Our AGM was held online 1st December during which the current GRBR Chair – Prof. Robert Fincham – and the GRBR Chief Executive  – Dr. Bianca Currie – presented their annual statements and annual reports respectively.

These can downloaded here and read at your leisure:

Chairperson’s Statement AGM 2021

Chief Executive’s Annual Report 2021

We welcome feedback and comments can be emailed to admin@gardenroutebiosphere.org.za

Thank you and best wishes for the season.

The GRBR established a Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs) Network and hosted the first social learning network engagement on the 15th of September 2021 to introduce the project and to bring together the diversity of stakeholders in the GRBR to learn from one another through conversations around water, the economy, risk and human wellbeing.

This report documents this engagement, providing a participant analysis of who attended the virtual meeting, the conversations that took place, as well as a description of the engagement process and methods used.

The report also provides insight into the next steps the SWSA project will be taking.

Views expressed in the document do not necessarily constitute those of the GRBR or WWF but merely documents the conversations had by participants during the event.

Download the Full SWSAs Report here


Dr. Bianca Currie, Chair of the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve, prepared this report as a yearly review for the Annual General Meeting held online in December 2020. The Report has since undergone some minor modifications to reflect recent updates and news. It can also be viewed here as a pdf document.

Chairs Report

Garden Route Biosphere Reserve

Annual General Meeting (online), 3rd December 2020

The COVID-19 global pandemic was the great 2020 disrupter, changing our world as we know it, turning our lives upside down, and disrupting our “normal”. It impacted on how we work, live, and engage with one another in fundamental ways. The pandemic has presented itself not only as a serious health issue, but also a wider societal one which has revealed deep social chasms across the world. In South Africa, it has brought our vulnerabilities into stark light, especially inequality and food insecurity, as our government attempts to balance the economic impacts with the ongoing health risks the pandemic poses.

Although the pandemic can be viewed as a significant disrupter to our social-ecological systems, it can also be seen as an opportunity.  There are several scenarios, all dependent on how leaders, governments and society respond to the virus and its economic aftermath. I believe the pandemic provides us with a window of opportunity to reflect on our world and to refocus our attention on what we value. We can choose to use this crisis to reimagine our futures and create a more humane, equitable and better world.

So, in our rush to return to “normal”, I hope we consider what it is we wish to rush back to: Will we take the chance to change some of what we do, and how we do it?

1. Impact on the GRBR

 During 2020, the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) and its activities were severely impacted by the pandemic.

Strategy Development Workshops

 We were in the midst of a large-scale participatory strategy development process when the country went into a national lockdown. The reports from the two workshops we managed to conduct before March can be found on our website. However, the numerous workshops scheduled during the months of May and June, as part of this process were cancelled, as the preferred in-person methods of engagement were inappropriate for these times.  A fully inclusive participatory process still seems distant, given ongoing trends. ,

Changing GRBR Landscape

 Furthermore, the regional social landscape is changing in light of the pandemic and what we were planning for then, is no longer the world we find now, or will find post-COVID. With this in mind, the GRBR chose to put our collaborative strategy development process on hold until such time we can fully engage and reassess what a post COVID-19 world may look like.

2. Opportunities for the GRBR

Despite the setbacks, we nonetheless choose to seize the window of opportunity to reflect, reprioritise, and refocus toward being responsive to the immediate needs of our stakeholders during these times. While staying true to our focus areas, we chose to prioritise fundraising for food security, water, sanitation and employment.  We believe these focus areas respond to the immediate needs in the landscape and works toward making the GRBR more adaptive and resilient going forward. We spent time finding ways to support our stakeholders in COVID recovery strategies and working with others in leveraging and applying for funding.

 Strategic Water Source Areas

 One of the wins from these efforts has been working with the WWF to secure funding for landscape coordination in the Strategic Water Source Areas in the GRBR over the next two years.  This funding will provide the GRBR with much needed capacity on the ground which we have sorely needed. The focus will be on securing the environmental integrity of these strategic areas to deliver ecosystem services to the important economies, and over 500 000 people living in the GRBR.

Stakeholder Engagement

Further enhancing our capacity on the ground, and thanks to additional funding from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning we are now also a position to employ a stakeholder engagement officer on a three-month contract to specifically engage with municipalities on behalf of the GRBR, to help them work with us in terms of spatial development planning and sustainable development projects. The position of Land-Use Engagement Officer was recently advertised and can be found on the GRBR website.

