Target 7: Threatened plant conservation


At least 75% of known threatened plant species conserved in situ

Contributors: L. von Staden & D. Raimondo


South Africa currently has 2 576 plant species that are threatened with extinction. Since 2005, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Threatened Species Programme (TSP) has worked towards getting accurate distribution data for known locations of threatened species. Over 57 000 herbarium records have been encoded and georeferenced. In addition a network of volunteers has been monitoring populations of threatened plants in the field as part of the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme ( Twelve other threatened plant data sources, which come from national and provincial conservation authorities, regional herbaria, and atlas and citizen science programmes, have been included. Spatial data are now available for 2 345 threatened species in South Africa. Of these, 1 554 (66%) species have at least one record within a formally protected area (Von Staden et al., in prep).

Since 2005 South Africa has expanded protection of terrestrial ecosystems through the establishment of Biodiversity Stewardship programmes in several provinces. As part of these programmes, contractual protected areas are declared on private or communal land. Conservation authorities enter into contract agreements with landowners who retain title to the land and are recognised as the management authority of the protected area. The cost to the state is a fraction of the cost of acquiring and managing land, making biodiversity stewardship a highly cost effective approach to expanding the protected area network. Twenty-four contract protected areas have been declared through Biodiversity Stewardship programmes totalling over 75 000 ha, with approximately 360 000 ha of additional contract protected areas awaiting proclamation or are in negotiation.

Target 7 outcomes for 2020

7.1.     Protected area expansion strategies (provincial and national) include priority sites for conserving unprotected threatened species.

South Africa has a National Protected Area Expansion Strategy (NPAES), produced in 2008, which identifies spatial focus areas for further expansion of the land-based protected area network (available at The NPAES sets targets that maximise the representation of ecosystems in South Africa’s protected areas network. It identifies 42 focus areas for land-based protected area expansion. These are large, intact and unfragmented areas, suitable for the creation or expansion of large protected areas. These areas, if protected, have the potential to conserve an additional 8% of South Africa’s threatened species. Unfortunately species data were not available in 2008 to include in the identification of priority areas for conservation. These will be included in the next protected area expansion strategy, which is due to be undertaken. SANBI’s TSP identified areas of the country to optimise the conservation of unprotected threatened plant species (Von Staden et al., in prep); these areas are being taken up both in the national protected area expansion strategy as well as in provincial protected area conservation strategies.

7.2.     Biodiversity Stewardship programmes focused on areas with high concentrations of unprotected threatened species.

One of the most effective current forms of expanding protected areas is through Biodiversity Stewardship programmes; these programmes are implemented by provincial conservation agencies and are guided by provincial conservation protected area strategies. Provincial Biodiversity Stewardship programmes will target sites identified within their protected area expansion strategies to house unprotected threatened species. Through targeting the best sites for protecting the highest number of unprotected species, it should be possible to reach the target of 75% of threatened species protected in situ by 2020. The conservation of only 30 additional sites is required in order to achieve this target (Von Staden et al., in prep).

7.3.     Legal protection of Critically Endangered plant species occurring at one site only, achieved.

The above discussed expansion of protected areas to conserve plants caters for plant species that occur in large, intact areas of natural vegetation. Unfortunately, South Africa also has many Critically Endangered plant species that have lost most of their former habitat and now remain only on remnant small patches of vegetation within urban and agricultural landscapes or along road verges. These species are highly vulnerable to extinction as a result of development.

Although South Africa has environmental authorisation legislation under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA; Act No. 107 of 1998) in terms of the EIA regulations, which requires an environmental impact assessment to be undertaken for a wide range of development activities (82 in total), minimum thresholds exist for each activity. A significant gap exists in this legislative framework arising from the fact that a 300 m2 threshold is provided for the clearance of indigenous vegetation in the most sensitive geographical areas and a 1 ha threshold for the clearance of vegetation within ecologically sensitive areas. Any clearance of vegetation below these thresholds does not require Environmental Authorisations. Where a Critically Endangered species threatened by habitat loss is characterised by an extremely limited geographic range / area of occupancy, or an extremely small and declining population, the clearance of between 300 m2 and 1 ha of indigenous vegetation may impact on the last remaining population or individuals of the species, immediately resulting in the extinction of that species.

There is currently no legislation in South Africa that would effectively prevent the destruction through land use change of the last remaining population or individuals of Critically Endangered plant species. There is an urgent need to develop legislation to protect such species from extinction. There is also a need to identify accurately the exact areas where these species occur and promote awareness of these sites.

Target 7: At least 75% of known threatened plant species conserved in situ
Outcomes Activities Responsible stakeholders Timeframe
7.1. Protected area expansion strategies to incorporate layer of high priority unprotected threatened species sites. 7.1.1. A conservation plan that prioritises optimal sites for conserving the highest number of unprotected threatened species published. 7.1.1. SANBI TSP Red List Scientist. 7.1.1. 2015
7.1.2. Priority sites for threatened species shared with conservation agencies. 7.1.2. SANBI TSP 7.1.2. 2015
7.1.3. Priority sites for threatened species incorporated into protected area expansion strategies by Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency (MPTA), Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNW), Cape Nature and the DEA.

7.1.3. MPTA, EKZNW, Cape Nature and DEA conservation planners.


7.1.3. 2016


7.2. Biodiversity Stewardship programmes focused on areas with high concentrations of unprotected threatened species. 7.2. Stewardship officials in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape focus on negotiating contracts for properties with high concentrations of unprotected threatened species. 7.2. MPTA, EKZNW and Cape Nature stewardship officials. 7.2. Ongoing
7.3. Legal protection of Critically Endangered plant species occurring at one site only, achieved. 7.3.1. Accurately identify sites where Critically Endangered species with a highly restricted geographic range occur. 7.3.1. SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme. 7.3.1. 2016
7.3.2. Identify the appropriate legislative tool and develop regulations to protect highly restricted Critically Endangered plant species. 7.3.2. DEA and SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme. 7.3.2. 2019
7.3.3. Promote awareness of sites where Critically Endangered species occur (sites for zero extinction) with relevant government departments whose work impacts these sites, e.g. the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL), provincial departments of transport, and provincial departments responsible for Environmental Authorisations. 7.3.3. Botanical Society of South Africa, provincial conservation authorities. 7.3.3. 2016–2020.