The state of South Africa’s provincial reserves raises concerns for biodiversity
Endangered Wildlife Trust
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), in collaboration with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), recently assessed the state of South Africa’s provincial nature reserves (PRs) in terms of management effectiveness. The country’s municipal and provincial reserves cover just over three million hectares and are protected for their intended contribution to South Africa’s economic, ecosystem services, and biodiversity value. However, there is growing concern that South African PRs, which contain high biological diversity and threatened ecosystems, are not fulfilling their conservation objectives. The report’s findings detail the challenges affecting management efficacy in some of the most biodiverse reserves, identify opportunities to address these challenges, and in some cases, suggest urgent management interventions required to realise the potential of these national assets.

South Africa is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world and is home to at least 87,000 species of plants and animals, yet habitat degradation, invasive alien species, illegal wildlife trade, pollution, climate change, human-wildlife conflict, and more threaten these species and human survival and prosperity. Properly functioning protected areas offer safe havens for South Africa’s unique biodiversity and are crucial for the long-term survival of our wildlife and ecosystems and human wellbeing. Enshrined in the South African constitution is a right to a healthy environment, protected through legislation and other measures to benefit present and future generations. Therefore, the sound management of South Africa’s provincial reserves forms part of our constitutional rights and our country’s commitments to the targets set under the Global Framework to conserve 30% of land and marine areas by 2030.

With 427 individual reserves, the protected area estate in South Africa under provincial management is significant, but the question that this report aims to answer is whether the current standard of management of these reserves is effective for the conservation of critical biodiversity. To answer this question, the State of Provincial Reserves in South Africa Report was produced using several tools, including analysis of the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT-SA) reports, online surveys with conservation experts, and interviews with reserve managers, conservation practitioners, and relevant non-government representatives.

“The state of provincial reserves varies from province to province; hence they cannot all be painted with the same brush. Financial and human resources, coupled with a skilled and committed workforce, are critical ingredients for the success of any Provincial Nature Reserve.” 

 Survey respondent.

Alarmingly, findings showed that several South African provincial reserves with high-scoring conservation value are not being managed effectively. The report reveals a lack of critical skills and capacity, poor management implementation, and inadequate budgets as the three key challenges impacting the effective management of these reserves. Opportunities to address these challenges and key recommendations on how to turn the tide on the state of our provincial reserves are outlined in this publication. These include building staff capacity and ensuring experienced managers are appointed, refurbishing poorly-maintained infrastructure to develop the tourism potential of the PRs, and encouraging partnerships and collaborations with the private sector, NGOs, and communities to catalyse opportunities for income generation and mutually beneficial relationships between PRs and local communities.

South Africa has committed, in principle, to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), within which is the ambitious, so-called ‘30×30’ target. This target aims to ensure that 30 percent of terrestrial and marine areas are formally protected by 2030. Provincial reserves have the potential to contribute significantly to this target but cannot be allowed to become what is termed “paper parks”, meaning that they exist as areas of conservation protection on paper only. This report highlights opportunities to turn the state of our provincial reserves around and the risks associated with allowing the decline in their status to continue. PRs are a fundamental tool for conserving biodiversity and undoubtedly play an essential role in stemming the current and alarming decline in species and the ongoing degradation of natural habitats. Without these reserves, our wildlife populations will disappear, and the ecosystems we rely on for basic services will no longer function, leading to catastrophic risks to human health and an inability to withstand the effects of climate change.

Endangered Wildlife Trust contacts:
Dr Ian Little
EWT’s Head of Conservation 

Emily Taylor
EWT Communications Manager

Read the report here


About the Endangered Wildlife Trust

Founded in 1973, the Endangered Wildlife Trust is dedicated to conserving threatened species and ecosystems in southern and East Africa to the benefit of all. We are driven by a team of passionate and dedicated conservationists working through 13 specialised programmes across southern and East Africa, each falling under one of our three key strategic pillars: Saving species, conserving habitats, and benefitting people. Our critical work includes conducting applied research, supporting community-led conservation, training and building capacity, addressing human-wildlife conflict, monitoring threatened species, and establishing safe spaces for wildlife range expansion. The EWT works with key partners, including communities, businesses, landowners, academic institutions, and governments, to create a sustainable future for wildlife and people. Find out more at