Keurbooms River Catchment

The GRBR has now also joined the “Keurbooms Catchment Ecological Infrastructure Investment Work Group”which has been established to act as a platform for collaboration between ecological infrastructure role-players in the Keurbooms River catchment, including those that supply and those that use key ecosystem goods and services.  The aim of the working group is to promote and facilitate enhanced investment in ecological infrastructure restoration and management.

Crèches Project & Youth Leadership

In an effort to help our younger communities to be more sustainable and resilient during these times, the GRBR is currently developing a proposal to support the collaboration between the Landmark Foundation and the George Municipality for a Crèches Project. The Landmark Foundation project focuses on encouraging new attitudes toward the environment and instilling sound values in society that will benefit the community. In its two-phased approach, food gardening and recycling are coupled to promote sustainability and resilient communities.  The project is set to be introduced in all municipal creches in the Garden Route.  Furthermore, together with the Sustainability Research Unit at the Nelson Mandela University, South African National Parks and the Knysna Municipality, the GRBR applied for funding from V.Kann Rassmussen Foundation for a youth leadership project. Unfortunately, this proposal was not successful but alternative funders are being sought.

Freshwater & Terrestrial Observation

 One of the more significant proposals the GRBR has been working on this year was the nomination of the GRBR and Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) domain as an EFTEON (Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environmental Observation Network) instrumented landscape.  This means that EFTEON aims to provide and operate a network of instrumented landscapes (i.e. areas equipped environmental monitoring capabilities) for the South African environmental research community, gathering socially relevant data on ecological and hydrological systems.

Garden Route Gateway Site Proposal

The GRBR together with the GCBR, Nelson Mandela University, SANParks, Living Lands and Land Care proposed the Garden Route Gateway site.  If successful, it will hopefully result in a substantial investment in research instrumentation and infrastructure in the region and will generate social and ecological data to help us better understand the anthropogenic influence on our environment in the face of climate change. Excitingly, the data will be Open Source and available to all stakeholders in the country. Operations within the landscape will also strengthen our relationship and collaboration with our neighbours, the GCBR. The proposal has been submitted and we eagerly await news which should come soon.

Eastern Cape Engagement

 Another progress area is our reach in the Eastern Cape.  Until now, we have had limited reach in these eastern regions of the GRBR, but this is changing as Wentzel Coetzer drives more activity and involvement in the area. There has been engagement with the Kouga Local Municipality on numerous occasions throughout the past quarter to find ways to secure a number of municipal properties in the Cape St Francis area for conservation.

Stakeholder Communications

 Although we would like to do much more, we have nevertheless made strides in communicating more frequently with you, our stakeholders. In 2020, we revised our website, posted materials relevant to our activities, and released interim newsletter updates.

3. Summary

Despite our world being turned upside down by the pandemic, and the deviations we have had to make from our collaborative strategy development process, we are hopeful that we can recommence the process sometime in soon this year, although the exact timing remains uncertain.

I am pleased with the progress and achievements we have made this past year and feel our effort will lead to a better 2021, where we will have more capacity and funding to play a role in the landscape.

Although we have strengthened our capacity for stakeholder engagement and coordination in the GRBR, we are still limited in our ability to be an implementing agent in the landscape, and rather see our strength in collaborating with our stakeholders on the ground.  I believe our achievements in 2020 are testament to that.  We would not have achieved what we did without the efforts of many and the willingness to work together.

I thank you all.

 Dr Bianca Currie

3rd December, 2020

GRBR Chair Report 2020 (pdf)

The Environmental Education Strategic Planning Workshop Report is now available for download.

This report is focused on the outcomes of the first Youth Environmental Education Workshop held at the Environmental Education Centre at the Garden Route Botanical Gardens on the 26th of February 2020. These notes document the outcomes of the workshop which was primarily aimed at mapping the ‘education landscape’ and identifying gaps and needs in youth environmental education in the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve domain.

The first workshop invited participants to introduce their organisation and briefly share with the group their education focus  current activities. A second open discussion was facilitated around the gaps and needs in youth environmental education in the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve.

A post-workshop survey eliciting participants’ feedback on the workshop yielded positive responses. Comments included:

• Informative, inspiring and “eye opening” • Good, necessary and important! • Productive • Well-structured and well conducted.

Many participants commented on the fair and open discussion where the diverse stakeholders were given a platform to share their programs and exchange ideas. However, one participant offered constructive criticism and wrote, “some key players were absent” and added that some topics were somewhat broad and irrelevant. The participant stated that for future discussions it would be best to narrow the focus in order to be more productive. Other participants highlighted the need to get teachers involved and that the time-slot for the workshop inhibited their participation.

