Mining Company Commitment Helps Bushmanland Initiative

In Focus, May 2004

by Elizabeth A. Foley

The Bushmanland Conservation Initiative is getting a head start on creating a 60,000-hectare protected area in the Succulent Karoo biodiversity hotspot following a commitment in April by a local mining company for both in-kind donations and future collaboration on conservation.

A Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) grant awarded to the Botanical Society of South Africa (BOTSOC) earlier this year for an 18-month feasibility phase of the project helped leverage the new commitment by Anglo Base Metals, a subsidiary of Anglo American. BOTSOC heads the initiative.

Anglo Base Metals’ commitment is an important precedent and an encouraging first step in this corner of the Succulent Karoo hotspot where engaging extractive industries such as mining is a major part of CEPF’s strategy to expand protected area corridors through public-private-communal partnerships in the area.

The Bushmanland Inselbergs area—located on the northeast margin of the Succulent Karoo hotspot, just south of the Orange River and the border between Namibia and South Africa—is also the only priority conservation area identified in the CEPF-supported Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Plan that has no land currently under formal conservation status.

“When we launched in February, the miners were there on the ground with us, and were willing to broaden their perspective of what a protected area is,” says Mark Botha, director of conservation partnerships for BOTSOC.

The initiative's focus is to conserve Bushmanland as a globally unique arid land biodiversity area in a multi-owned protected area. The project will focus on new ways to ensure local landowners become stewards of the land and place important areas aside for conservation, while incorporating areas under high protection, managed grazing and more intensive uses such as mining.

The ancient rocky outcrops known as inselbergs that dominate Bushmanland are home to a rich and unique variety of succulent and geophyte plants. In just the 31,400-hectare area that spans the Koa River valley, there are 420 plant species, of which 67 are found only in this area and 87 are threatened species.

"We’re just getting the basics sorted out, but Anglo has come in for R150,000 rand (approximately $25,000) a year in in-kind assistance ranging from office space and accommodation to use of their facilities,” Botha says.

“It’s a show of faith that we hope will encourage them to contract 20,000 hectares of priority land into this conservation area after the initial phase is over," he says. "It’s really encouraging because the alternative scenario was an open-pit mine almost the size of Table Mountain, with no potential for a surrounding protected area.”

The move to protect Bushmanland began in 2000 when Anglo proposed digging the zinc mine on Gamesberg mountain in a remote region of Bushmanland. However, a fall in zinc prices later led the company to put the plan on hold, providing an opportunity for the environmental sector and Anglo to work together.

Partners in the initiative include the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Conservation, Northern Cape Province and the Khai-Ma Municipality.

Botha and his colleagues will also be working closely with the Surplus People Project, a land rights organization in the region that aims to develop sustainable grazing practices within the communal lands area.

Other important partners include Conservation International’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business and the WWF-South Africa Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust and Harding Bequest.

Anglo Base Metals owns two mines in the region that will eventually become a Bushmanland protected area. Key to the success of the Bushmanland Conservation Initiative's work with Anglo is not only helping to downscale any environmental impacts of mining operations, but to bolster biodiversity conservation on site.

“We want to look beyond just the sometimes trivial aesthetic concerns around the mines and aspire to create working conservation models,” Botha says. “Even if a mine goes forward, we want the biodiversity area adjacent to be protected in perpetuity.”

The initiative's partnership with Anglo builds on publicly declared commitments by Anglo Base Metals’ parent company, Anglo American, to ensure local habitats are taken into account and restored where necessary. According to Anglo American, their mining and quarrying operations have formal, costed closure and rehabilitation plans in place.

Also in South Africa, Anglo’s forestry division is setting aside suitable areas as national heritage sites that are registered with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and form an important part of the national biodiversity program. More than 100 threatened species are formally protected in these natural heritage sites. The division has also committed to the rehabilitation of all wetlands on properties owned or managed by the company.