The biodiversity assets of Southern Africa are globally recognized as exceptional. The protection of these unique landscapes, and their associated flora and fauna, is a high priority on the political and sustainability agenda. The Diamond Route project demonstrates that, regardless of the industry, businesses need not impose a limit on their efforts to contribute positively to the creation, expansion, conservation, management and restoration of Southern Africa's natural capital base. The Diamond Route’s core innovation is the simple decision to utilize landholdings acquired for exploration and mining purposes for biodiversity conservation. The mining industry has the ability to support the development, management and expansion of protected areas by working together with government and civil society to ensure the effective management of natural resources.
The global mining industry drives approximately 50 percent of the world’s GDP, which has a significant associated impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services. As the exploitation of mineral and hydrocarbon resources increases, there is an increasing challenge to find a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability. Mining licensees and landholdings cover extensive areas, often including sites of high biodiversity value. Generally, only a small percentage of these areas are actually disturbed by mining activities. This leaves vast tracks of undisturbed lands, which can be used to support both local and international protected area expansion strategies. Biodiversity stewardship opportunities are generally not recognized early enough in mining lifecycle stages, especially the evaluation of areas of high biodiversity importance. The establishment of guidelines and frameworks for integrating the management and development of these priority conservation areas is critical. The mining industry can take advantage of opportunities for sustainability that deliver valuable and recognizable contributions to biodiversity stewardship around their areas of operation.
Mining license land holdings are generally considerably larger than the total footprint of any mining operation. De Beers actively manages approximately five hectares of land for biodiversity conservation purposes for every one hectare used commercially. As part of this approach, De Beers works together with the South African National Parks (SANParks) and the Peace Parks Foundation to enlarge SANParks' footprint. This collaboration is enabling SANParks' to meet their conservation objectives at both the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Landscape in Limpopo Province, as well as at Namaqua National Park on South Africa's west coast. The Diamond Route currently comprises ten sites covering some 250,000 hectares. It stretches from the Succulent Karoo of Namaqualand on South Africa's west coast to the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve on South Africa's northern border, right up to the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana's Orapa Game Park. All Diamond Route sites are managed according to a shared biodiversity conservation management plan to maintain, restore and protect biodiversity, ecosystem integrity and the essential ecological processes that deliver sustainable socio-economic benefits.
The Diamond Route grew out of a mining business driven by people passionate about demonstrating "the good that Diamonds do". The Diamond Route demonstrates that regardless of the industry, businesses need to address development needs through sustainable business practices and environmental awareness. The integration of biodiversity stewardship into the mining lifecycle is a strategic objective that ensures the protection and management of the unique biodiversity in each mining area. The establishment of partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders ensures that the current risks associated with environmental impacts are addressed, and that future protected area expansion opportunities can be realized. These partnerships drive positive change in environmental management, biodiversity conservation and sustainability. Successful partnerships create a greater impact through working together, rather than individually, and by providing mutual benefit. This type of effort delivers both economic viability and ecological sustainability for the mining company, and ultimately guarantees a favorable reputation. Promoting biodiversity stewardship within the mining industry can secure areas of high biodiversity value, as well as support protected area expansion strategies, outside of state owned land.
De Beers is playing a vital, positive role in response to the challenge of securing biodiversity stewardship and reconciling development challenges in the mining sector. The Diamond Route aims to expand thd program in Botswana to link the greater Makgadigadi Protected Area network and include Namibia’s largest protected area, the Tsau//Khaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park. A vast number of key biodiversity areas, along with range restricted and endangered species habitat, are assured protection through the support of research projects from a wide range of institutions and collaborations with many government departments, NGOs, research and academic institutions. Maximizing the public benefit of the Diamond Route properties, securing key biodiversity areas, and expanding protected area networks and associated research and conservation efforts is De Beers' way of demonstrating how businesses can align their corporate strategies with national and international best practices. The right partnerships, and mutually beneficial relationships with recognized academic institutions, have enabled De Beers' to initiate, coordinate and conduct research. It will generate the right information required for decision support that is directly in line with management objectives for the conservation and sustainable utilization of biodiversity. The Diamond Route has been recognized for its efforts and has received a number of awards: 2013 Zoological Society of South Africa Corporate Award; 2011 Eco-logic Award; 2011 South African National Parks Kudu Award; 2011 International Green Awards; and, 2010 Nedbank Capital Green Mining Award.