In the latter half of 2011, NCC was awarded a tender by the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET) for the development of Reserve Management Plans for 28 of its Provincial Nature Reserves.
As part of the Inception Phase of the project, a Protected Area Planning Specialist, Dr James Jackelman was appointed to draft the Guideline for the Development of Management Plans for Limpopo’s Provincial Nature Reserves. This was formally adopted by LEDET and the project to guide the development of the planning process.
Soon after in January 2012, a team of four NCC Conservation Technicians were appointed and sent to the Limpopo Province for a reserve by reserve data collection exercise, which included visiting the reserves, meeting the reserve managers and collecting all relevant information available. The team was split into two teams, with both teams visiting different reserves and taking different travel routes around the province. Each day meant a visit to a new reserve and a total of 18 days was spent on the road. It was a wonderful experience being in the Limpopo bushveld, visiting areas we had never seen before and knowing that we were there to make a difference!
Once we returned to the office, the real work began: Sorting, scanning and filing all the information we had collected. In March 2012, our Project Manager, Rob Dyer, was appointed. Under his leadership, Phase 3 of the project picked up momentum and the planning process for each of the reserves began to unfold.
Phase 3, the bulk of the project, involved developing the Reserve Management Plan template, and external specialists hastily started populating certain sections of this template. At the same time, we were also in contact with the Reserve Managers, setting up Reserve Planning Teams (a group of core stakeholders that would be involved in the planning and leadership of each reserve). Once populated, the partially completed Draft Strategic Plans were sent for internal review by LEDET. This was a very busy time, with processes often running back-to-back or parallel to each other!
This project involved many activities including:
- Strategic Planning Workshops with the Reserve Planning Teams;
- Annual Plan of Operations (APO) workshops with the Reserve Managers;
- The ongoing review and populating of the Reserve Management Plans; and
- The implementation of a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy as part of the Public Participation Process, to name a few.
In November, for a period of two weeks, three NCC teams travelled to the Limpopo Province to conduct Stakeholder Engagement Workshops aimed at consulting with the interested and/or affected parties identified for each reserve. Each team consisted of one facilitator and one scribe. Once all comments recorded during these Stakeholder Engagement Workshops were collaborated, selected comments were sent to LEDET officials for an official response. Other minor amendments resulting from comments received during the Stakeholder Engagement Workshops were also made to the Draft Strategic Plans at this stage, where after the plans were made available for a 30-day public review period on the NCC website and at various pre-selected public venues.
Comments received during the 30-day public review period were taken into consideration during a final round of revisions of the Reserve Management Plans. Thereafter the final plans were presented to LEDET for formal adoption by the Member of the Executive Council (MEC).
Despite numerous challenges faced by the project team throughout the duration of this project, a product of exceptional quality was delivered to the client. It is anticipated that these experiences and lessons learnt will lead to the compilation of an even better product for similar projects in the future.
Having a management plan is a legal requirement according to the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act. Once adopted, these plans will provide a clear sense of direction for activities on the reserves and will guide the management of the reserve. This plan, aligned with necessary legislation and organisational policies, will ensure the on-going biodiversity and longevity of the area.