The Government of Mauritius through the National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCS) of the Ministry of Agro-industry and Food Security is working with partners in the Government, NGO and private sector to expand protected area coverage and enhance PA management effectiveness under the UNDP-GEF Protected Area Network Expansion Project (the Mauritius PAN Project). One of the key elements of these efforts is the involvement of the private sector in protected area management.
Under the PAN Project several private sector land owners have entered into agreements with the government to undertake pilot restoration work on privately owned land with high biodiversity value, in exchange for financial and technical support. Under these agreements the private sector managers will be able to incorporate these pilot sites into development initiatives that are consistent with biodiversity conservation, notably ecotourism to ensure the long term sustainability of conservation management and to showcase Mauritius’s unique biodiversity to the national and international public. The results of this work will be used to inform the development of a conservation stewardship program to implement PA expansion initiatives on privately owned or managed land. This will be the primary mechanism to expand the PAN into privately managed land.
The PAN Project is also catalysing increased private sector involvement and finance for protected area management in the long term through the Mauritius’s expanding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Programme.
Mauritius’s native forest has been progressively cleared in the 400 years since human settlement with less than 2% of the island harbouring native forest today. Even these high biodiversity fragments are threatened by invasive alien plants and animals. Active restoration of Mauritius’s remaining native forest remnants is essential if its endangered terrestrial species and ecosystems are to survive and thrive in the medium to long term.
Mauritius has been among the world’s pioneer countries in saving a significant number of plant and animal species from the brink of extinction and restoring small areas of native forest within protected areas through weeding of invasive plants and replanting of natives. However, efforts to date have been expensive and not extensive enough to provide an umbrella for the majority of species for which specific conservation measures are impractical.
In addition, the current terrestrial protected area network is not sufficiently representative of all Mauritius’s ecosystems or species. A significant proportion of Mauritius’s biodiversity is found on privately owned or managed land. Some small parcels of this land are managed for biodiversity conservation but the majority is used for other purposes such as deer ranching. Forested areas are also threatened by residential development and the expanding tourism sector.
Seven private landowners have signed Memorandums of Understanding with MAIFS and money for restoration is being disbursed through the PAN Project. Each site is part of an area of high biodiversity conservation value and is at least 5 ha. $13,000 will be provided from the PAN Project against the achievement of restoration milestones. Some landowners have started the restoration work in advance of disbursement. An eighth landowner is likely to sign a MoU in the coming months. Discussions are ongoing with other private landowners who are showing an interest in the scheme.
A consultative process for the formulation of a conservation stewardship strategy is currently being undertaken with key stakeholders, notably the NPCS and Forestry Services who are responsible for overseeing the administration of forests under private management and the private landowners. An agreed stewardship programme will be part of the new PAN expansion strategy that is being formulated under the PAN Project.
Two pilot agreements to facilitate the involvement of private sector partners in restoration work have been negotiated under the Corporate Social Responsibility Programme. More are on the way.
(1) Speaking the language of the private sector. Negotiations to formulate agreements between government and private sector have taken longer than anticipated. This initiative is the first of its kind in Mauritius and all partners are on a steep learning curve. Stumbling blocks have included mutual suspicion between the government and the private sector – with some in the government wary of providing finance to the private sector and some in the private sector being against what they see as government interference. Suspicions have been gradually allayed by numerous meetings with staff from NPCS and the Forestry Service which have given the action a “human face.” Several private sector landowners are adopting a “wait and see” approach and may participate in future if the results from the early adopters are deemed to be positive. It is therefore, critical that the pilot site work is seen to be effective for all parties.
(2) There has to be a benefit for sector players for them to get involved in conservation. The novelty of the land stewardship agreements and CSR partnerships for restoration has contributed the time taken to draft legal agreements to codify the rights and responsibilities of all parties. With the first agreements finalised this process is likely to be much faster in future. The concept of conservation stewardship is new in Mauritius and the most appropriate approach to be adopted is still under discussion. But the principal at least is gaining increasing acceptance. The first actions, initiated under the PAN Project will provide vital learning experiences that will help shape the stewardship process in the coming years.
(3) Cost and scale matters in IAS clearance. The restoration and ecological integrity of Mauritian forests depend on clearing IAS. A key achievement of the PAN project has been to painstakingly explore the possibilities of cost reduction and up-scaling. New techniques have been trialed and job opportunities created for previously unskilled workers. A training programme made the job of weeding and clearing a niche skill and created demand for it. To the surprise of the project team, gender stood out as a differential element, as women turned out to be much more careful and thorough in the job of removing IAS without damaging the shoots of native plants.
Three key achievements of the PAN:
- engaging private land owners in the expanding and managing the PAN through innovative stewardship and financing mechanisms;
- bringing down the costs of clearing IAS and massively expanding the scale of the operation; and
- creating awareness among the public on the uniqueness of Mauritian biodiversity.
AWARENESS: The PAN Expansion work has been subject to a communications and marketing campaign under the brand name “Protected Endemic Sanctuaries” (PES). A Facebook site has been set up under this campaign (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Protected-Endemic-Sanctuaries-in-Mauritiu...). Three posters were produced as part of the campaign. They can be accessed on the PES Facebook page. A video clip was shown on the National television channel. This can be accessed on the PES Facebook page. A website is currently under construction along with a PES promotional booklet. An infographic to be posted on the website can be accessed on the PES Facebook page (pending finalisation of the infographic).