Modern conservation methodology and practice favours opening up conservation areas and corridors to allow the free flow of migratory and large range animals. This involves agreements between stakeholders to effect common conservation ideals and outcomes.
Previously, conservation areas used to be fenced, mainly for political and veterinary reasons. However, since around 20 years ago fences have been identified as a hindrance to migratory wildlife, especially the larger mammal species. For migration to be able to happen again, the most visual and emotive action involves the dropping and removal of fences. Good relations between landowner’s and stakeholders are crucial and a written agreement replaces the fence and governs the relationship.
A succulent in the Richtersveld landscape (Image: Martin Albertus)
The Succulent Karoo Biome is one of two entirely arid ecosystems in South Africa to have hotspot status, and boasts the richest succulent flora on earth, as well as extremely high plant (40%) and reptile endemism. Despite the global importance of the Succulent Karoo hotspot, a very small percentage of the region is formally protected. The hotspot’s biodiversity is under pressure from a range of human impacts, especially mining, crop agriculture, ostrich farming, overgrazing, illegal collection of fauna and flora, and climate change.
Under the GEF-5 PA Project, the Richtersveld Protected Area Expansion covering 18,000 ha of Succulent Karoo was established in partnership with the local communities, delivering social benefits in an impoverished region. One of the ob is a contractujectives was to expand the Richtersveld National Park protected area by securing a state-owned neighbouring area, important for biodiversity representation and climate change resilience. The property comprising the Klein Duin Section of the Richtersveld National Park is currently held in the South African National Parks (SANParks) Trust whereas the main Richtersveld National Park park belonging to the Richtersveld community.
Lots of plants are specifically endemic to the region and many are at risk and in need of protection. The Vyftienmylseberg (485 metres above sea level) within the Klein Duin Section has a very particular climate in terms of temperature, mist and rain fall that only appears in that area and allows certain plants to grow.
As part of the GEF-5 PA Project’s objectives, the Richtersveld Coastal areas were the focus for the PA expansion. In order to better protect the biodiversity, it was decided to upgrade and extend the existing fence of the Klein Duin Section. The previous fencing of the property was extremely degraded and not fit for purpose.
The derelict fence ahead of the upgrading and expansion. (Image: Oscar Osberg)
Other reasons for the fencing project included:
- Anti-trespass and anti-poaching is impossible to patrol and enforce or motivate in a court of law unless the boundaries are physical and/or clearly demarcated;
- Keep the fauna in to reach a natural balance for particular species such as steenbok, porcupine, and black backed jackal;
- Keep people out who had, over the years, become accustomed to using and abusing the land for their own purposes.
One of the aims of the GEF-5 PA Project in the Richtersveld Coastal area was to connect the PA expansion and development to the socio-economic development of the area. In line with this objective, communities have been included as far as possible in the execution of the various project milestones. In 2017, local SMME contractors were invited to tender for the fencing contract. Following a tender process through SANParks supply chain management, the tender was advertised locally at community centres, through the municipality and at various community forums.
Connecting protected area expansion with socio-economic development. (Image: Oscar Osberg)
With support from the GEF-5 PA Project, assistance was given to all the applicants. This included filling in forms, conducting basic costing for the project and more importantly following an easy format which helped to understand the complex admissions criteria. The local entrepreneurs were able to register their businesses and comply with the requirements so that their bids were competitive and comparative. While some of the community members had worked in small business capacities before, this process kickstarted the development into formal SMME’s.
A local contractor was appointed, the fencing material procured and the building process began. All employment opportunities were offered to local communities. Skilled and experienced managers managed two teams. Workers were split in two teams starting at different sides of the property. The workers with little or now previous experience were provided on the job training in setting up the fence. They learned to work with a high quality steel game fence with a height of 1.8 meters. Payment was on a per meter basis and was made on a monthly basis with a retention in place until completion.
An eye for detail – local community members learned the skills of setting up a high quality steel game fence. (Image: Oscar Osberg)
While the workers are now well experienced in the building of fencing, the contractor gained experience in the following critical areas:
- Setup of statutory company;
- Registering with the statutory entities for taxes;
- Registering with government in order to obtain government contracts;
- Managing labour teams;
- Co-ordinate the daily business affairs and business cash flows.
The management and workers successfully handled challenges of supply chain management and the procurement of material along the way. “One would see committed workers working on a Sunday evening to catch up with delays “, said Oscar Osberg, Senior Section Ranger of the Klein Duin Protected Area at SANParks, who was part of the on-site management.
Committed workers went out of their way to finish the project on time. (Image Oscar Osberg)
The fencing project was successfully completed ahead of time and a high quality fence of 82km was handed over in March 2019.
Two years later the fence is still standing and regularly patrolled by four SANParks field rangers. Three of the rangers have been recruited through a selection process from within the local community. They have been trained and equipped by SANParks for the duration of the GEF-5 PA Project.
SANParks presence provides security and local employees a sense of ownership. (Image: Oscar Osberg)
More importantly, building the fence has instilled a sense of pride and achievement in the local workers. And the community at large has experienced a sense of involvement and ownership of the conservation project as a whole. Stock farmers now better understand and appreciate the reasons for fencing. “The local community has adopted more modern values, as they recognise the conservation resources as their own heritage and realise their value and that they need to be looked after,” said Oscar Osberg. This includes protecting the area from external threats and pressure.
There is appropriate signage in place and visual presence of SANParks in the region. Community involvement is ongoing in the park. Further community projects through SANParks Biodiversity Special Projects (BSP) have taken the form of erosion control and rehabilitation.
A job well done! (Image: Oscar Osberg)