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“Biodiversity stewardship is an approach to entering into agreements with private and communal landowners to protect and manage land in biodiversity priority areas, led by conservation authorities in South Africa. It recognises landowners as the custodians of biodiversity on their land. Biodiversity stewardship is based on voluntary commitments from landowners, with a range of different types of biodiversity stewardship agreements available to support conservation and sustainable resource use. Some types of biodiversity stewardship agreements are formally declared as protected areas in terms of the Protected Areas Act, providing long-term security for the sites involved.” 

Biodiversity stewardship contributes to landscape management and protected area expansion

Biodiversity stewardship is implemented on sites that have been identified as important for biodiversity and ecosystem services, based on best available science. Biodiversity stewardship is a highly cost-effective mechanism for expanding protected areas. Both the processes to negotiate and declare a protected area through the biodiversity stewardship model, as well as the ongoing cost of supporting the landowners to manage the biodiversity stewardship sites once they are declared, are many times less costly to the conservation authority than the cost to purchase land and manage protected areas themselves.

Under biodiversity stewardship, the land remains the property of the landowner. Biodiversity stewardship is particularly effective in multiple-use landscapes where biodiversity priority areas are embedded in a matrix of other land uses. A flexible range of biodiversity stewardship agreements is available that can combine biodiversity protection and sustainable agricultural production. This makes biodiversity stewardship appropriate for a wide variety of landscapes, including agricultural and communal areas.


Stewardship in the Marico

Becoming a Land Custodian in the Marico

Protected Areas are defined as Geographic areas that are formally protected by the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003).  

They are managed mainly for biodiversity conservation, and contribute towards the protected area estate.

Conservation Areas are areas that are not formally protected by the Protected Areas Act but are nevertheless managed at least partly for biodiversity conservation.  They contribute to the broader conservation estate.


There are five different types of biodiversity stewardship agreements, ranging from non-binding to long-term, formally declared protected areas. Each successive level of agreement provides more protection for biodiversity and involves more land-use restrictions. In line with this, increased support is provided to the landowner at higher levels of commitment. In addition, the relative importance of biodiversity is taken into consideration for eligibility at each level. In order to qualify for the higher levels of agreement, the property must have sufficient biodiversity importance.

The Protected Areas Act provides the legal framework for the two highest levels of biodiversity stewardship: Nature Reserves and Protected Environments. These are established by a formal declaration by the national Minister or provincial Member of the Executive Council. Nature Reserves and Protected Environments that are declared through the biodiversity stewardship programme have the same legal standing as state-owned and managed protected areas, and contribute to South Africa’s protected

area estate. Nature Reserves are declared on property with high biodiversity importance and have long-term title deed restrictions, which mean that even if the land changes hands its status as a protected area remains in place. Protected Environments are slightly more flexible than Nature Reserves and can be declared across multiple properties. Protected Environments can allow for some forms of production on the land, as long as this is integrated into an approved management plan.

Biodiversity Management Agreements are made possible under the Biodiversity Act. They are based on the development of a biodiversity management plan under this legislation. Biodiversity Agreements are based on contracts between landowners and the provincial conservation authority. They include an agreed management plan. These agreements are not considered protected areas, but do contribute to the conservation area estate. Both are intended to be shorter term agreements than Nature Reserves or Protected Environments.

Biodiversity Partnership Areas are informal agreements between the landowner and conservation authority, and do not legally bind either party to any obligations.


The provincial biodiversity stewardship programmes aim to provide incentives to participating landowners, in relation to the level of commitment from the landowner. Incentives include technical advice and support on biodiversity management, such as invasive alien control and burning of firebreaks; game donations of founder populations by conservation authorities to the landowners; and recognition and marketing opportunities.

At a national level, fiscal incentives have been created for landowners. Those portions of Nature Reserves that are used solely for conservation are excluded from being charged property rates. Income tax deductions for management expenses are available for Nature Reserves, Protected Environments and Biodiversity Management Agreements. In addition, an income tax deduction based on the value of the property is afforded to landowners with Nature Reserves declared for at least 99 years.


Biodiversity stewardship can be important to realising the ecological, economic and social benefits that healthy ecosystems can deliver over the long term. Biodiversity stewardship can stimulate rural economic development by creating a focus for nature-based tourism and sustainable natural resource use. This assists in the diversification of rural livelihoods, especially in agriculturally marginal areas. Biodiversity stewardship sites can also support job creation and skills development through direct land management and restoration, or indirectly though compatible commer- cial activities. In South Africa, land reform often results in new communal landownership. In these areas, biodiversity stewardship can help to ensure access to the economic opportunities associated with protected areas. The Land Reform Biodiversity Stewardship Initiative was established in 2009 and is demonstrating that conservation and land reform can work hand in hand.


Please contact our offices to find out how you can contribute towards stewardship in the Marico Biosphere Reserve

Defining Protected Areas and Conservation Areas

Types of Biodiversity Stewardship Agreements


Incentives for biodiversity stewardship


Biodiversity stewardship, rural development and land reform