We are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty remains as to when the GRBR collaborative strategy development process can be resumed.  Despite this we have not been idle – retaining our overall vision for the process, and instead looking for ways to support our stakeholders in COVID recovery strategies in the interim.

Our focus during this difficult time has been on working with others in leveraging and applying for funding.

Our progress to date is provided in this update.

Landscape Coordination in Strategic Water Source Areas

Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSA) are those areas that supply a disproportionate amount of mean annual runoff to a geographical region of interest, often supplying substantial downstream economies and urban centres which are vital to the economy. These WSAs are strategically important areas for sustainable development, and especially so in the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve.

Working with the WWF and the Nedbank Green Trust Fund, the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) has managed to secure funding for landscape coordination in the GRBR for the next two years, which will provide the reserve with much needed capacity on the ground.   The focus is on securing the environmental integrity of these areas to deliver ecosystem services to the important economies and over 500 000 people living in the Biosphere Reserve.

Research Infrastructure

One of the more significant proposals the GRBR has been working on was the nomination of the Garden Route and Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) domain as an Expanded Freshwater and Terrestrial Environmental Observation Network (EFTEON) instrumented landscape.  The EFTEON is research infrastructure developed under the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) program of the Department of Science and Innovation (https://efteon.saeon.ac.za/).  EFTEON aims to provide and operate a network of instrumented landscape-level platforms for the South African environmental research community, focused on socially relevant terrestrial landscapes and their coupled hydrological systems.

The GRBR together with the GCBR, Nelson Mandela University, South African National Parks, Living Lands and Land Care have proposed the footprint of the Garden Route and Gouritiz Cluster Biosphere Reserves as an EFTEON landscape, namely the Garden Route Gateway site.  The nomination proposes a network of sites, with a core site located at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU – George Campus), where the significant research infrastructure and facilities are located in the landscape. The network of sites would include satellite sites at Prince Albert – with a field office at Wolwekraal; the Duiwenhoeks catchment – with a field office at the GCBR in Riversdale; Baviaanskloof – with a field office at Living Lands in Studtis; and the Kromme River catchment – with a field office at Living Lands in Joubertina.

Should this nomination be successful it will hopefully result in a substantial investment in research instrumentation and infrastructure in the region.  It will provide a suite of relevant long-term environmental observational and data management infrastructure to add value to existing research efforts within the landscape and facilitate further ecological and socio-ecological research. The instrumentation will generate significant open source data made available for all stakeholders in the domain. This data will help us better understand anthropogenic influence on our environment. We eagerly await the selection decision from EFTEON and believe the Garden Route Gateway Site to be a strong nomination.

Western Cape Ecological Infrastructure Investment Framework (EIIF)

Under the Western Cape Ecological Infrastructure Investment Framework (EIIF), the Keurbooms River Catchment was identified as a priority area in which investments in ecological infrastructure could reduce critical water security challenges, wildfire risks and biodiversity losses. The Western Cape Government has spearheaded the development of an initiative aimed at enhancing investment in ecological infrastructure management and restoration in this catchment area.

After consulting with key stakeholders in Keurbooms River catchment, the “Keurbooms Catchment Ecological Infrastructure Investment Work Group” 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. The GRBR has become a member of the Work Group and we look forward to the work it will do.

Youth Leadership

The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve is a high value biodiversity asset, but with numerous ecological and social drivers threatening the GRBR region such as climate change, increasing urbanisation, spread of invasive alien species, and unsustainable harvesting of natural resources.  At the same time there are enormous challenges to meet the needs of a growing population with high levels of inequality and unemployment. These social and ecological drivers threaten the sustainability of the region as do (sub-)cultures (e.g. consumption and un/sustainable practices), poor leadership and governance practices.  The environmental breakdown is being accelerated by COVID-19, a phenomenon simulating future climate change perturbations.  The need for alternative leadership is required to reverse these trends.

Together with the Sustainability Research Unit at the Nelson Mandela University, South African National Parks and the Knysna Municipality the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve applied for funding from V. Kann Rassmussen Foundation within their Cultural Resilience and Global Leadership under the Conditions of Environmental Breakdown programme for youth leadership for resilient environment and communities. We proposed developing and testing a youth-led resilience that will challenge the existing paradigm, and that can be upscaled to other locations.  Unfortunately, this proposal was not successful but alternative funders are being sought.

Crèches Project

In an effort to help our younger communities be sustainable and resilient during these times, the GRBR is currently developing a proposal to support the collaboration between the George Municipality and Landmark Foundation in their Crèches Project.  The 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.

Food Security and Sustainability

The GRBR has been in support of the Sustainable Cities Forum (SCF), newly established in 2019 to champion long-term social and ecological well-being in the Garden Route by promoting sustainability and action based on research and partnership with communities. Part funding has been received by the SCF to provide a standalone situation report on the current efforts by a range of groups in the George area to address local food security and sustainability. The outcome of this report will assist decision-makers and funders to determine how best to align and optimise efforts aimed at addressing food security in the Garden Route.

Activities in the Eastern Cape

Until recently, the GRBR had limited influence or reach in the eastern regions of the Biosphere, but this is changing as we drive more activity and involvement in the area. Through the Kouga Local Municipality Spatial Development Framework (SDF) review it was noted that a significant portion of the Biosphere Reserve which falls within the Kouga Local Municipality was not recognised in the SDF.  Comments were submitted to Kouga Local Municipality in September 2020 to address this.  It is hoped that putting the Biosphere Reserve on the SDF map will foster greater recognition and collaboration with the municipality.

Furthermore, 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.  A total of 402 flora species have been recorded in the area, 31 of which are recognized as species of special conservation concern and about 40% of the flora species are endemic to the Cape Floristic Region (CFR), making it a high priority for conservation and the GRBR.

Garden Route Biosphere Reserve AGM

Another year has passed, and it is also time for our Annual General Meeting (AGM). However, with the dramatic increase of infections in the Eastern Cape and with a cluster outbreak in the Garden Route we have decided to avoid putting any of our stakeholders at risk and have opted to hold our AGM virtually on the 4th of December at 10h00.

We have emailed our stakeholders an invitation but if you have not received one it means your contact details may not be updated on our database.  You can find the details of the invitation on the GRBR website and we would appreciate you notifying us (admin@gardenroutebiosphere.org.za) of your most recent contact details for any future correspondence.

Sincerely,

Dr. Bianca Currie

Chair