Participants engaging in small group dialogues at the Western Cape biosphere reserves research workshop hosted by the Sustainability Research Unit at Nelson Mandela University, George Campus.


Western Cape Biosphere Reserve Workshop: A landmark event hosted by the Sustainability Research Unit. A diversity of researchers and practitioners working on and in South Africa’s Western Cape biosphere reserves were brought together in a landmark event hosted by the Sustainability Research Unit at the Nelson Mandela University, George Campus on the 31st of August 2018. 

Governing managing biosphere reserves means reconciling human activity, policies and technologies with the capacity of ecosystems and the biosphere to sustain life. This necessitates a better understanding of the complex feedbacks between political, economic, cultural and ecological processes. It also requires a diversity of stakeholders to come together to work together.

The Sustainability Research Unit hosted a one-day workshop targeting the development of a social-ecological research focus to inform inter- and trans-disciplinary research on and in the Western Cape biosphere reserves. Working at the interface of practice and research the desired outcomes of the workshop was to establish a Western Cape biosphere reserves research network, and to formulate themes to guide and coordinate the research needs of the reserves.  The SRU wished to facilitate the formulation of a research focus that is impactful and responsive to the needs of practitioners on the ground. In doing so, the workshop invited researchers and university students, directors and managers of biosphere reserves, environmental Non-Governmental Organisations, practitioners and managers of protected areas in the region, so that practice can inform and have input in formulating a research agenda for the Western Cape biosphere reserves.

Opening presentations were heard from Mr. Errol Finkelstein, the Chairman of the Western Cape Biosphere Reserves Forum and Mr Johan West who launched the Western Cape UNESCO Biosphere Research Portal, a project of the Western Cape Biosphere Reserves Forum.  The portal provides an open access data repository for research outputs and other information related to biosphere reserves in the Western Cape. Dr. Bianca Currie, Director of the SRU contextualized biosphere reserves as complex social ecological systems (SES) providing an introduction to SES frameworks and the need for long term inter- and trans-disciplinary research in and on biosphere reserves.  She advocated for the use of a shared framework so that research results can be compared and shared across the reserves.  Prof. Herve Fritz from the SRU presented on the needs and opportunities for long term SES research in the region. 

The presentations set the scene for important deliberations on the challenges of achieving biosphere reserve goals, the difficulties, opportunities and role of networks in facilitating research practice feedbacks for impactful research. The primary challenges in achieving biosphere reserve goals that emerged from participant reflections included numerous land use issues such as alien invasive plants and water quality and quantity, as well as the participation and communication of stakeholders at multiple levels. It came to light that biosphere reserves also offer opportunities to collaborate and develop partnerships, and opportunities to learn and share knowledge. Networks, although challenged by participation and buy in from some stakeholders and with co-ordination and governance issues also present opportunities for stakeholders to work together, aligning efforts and present opportunities to learn and share knowledge and resources across the Western Cape.  The dominant research themes which emerged from the participant conversations included the green economy; monitoring and evaluation and the development of tools and frameworks; understanding governance of biosphere reserves and collaboration of stakeholders.

The workshop marked the first time that researchers and practitioners across the Western Cape biosphere reserves came together and is the first step toward entrenching a research network and developing a coordinated approach to research taking place in and on our Western Cape biosphere reserves.  A second gathering to further develop the research programme is being planned for the first part of 2019.

Contact information
Ms Alet van Tonder
Manager: Marketing & Corporate Relations
Tel: 27 44 801 5098