Lesson Learned

Sue Winter was the project coordinator for the Botanical Society of South Africa’s Stewardship Pilot Project that tested different options for private landowners to safeguard their land for conservation. She now acts as the group’s extension officer for the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, an initiative led by the South African Brandy & Wine Company to help conserve the rare lowland fynbos and renosterveld habitats unique to the Cape Floristic Region Hotspot.

What is the most important lesson you have learned?

Dedicated legal expertise is needed to streamline the slow process of finalizing stewardship contract agreements between private landowners and conservation agencies to give conservation status to a privately conserved area.

Describe how you learned this and whether/how you have adapted your approach or specific project elements as a result.

The first process that should have been started when embarking on the Stewardship Pilot Project was to develop the various legal requirements and not start with training extension officers in how to communicate and “sell” the stewardship options to private landowners.

It became an extremely lengthy process to get the comment and approval of top management of the regional conservation agency and provincial government environmental department, who must sign such landowner contracts. The result was that no contracts were finalized in the 18-month pilot project duration, creating the impression amongst landowners that the system was not yet tried and tested.

It became a challenging task to maintain landowner interest during the legal process delay period. Numerous proposals were subsequently put forward to the conservation agency to employ additional capacity to process the legal agreements. Unfortunately, these suggestions were not taken up by the agency due to its own budget crises.

In hindsight, the CEPF proposal should have included a coordinator dedicated to developing the legal agreements and not relied on the slow staff procurement process of the agency, which did not prove successful. It was too late to significantly change project design and staffing a number of months into the project when this lesson was realized.

However, the first eight stewardship agreements were finally signed by the respective landowners in June 2005, some two and a half years after initiating the project. Perhaps I should add that learning to be patient is the name of the game when securing biodiversity over the long term!

- August 2005