The Biodiversity Stewardship Programme was designed to promote a range of private landowners protection and sustainable management needs. The Programme consists of a range of applicable negotiated management plans and contracts, and in the protected areas categories, title deed restrictions. Categories include the highest category of nature reserve, which is designed to secure private nature reserves, and give them the same legal security as state-owned protected areas. The problem with offsets is often their long-term security, and it was realized that this category meets the need to ensure security for an offset. This innovative mechanism is in its infancy, and further refinements are necessary but the solution has the possibility of realizing real conservation gains. It is critical to stick to the ‘rules of the game,’ so that there are more gains than losses.
Environmental Offsetting is increasingly being recognized as the missing link to sustainable development. Over the past few years, Aa a component of South Africa’s fast-tracked growth trajectory, and in order to balance conservation efforts with sustainable development, South Africa's Department of Environment Affairs has attempted to secure offsets for developments with impacts that cannot be mitigated. A SADC guideline for managing impacts, which includes offsets, together with a draft national policy on offsets, has guided thinking and informed practices of what works and what does not work. However, the department has not yet, to date, had an offset that meets the requirements of a ‘good’ offset.
The Biodiversity Stewardship Programme has a number of options. The category that best meets the needs for an offset arrangement is that of Nature Reserve. What secures a private Nature Reserve in the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme is the negotiated management plan. Its' implementation has to be monitored by the province and must include a contract between the landowner and the provincial implementing agency, a declaration in the Government Gazette, and a title deed restriction that is placed in perpetuity on the property.
Key lessons learned in the application of the solution include:
- Not all development should require offsets, and offsets should only be applied under very specific circumstances.
- Offset requirements need to be precise and detailed, both in the Environmental Authorization and in the contract with the developer.
- Offsets need to be sorted out very early in the EIA process, as doing it later leads to complications.
- Offsets have to be secured for the term that the impact lasts, not the development timeline.
- It helps to have a ‘cherry on top.’
South Africa is developing a policy on biodiversity offsets that will include using the Biodiversity Stewardship programme as a tool for implementation.