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#ForNature: An Introduction to the National Biodiversity Assessment

JuN 4, 2020  |  Photos by Chapman Poulsen.Written by Rupert Koopman. Photos by Rupert Koopman, Donovan Kirkwood and Zoë Poulsen

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”

– Baba Dioum, former Senegalese forestry engineer, as part of a paper presented at the 1968 General Assembly of the international Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This week we celebrate the launch of World Environment Month, with World Environment Day on 5 June. Hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Environment Day prominently promotes environmental action, with concurrent activities to celebrate this globally. Quite aptly, this year’s theme “time for nature” reminds us that “to care for ourselves we must care for nature” which is heartening in the midst of a global pandemic that has given us all the opportunity and time for reflection.


Above: Kruger National Park. Photo: Donovan Kirkwood.


South Africa is fortunate to have a multitude of excellent biodiversity resources which enable us to “love what we understand”. One of our key guides is the National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA), which is compiled by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). This resource comprises a technical synthesis document and seven additional technical reports, with associated datasets and biodiversity maps. The latest edition of the NBA was launched in October 2019 and has had copious amounts of media coverage, notably the article entitled “Stocktaking SA’s national treasures” on page 34 – 37 in the March 2020 issue of Veld and Flora.


Above: Forest and grasslands in Royal Natal National Park, KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Zoë Poulsen.


In the nature appreciation landscape, where the Botanical Society works, a constant challenge is quantifying what we aim to achieve. This includes aligning our own “know, grow, protect and enjoy South Africa’s indigenous flora” with the best available scientific information. The format of the NBA groups the results into three key themes, namely:

1. South Africa’s biodiversity provides benefits to people;
2. South Africa’s biodiversity is under pressure but solutions are at hand; and
3. The NBA stimulates work to address knowledge gaps.


Above: Hemel en Aarde Valley, Overberg. Photo: Rupert Koopman.


An appreciated attribute of the NBA products is that the team wants the information to be accessible to a broad audience. Of particular interest is the Facts, Findings and Messages document, a punchy 7-page read which points out our unique biodiversity features, ecosystem threat status, ecosystem services, a summary of key NBA messages as well as identifying necessary actions.

This gives us a solid knowledge base to build our biodiversity plans and conversations on, being a synthesis of existing information collected by a range of more than 90 institutions. It also presents new and refined techniques to measure both the status quo and progress of how nature is doing in South Africa.


In fact, the NBA team are aware of their position as a part of a greater picture in the South African biodiversity knowledge space. SANBI’s Dr Andrew Skowno (Lead Scientist: NBA) said “The NBA would not be possible if it were not for the established and vibrant conservation practice in South Africa. This community has a track record of world-class systemic bio-regional planning which allows us to make sure that we aim limited resources to where they would have the most impact”.

This collaborative ethic means that the NBA feeds into similar work at provincial level such as Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency’s Insights into Biodiversity Conservation within Mpumalanga and CapeNature’s Western Cape State of Biodiversity report as methods across the country are increasingly developed and standardised. This provincial level reporting in turn is used in developing future editions of the NBA.


Above: Berg River in flood, Western Cape. Photo: Rupert Koopman.


Conservation work at the Botanical Society will be drawing direction from the NBA, National Plant Conservation Strategy, provincial plans and other sources in order to make sure that our efforts are always relevant and strategic.

Sustained progress in the biodiversity field can be measured by the improved resolution of biodiversity mapping. In the year 2000, cutting edge conservation planning products had identified irreplaceable biodiversity features at a quarter degree square level (approximately 27 km long and 23 km wide) and currently priority areas are mapped at a scale of 1:10 000 (one cm on the map represents 100 m on the ground). This allows biodiversity maps to be used for land use planning and decision making and better yet, they are available for the interested public for education.



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