A Biosphere Reserve, or as we prefer to refer to it, as a Region, is a special place where people and organizations have made a commitment to live and work in harmony with nature. The people living in these areas are figuring out – and demonstrating – how to achieve a sustainable balance between conserving natural ecosystems and biodiversity while at the same time fostering sound economic development.
There are currently 5 Biosphere Regions established within South Africa, of which the Kruger to Canyons is the largest (and currently the 3rd largest in the world)
Biosphere Regions are designated by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) to demonstrate innovative approaches to living and working in harmony with nature. The reserves or regions are not places set aside from human use and development as is often the case with traditional Nature Reserves – but rather, human activity and the health of people and communities are in fact, an integral part of the biosphere program. Nor does the UNESCO label bring with it any new authorities over land, water or resources. The existing powers, rights and responsibilities of governments, businesses and landowners normally remains unchanged and in the hands of the owners or managers at that time, thus in short – a Biosphere Region highlights a special area within the environment where people have made a commitment to work together for a sustainable future.
Zonation within a Biosphere
The shape and size of a Biosphere can vary greatly and will depend on the natural and human impacted features included within the region, however, all Biosphere’s will have 3 distinctive zones – ie Core Zone, Buffer Zone and Transition Zones.
Core Zone: The core zonation of a Biosphere Region should consist of one or more protected areas, such as a National Park, Provincial Park, migratory bird sanctuary or other protected area. The Core Area acts as a reference point on the natural state of the ecosystem(s) that the biosphere represents. In the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, the core zone include the Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (shortly to become a National Park), Andover and the Wolkberg Provincial Reserves
Buffer Zone: The buffer zone can be found surrounding or adjacent to the core zone and represents an area that is managed in ways that support the conservation objectives of the core. The K2C buffer zone consists of all the privately owned nature reserves and conservation areas of which is listed as the largest privately owned conservation status area in the world.
The Transition Zone: This region is also referred to as the “area of cooperation” and is usually the largest part of a biosphere. It is either surrounding or adjacent to the above 2 zones and is the area in which the majority of the residents live and work. It is mostly in these areas where the sustainable use of resources is focused upon. In the K2C region we have subdivided our transition zone into 5 sub-zones these being mining, forestry, agriculture, rural settlement and urban settlement.
Functions of a Biosphere
As Biospheres cover large regions with diverse and complex landuses and activities within, Biospheres, within their function, focus on a vast and wide range of activities within their boundaries.
However, there are 3 main functions that are outlined in the basic concept of a Biosphere Region as drawn up within UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme. These include:
Contributing to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species, biodiversity and genetic variation,
The fostering of sustainable development, which refers to development that is socially culturally , economically and ecologically sustainable, and
The building of local capacity for research, monitoring, education and training activities related to the promotion of conservation and sustainable development.
The Kruger to Canyons Biosphere
After a lengthy 5 year period in which the application form was completed, the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere received UNESCO registration in October 2001. It is situated in the North Eastern section of the country and includes 2 of South Africa’s key tourism hotspots – namely the Kruger National Park and the Blyde River Canyon as well as one of the leading international floral hotspots, namely the Wolkberg Region. The current boundaries of the registered Biosphere extend from the Letaba River in the North to the Sabie River in the South and the Blyde Escarpment in the West to the Mozambique border in the East.
This give a total of 2 474 700 Ha (Two million, four hundred and seventy four thousand, seven hundred Hectares), of which the core zone is 898 300 Ha, the buffer zone 476 400 Ha and the Transition Zone is 1 100 000 Ha.
Within this region, there are approximately 1 155 permanent residents within the core zones, 10 475 within the buffer zones and 1 488 684 within the transition zones
This extensive geographical region, together with the large number of residents within the region, all adds up to a very colourful, a very active and a very diverse area, filled with just as colourful, active and diverse people and organisations.
The Kruger to Canyons Biosphere has grown very slowly in the initial years but has been progressing in leaps and bounds in the last 3 years.
K2C has also formed a partnership with the Rhön Biosphere in Germany from whom they are learning and trading advice and information. This partnership was initiated through a trip by a K2C delegation of 12 representatives who visited the Rhön in June 2007 and will be followed up by a return visit from the Rhön delegation to the K2C Biosphere in Feb/ March 2008.
The initial visit by K2C delegates to the Rhön proved most successful and the team returned full of enthusiasm, new ideas and a clearer vision as to the efficient implementation of the Biosphere process and concept.
The K2C has also come a long way in creating partnership and unity with the various stakeholders within the region as well as in creating and encouraging a unified and shared vision for all landusers and stakeholders within the K2C.
Project currently been undertaken by K2C include detailed feasibility studies for the establishment of a small scale hydro electricity station on the Blyde River/ Swadini Dam; the drawing up of Bio-cultural Protocols to assist rural communities in knowing their legal rights as regard the concepts of Access and Benefit Sharing as highlighted in the international arena during events such as the ICB (International Convention on biodiversity) together with the principle of bio-prospecting and assisting these communities in implementation of their legal rights in this regard. An additional project of K2C is also looking at the feasibility of creating conservation and development corridors between Kruger National Park and the Escarpment regions of the Blyde Nature Reserve and the Lekgalametse/ Wolkberg Regions.