South Africa is home to a wealth of bird species and other unique biodiversity. Sadly, a large portion of our natural heritage is threatened with extinction if we do not change the situation. The rapid spread of agriculture, urbanization, mining, pollution and a host of other human-induced factors has caused the current precarious status of many of our birds and their habitats. The IBA Programme seeks to protect sites identified as critical to the survival of the species found there.
These IBAs are also of the utmost importance to securing our water and food-production. The overall health of these ecosystems impacts our households directly. The majority of these habitats, and the birds and other biodiversity they house, are found outside of state-owned protected areas. It is, therefore, essential that private landowners are engaged to steward their land in such a way that our environmental health and the beauty of our country is preserved for the future.
To this end, BirdLife South Africa has been investing time and effort into the national Biodiversity Stewardship initiative as a novel and key means to formally protect priority IBAs. Part of this process has been to address challenges in this otherwise innovative tool. The use of fiscal benefits, such as ‘green’ taxes accruing to (and encouraging) landowners to participate in local Biodiversity Stewardship programmes, is currently underutilised. As a result, BirdLife South Africa launched the Biodiversity Stewardship Fiscal Benefits Project in February 2015.
The Fiscal Benefits Project, managed by Candice Stevens, involves the testing of a number of tax incentives currently contained in national legislation to determine their use and applicability in benefiting landowners who make a conservation commitment. The Fiscal Benefits Project has been launched at specified pilot sites where tax incentives are being tested under a feasibility study. The findings of the Fiscal Benefits Project are catalytic in nature and BirdLife South Africa is at the forefront of cutting edge conservation work.
It is hoped that, through this pilot project, the IBA Programme may be able to bolster efforts to secure the protection and environmental management of a range of different habitats. Thereby, safeguarding the future of numerous birds and other species as well as ensuring the continued provision of ecosystem services by securing healthy food production and water catchment areas to the benefit of all South Africans.
The Fiscal Benefits Projects is funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust.