terms of the Biodiversity Act;
- Monitoring and reporting implications, in terms of the Biodiversity Act.
The environmental authorisation implications are summarised here. The other implications are discussed in the gazetted document.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations include three lists of activities that require environmental authorisation:
- Listing Notice 1: activities that require a basic assessment (R544 of 2010),
- Listing Notice 2: activities that require scoping and environmental impact report (EIR) (R545 of 2010),
- Listing Notice 3: activities that require a basic assessment in specific identified geographical areas only (R546 of 2010).
Activity 12 in Listing Notice 3 relates to the clearance of 300m2 of more of vegetation, which will trigger a basic assessment within any critically endangered or endangered ecosystem listed in terms of S52 of the Biodiversity Act. This means any development that involves loss of natural habitat in a listed critically endangered or endangered ecosystem is likely to require at least a basic assessment in terms of the EIA regulations.
It is important to note that while the original extent of each listed ecosystem has been mapped, a basic assessment report in terms of the EIA regulations is triggered only in remaining natural habitat within each ecosystem and not in portions of the ecosystem where natural habitat has already been irreversibly lost.
Relationship to the National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment 2004
The National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment (NSBA) 2004 included early attempts to identify threatened ecosystems. However, the identification of threatened terrestrial ecosystems for the current phase of listing has been much more detailed and comprehensive, using additional criteria and data. This means that the list of threatened terrestrial ecosystems presented here supersedes the information regarding terrestrial ecosystem status in the NSBA 2004.