SA Biodiversity Institute provided R4,1 million in funding to combat the illegal clearing of indigenous vegetation in the Cape Winelands. File photo: African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has provided funding to the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning amounting to R4,1 million, to combat the illegal clearing of indigenous vegetation in the Cape Winelands District Municipality.

The funding is for an initial period of 30 months. 

Anton Bredell, the minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the Western Cape has welcomed the support and says indigenous vegetation is under serious threat in some areas of the province due to illegal clearing.

“Environmental damage is lasting and often irreversible. Not only for our sake, but also for the sake of future generations it is important to protect and manage our natural heritage,” says Bredell.

The main offences being targeted are the illegal clearing of indigenous and critically endangered indigenous vegetation.  Alleged offenders who conduct such activities are liable to be issued with a compliance notice or arrested in serious cases.  Failure to comply with a compliance notice is a criminal offence and fines of up to R5 million or 5 years’ imprisonment may be imposed on conviction of an offence.  In addition to such penalties, property and vehicles may be confiscated.

The project has been located in the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning’s Directorate: Environmental Law Enforcement. Currently it encompasses a highly skilled and experienced botanist, Phil McLean, a specialised law enforcement officer and administrative assistance.

“The unique indigenous vegetation in this area provides a number of economic opportunities and sustainable livelihood for locals and business. However, illegal clearing of indigenous vegetation; over-consumption of water and pollution severely compromises the ecosystem”, said McLean.

The project is managed by Nithzaam Albertyn, a region manager whose specialised law enforcement officers will assist in the operations of the project.  The manager is in the process of recruiting graduate interns for the purpose of assistance to the team and training in environmental law enforcement proficiency.

The funding was provided by the Global Environmental Facility in collaboration with the UNEF and has been granted to the Department.  “Funding of this nature is essential in the current economic climate as South Africa has a vast wealth of biodiversity that provides numerous benefits essential for economic growth and social development, including employment for thousands of workers of all categories”,  said Ahmad Bassier, the Director of Environmental Law Enforcement.

This District Municipality, which has about 650 000 inhabitants was chosen as it is situated within two globally recognised biodiversity hotspots, the Cape Floristic Region and the Succulent Karoo.  The Cape Floristic Region is the smallest of the six acknowledged floral kingdoms of the world and is home to over 9,000 plant species. It is also the only floristic region in the world to be contained within a single country making it a very unique feature of the Western Cape and of South Africa.

Much of this region’s biodiversity is associated with fynbos species, a Mediterranean-type, fire-prone shrubland. Bassier states that “the economic value of fynbos biodiversity, based on harvests of fynbos products (e.g. wildflowers) and eco-tourism, is estimated to be over R80 million a year.  Thus, it is clear that the Cape Floristic Region has both economic and intrinsic biological value as a biodiversity hotspot”.

The District Municipality encompasses a major wine producing area and an agricultural centre for vegetables and deciduous fruits. Farming and related industries provide millions of Rands in revenue and taxes. Illegal clearing of indigenous vegetation therefore threatens the ecosystem functioning in this area.

Intergovernmental operations in the form of blitzes are to be planned with other organs of state like CapeNature, the local municipalities in the Cape Winelands District Municipality and the Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency.

Proactive awareness training on the importance of conserving biodiversity and following the correct procedures to obtain environmental authorisation, in order to prevent illegal clearing activities from occurring or continuing, will be presented to the relevant stakeholders, which include farmers in the District Municipality.

Both the South African Police Services and the National Prosecuting Authority will be integral role-players in the prosecution of biodiversity offences. This joint effort between the Department and SANBI has been launched and has commenced functioning.

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