The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, No. 10 of 2004 (NEMBA) in section 52 provides that the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs (Minister) may publish a national list of ecosystems that are threatened and in need of protection.

On 9 December 2011 the Minister exercised her discretion and published a list of threatened ecosystems in the terrestrial environment in GN 1002 GG 34809. The list, which provides that only 9.5% of natural areas remain in threatened terrestrial ecosystems in South Africa, aims to reduce the rate of ecosystem and species extinction in these areas.

The list includes: 53 critically endangered ecosystems, 53 endangered ecosystems and 107 vulnerable ecosystems.

Detail of the location and description of each listed threated terrestrial ecosystem is provided, including the province(s) and municipality(ies) in which the ecosystem is located. Reference is also made to protection status of the ecosystem (ie if it falls within a Nature Reserve, World Heritage Site, etc) and (where possible) the known number of species of special concern found in the ecosystem (ie red data animal and plant species).

Immediate implications:

  • Planning related implications - section 54 of NEMBA provides that listed ecosystems must be taken into account when environmental implementation / management plans are prepared by the required National Departments in terms of Chapter 3 of the National Environmental Management Act, No. 107 of 1998 (NEMA). Similarly, integrated development plans, and by implication Spatial Development Plans (SDPs), prepared by municipalities must take these ecosystems into account. Zoning schemes will eventually be aligned with such SDPs and therefore restrictive zoning categories (eg industrial or commercial activities) may be included for listed threatened ecosystems.
  • Environmental Authorisation implications - Activity 12 of the third list of the 2010 NEMA listed activities requires basic assessment for the clearance of 300m² or more of vegetation where 75% or more of the vegetative cover constitutes indigenous vegetation within any listed critically endangered or endangered ecosystem. When undertaking any project, clients must determine if the project is to take place in a listed threatened ecosystem and furthermore if an environmental authorisation will be required for clearing vegetation.

Implications going forward:

  • Proactive management of listed threatened ecosystems - NEMBA provides that Biodiversity Management Plans may be developed, published and implemented by a suitable person, organisation or organ of state. The Minister may also enter into a Biodiversity Management Agreement with such person to regulate the implementation of these plans, which will set out how listed threatened ecosystems should be managed.

Future developments:

  • Listing of further ecosystems - future threatened ecosystems will be listed for freshwater, estuarine and marine environments.

Listing of threatening processes - the Minister may identify any process or activity in a listed ecosystem as a threatening process (none identified in the list of threatened terrestrial ecosystems). If published, engaging in any such threatening process or activity in a listed threated ecosystem will require prior NEMA environmental authorisation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.