Environmental awareness is becoming more and more a trend – with eco-estates, eco-schools and even eco-cities popping up everywhere. And with this comes an increasing concern about the loss of biodiversity and the intrusion of alien and invasive species. But is it just a bunch of bunny huggers and tree huggers, or is the planting of indigenous species and the eradication of alien and invasive species of any real importance, and are there any legal obligations?
South Africa is ranked as one of the richest countries in the world in terms of plant biodiversity. This rich abundance bestows a moral responsibility on us all – individuals and communities – to conserve and protect our spectacular plant life, which is under immense threat from the spread of alien and invasive species, urban sprawl, and ill-considered developments in or near forests, grasslands and shorelines. Besides our moral duty, there are also legal obligations to comply with.
The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) allows for the publication of lists of critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and protected species. These species are then protected and certain activities cannot be undertaken without a permit while certain activities are entirely prohibited. The legislation also places a duty of care on a person not to negatively impact biodiversity.
Alien and invasive species threaten our biological resources and must be controlled and eradicated. The NEMBA contains an entire chapter dedicated to regulating not only alien and invasive plant species, but also mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, invertebrate and microbial species, which are summarised in a comprehensive set of Alien and Invasive Species Regulations and Alien and Invasive Species Lists.
The legislation also provides for authorities to issue directives, take measures and recover the costs from the wrong-doer. Any third party may also approach the authorities and report non-compliance with the regulations. And then, if the authorities fail to act, the issue can be escalated into a court action.
Our children and grandchildren should have the pleasure of enjoying our rich biodiversity and be able to climb Kareetrees. It’s really not that hard. Here are a few suggestions for ways residential estates, developers and homeowners associations can contribute to increase biodiversity, and to minimising environmental degradation.
- Ensure that an environmental management programme is drafted before the construction of an estate so that indigenous plants and trees are protected and minimum bush clearing takes place during construction. Continuation of environmental management plans throughout the developments lifespan will similarly assist.
- Include in the estate code of conduct rules on the planting of indigenous plants, and control and minimise the planting of exotic plants. Indigenous plants not only help conserve water but also encourage the support of bird and insect life.
- Familiarise yourself with the critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and protected species lists under the NEMBA to determine if they are found on your premises, or in and around the estate – and ensure that all relevant regulations are adhered to.
- Educate the community on the protection of the species found within your area. Ensure that you check the lists as they are updated.
- Ensure that an up-to-date alien and invasive management procedure and action plan are in place to ensure compliance with the above-listed regulations.
- Keep a record and map actions taken to control and eradicate alien and invasive species.
Author: Adv. Tarryn Wentzel – environmental lawyer – T&T Estate Compliance Specialists