Workshop outcomes – including opportunities and challenges – will need to be revisited given the COVID-19 impacts on education spaces.


The final report for the Strategic Planning Workshop:

“Identifying and addressing drivers of urbanisation, land use and land use change and capacity building in the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve” is now available. 


This report comes to you in the light of COVID-19 and as the Country remains in lockdown as a result of efforts to stem the impact of the virus on the healthcare system, and inevitably, on the population. In reviewing the report, please also note the following two quotes, the one from our President, Cyril Ramaphosa and the other from Arundhti Roy, author of the book ‘The God of small things’ (1997).

For billions across the world, and for us here in South Africa, the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything.  We can no longer work in the way we have before…as South Africans we will need to adapt to a new reality.  As we emerge from this crisis, our country will need to undergo a process of fundamental reconstruction.

~ President Ramaphosa, April 2020, second address to the nation regarding COVID-19 impacts.

…coronavirus had made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worst than a return to normality…. Pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice…our dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

~ Arundhti Roy, April 2020 (Author of the book ‘The God of small things’ (1997)).

We thank you for post workshop comments which we have hopefully captured successfully in this final report.

We ask that you re-read it in the light of COVID-19. We cannot resume the process of looking at the Garden Route without thinking of a new reality and how we must contribute to it. Please consider how we can prepare to engage the process of land use and land use change and capacity building in the terribly unequal world we are now leaving as we step through the portal Arundhti Roy talks of.

Kind Regards
Robert Fincham
Project Leader

The Western Cape Biosphere Reserve Research Workshop Report 2019 can be viewed here.

This workshop took place on 19th June 2019 and was hosted by the Sustainability Research Unit at Nelson Mandela University, George Campus.

Responding to the challenges brought to light in the 2018 workshop, the SRU hosted a second one-day workshop aimed at developing an inter and transdisciplinary network of working groups for research in the Western Cape biosphere reserves. The 2019 workshop provided a space and process for the coordinated organisation of research working groups, based on, but not limited to the themes that emerged last year. The workshop also provided an opportunity for stakeholders at multiple levels, sectors, and disciplines to engage and communicate with one another and to overcome communication challenges across levels, sectors and fields.

In an attempt to build on the results of the 2018 workshop the desired outcomes of the 2019 workshop were to fertilise a collaborative research network for the biosphere reserves in the Western Cape. Primarily the workshop sets out to 1) encourage the formulation of a network of research working groups by bringing together interested and affected parties to form working groups for each theme; 2) elect co-chairs / champions for each working group; 3) facilitate working group dialogues to determine the scope of each working group; 4) provide a space for the development of Terms of Reference (ToR) for the working group and; 5) Nurture a biosphere-based collaborative research network that will be able to source new funding in the years to come.

Participants in the 2019 workshop reflected on the 2018 themes and pointed out that the themes did not include a space for marine and coastal research. Participants also felt that it was a bit premature to establish formalized working groups. Instead participants engaged around what research working groups could contribute to biosphere reserves and what steps need to take place to establish them.

This report provides a record of the 2019 workshop process and outcomes. It seeks to capture and document the small group dialogue feedback sessions and the participants’ contribution to the outputs of the workshops.

View WCBR Research Workshop Report (19 June 2019)

The Western Cape Biosphere Reserve Research Workshop Report 2018 can be viewed here.

This workshop “Towards a Research Agenda” took place on 31 August 2018 was hosted by the Sustainability Research Unit at Nelson Mandela University, George Campus.

The Nelson Mandela University, Sustainability Research Unit hosted a workshop bringing together a diversity of practitioners, researchers and interested parties who are tasked with aligning human activity and well-being with environmental protection in the Western Cape biosphere reserves.

The workshop was focused on facilitating a Western Cape biosphere research network and developing a user inspired, coordinated research agenda. Working at the interface of practice and research the workshop targeted the development of a social-ecological research focus that would inform inter-, multi, and trans-disciplinary research themes for the biosphere reserves.

A series of short presentations from the Western Cape Biosphere Reserves Forum on social and ecological challenges in the Western Cape and the launch of a research portal, together with an introduction to the Social-Ecological Systems (SES) framework and the need for long term inter- and trans-disciplinary research in and on biosphere reserves were given. The presentations set the scene for important deliberations on the challenges of achieving biosphere reserve goals and, the difficulties, opportunities and role of networks in facilitating research practice feedbacks for impactful research.

View outcomes here.