Highlighting the career of Prof Willem van Riet, directing innovative conservation initiatives in Africa, illustrating his experiences and approach through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

An all-inclusive approach to conservation was instigated by numerous adventures on wild rivers in the 60’s and developed through academic research at Universities in Philadelphia (USA) and Pretoria (South Africa). GIS software, data and processes were harnessed throughout his career in support of planning, scientific analyses and fundraising.  Projects and programmes will be illustrated through a number themes. This approach was implemented during his years on the SANParks Board and on transboundary initiatives in Southern Africa during his 10 years as the CEO of the Peace Parks Foundation. Recently he has functioned as a consulted through the Swedish entity (Transboundary Conservation Foundation).

"I hope that the review of these conservation projects, as a journey of discovery through the use of GIS and maps, will be of assistance to conservation development in many parts of the world. I would like to iterate that the content of this site reflects my own personal point of view and is based on my personal experiences."

Thursday, 07 May 2015 12:01

1 - Should Nature Be Valued?

Should ecosystems and its services be valued? This question is foremost in the minds of conservationists today with the current debate on rhino horn and ivory and the trading thereof. This Guardian article comes to the conclusion that we have no choice but to so. The emotional approach has failed over the last 25 years and we have to follow a new approach if we are going to win this war.

This is however but a small part of the global discussion, where the identification of the important of ecosystem services has been increasing and the watershed study by De Groot and others on the value of global ecosystem services makes this very clear. Ecosystems and the services they provide have a capital component. It also indicates that payment for these services has to be included in government policies if rural communities are to derive benefit. Communities should be rewarded for the management they can provide.

The original work on the millennium development goals by Scholes and Biggs are still very valid and need to be implemented by the National Planning Commission if we are going to save our natural resources for future generations.

I have included the work by De Groot and others as this globally important work attaches economic value to ecosystems and its services and illustrates the vast economic benefit of nature.

The three references provide important platforms for the critical conservation debate of the role of conservation areas in the land use patterns of our country and how benefits are to be calculated. One slide by De Groot illustrates the holistic approach to nature and should be seen as the primary motivation behind the establishment of conservation areas.


Image Credit: Ecosystem Services by De Groot

Read the first chapter here

As the primary role of conservation authorities is the protection and management of biodiversity, it should also be involved in the identification and transfer of services, benefits and value distribution.

This can only done if parks and conservation areas are viewed as a form of land use, that needs to be integrated into regional land use patterns.

One of the most interesting projects the Transboundary Consulting Africa was involved with was the development of a decision support model for the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa. The aim was to develop a GIS based database of public domain information dealing with ecosystem services.

Published in GIS in Conservation
Sunday, 18 January 2015 19:45

3 - Vhembe Biosphere Reserve

Please click here to download the larger version of the map composition (5mb)

Illustration of the application of Ecosystem Services as a management tool through the use of GIS

The Vhembe biosphere reserved is a proclaimed Biosphere Reserve of UNESCO. It is a perfect example of an island mountain, called the Soutpansberg, with high natural resources, surrounded by regions of lower resources. Millions of people in the surrounding regions are dependant on these ecosystem services (ESS).

It is also a perfect example of the environmental impact of the previous policy of apartheid. The eastern region of the mountain formed a part of the homeland of the Venda people and the western region fell under the control of the Transvaal administration, a part of South Africa. The western region is a sparsely populated, large farmland and the eastern region received people from all over South Africa, all relocated as a part of the former homeland policy. Although the Venda homeland was fortunate to share in the ESS from the mountain island, it became overpopulated over time and the environmental impact of agriculture, urbanization and forestry is very visible today.

Published in African Projects
Sunday, 18 January 2015 19:21

2 - Conservation Theory

Planetary Boundaries

The discussion about the impact on the global ecological situation is based on the impact of humans on this earth. When looking at the map of the footprint on Africa the extent of this is very clear. Most of the high land use densities are linked to infrastructure and transport corridors.

This is an enormous subject and as a form of land use, conservation is becoming more and more relevant. As a background to the more detailed discussions of conservation areas and specific projects I wish to discuss the theory behind the concept of protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services as the motivation for the idea of conservation.

There are a growing number of projects and organizations focussing on the global situation, as well as the role and function of the global ecosystem and the importance of the earth as a home for humans.