In celebration of the International Day of Biological Diversity, 22 May 2021, Forestry South Africa (FSA) has released a new interactive infographic, introducing the reader to the patchwork mosaic of planted compartments and unplanted spaces that make up the commercial forestry landscape. Interactive links let readers learn more about the formally protected areas, important conservation areas, species conservation programmes and biodiversity research being conducted within the commercial forestry landscape.
“Few people realise that within forestry landholdings there are over 305 000 hectares of grassland, fynbos, indigenous forest and water bodies. As a result, the forestry landscape provides an array of habitats and ecological services that can benefit biodiversity.” – Dr Ronald Heath, FSA Director: Research and Protection.
A recent survey, undertaken by Forestry South Africa (FSA) of 70% of South Africa’s forestry landscape, found 171 197 hectares of grassland, 12 902 hectares of fynbos, 62 269 hectares of indigenous forest and 59 513 hectares of water bodies within commercial forestry landholdings.
“These natural spaces are an important part of the commercial forestry landscape and can if managed and designed properly, benefit biodiversity. They also provide an opportunity to conduct biodiversity-based research that will ultimately improve our understanding and ability to conserve both individual species and whole ecosystems “, Dr Heath continues. “While most people involved in the industry know about the formally protected areas and important conservation spaces found within this patchwork landscape and understand the conservation and research opportunities they present, those outside the industry still envisage the forestry landscape as wall-to-wall planted compartments, this is something we can only address by showcasing the patchwork nature of forestry”, Dr Heath concludes.
Formally Protected Areas
These are areas identified as having high or unique biodiversity that provides important ecosystem services or home to rare, endemic or threatened species. Formally Protected Areas are proclaimed under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (Act 57 if 2003) and based on partnerships between landowners, Provincial Conservation Authorities and NGOs to secure biodiversity. For State forest land, as with SAFCOL, formal protection, in the form of Forest Nature Reserves are proclaimed under the National Forest Act (Act 84 of 1998). An “intent to declare” five such areas totalling 4 847 hectares, managed by SAFCOL, has been Government Gazetted.
“At Sappi, we are proud to have seven formally protected areas within our landholdings. Each of these Stewardship sites is of high ecological and biodiversity value, and as a company, Sappi is committed to protect and monitor these important Formally Protected Areas”, explains Louise van Wyk, Sappi Area Environmental Manager (MPU) and Chairperson of Forestry South Africa’s Environmental Management Committee.
Important Conservation Areas
In a commercial forestry landholding context, an Important Conservation Area or Site of Conservation Significance are areas that are important at the local level and are classified using a systematic conservation planning approach. While this may differ between companies, most use similar criteria, including the presence of Red Data List animals and plants, threat status of the ecosystem, size, connectedness, condition, aesthetics and recreational value.
“Across Sappi-owned land in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal there are currently 162 ICAs covering approximately 39 500 hectares or almost a third of Sappi’s unplanted area”, explains Peta Hardy, Sappi Environmental Analyst.
“Just under 20% of NCT Forestry and Agricultural Co-operative landholdings, 5 714 hectares remains unplanted and includes numerous sites of conservation significance. These are managed, monitored and maintained to ensure the conservation of both biodiversity and ecosystem services”, explains Craig Norris, NCT Forestry Technology Manager.
Species Conservation Programmes
The patchwork forestry landscape provides a range of habitats and ecosystem services for a wide variety of species. As a result, forestry companies are now the custodians of these species, some of which are threatened, rare or endemic and as such, they require specific monitoring and managing programmes.
“The upper Blyde and Treur Rivers are the only home to the critically endangered Treur River Barb (Enteromius treurensis) and the bulk of this habitat falls within York Timber managed land. As custodians of the land, and therefore the species residing within it, it is our responsibility to protect the Treur River Barb”, explains John Crawford-Brunt, York Timbers Compliance Manager.
“SAFCOL, as a significant land manager and custodian of several threatened bird species, including the Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus), has appointed a Crowned Eagle specialist to research and monitor breeding populations of Crowned Eagles on SAFCOL plantations in Mpumalanga”, explains Chris Foster, SAFCOL Environmental Practitioner.
“As a corporate citizen, NCT Forestry and Agricultural Co-operative encourages the sustainable use of natural resources, the protection of wildlife and believes this is achieved through improving the capacity of communities and private farmers to manage their land sustainably with a view of promoting biodiversity and ecosystem management”, explains Anita Nicholson, NCT Forestry Public Relations and Communications Officer.
The conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services is underpinned by research, be it at the species, ecosystem or landscape level. Research broadens our knowledge base and shapes management plans and conservation practices. The patchwork nature of the forestry landscape provides a multitude of research opportunities, many of which benefit species, ecosystems and landscapes that stretch far beyond forestry’s borders.
“Like most of Sappi’s landholding, Grootgeluk has a significant amount of natural vegetation interspersed within the planted compartments. These unplanted areas provide a range of habitats from indigenous forests, grasslands and riverine areas and wetlands… … by improving our understanding and knowledge base, we can make more informed management plans and conservation decisions”, explains Peta Hardy, Sappi Environmental Analyst.
A sustainable approach
It is important to celebrate international days such as that of Biodiversity, which remind us of the need to embrace a sustainable approach in all areas of forestry, be it environmental sustainability, social sustainability or economic sustainability. As a Sector that produces a natural, renewable and carbon-neutral resource, we feel strongly about ensuring forestry operations are done in a manner that promotes sustainability across the board. We are proud that over 80% of commercial plantations are Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified in South Africa and the recent launch of the PEFC endorsed Sustainable African Forestry Assurance Scheme (SAFAS) certification system.
We understand that forestry’s reach extends into the rural communities that neighbour its plantations. The Industry is a major employer in rural settings – from Limpopo, through Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, to the Eastern Cape and Western Cape. It also invests millions of rand annually on a variety of rural community-based initiatives, spanning health and welfare, food security, education, community infrastructure, community engagement and upliftment, enterprise and supplier development, the environment and recreation.
To remain sustainable and competitive in a global market, the South African Forestry Sector invests, on average, 1.6% of the Sector’s GDP on research and development, more than double the national average. This ensuring productivity and profitability keep increasing despite a slight decline in the area under production. The Sector has contributed R 62 billion annually to the South African economy, employing just under 150 000 people along its value chain, most from rural communities. Wood-based products provide a diverse array of ‘green alternatives’ – including bioplastics, green chemicals and green fuels, as well as the everyday essentials like toilet paper, roof trusses and packaging and not forgetting the products most would never guess are, in part, sourced from trees such as cosmetics, washing powder, sweetener and cell phone screens. While diverse in their applications these forest-based products share several important characteristics, including their renewability, sustainable production and employment potential. As a result, the Forestry Sector is likely to have a significant role in the green economic response to the COVID-19 economic crisis and beyond.
Photo credits: Peta Hardy except for the Crowned Eagle Chick: Garth Batchelor.