The influence of location on the structure and functioning of private land conservation networks in the Western Cape province of South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

Protected areas are an important tool for biodiversity conservation. Statutory protected areas are, however, perceived to currently be insufficient in extent and functioning for achieving conservation goals. Conservation action on privately owned land plays an increasingly vital role in expanding the global conservation estate. Private Land Conservation Areas (PLCAs) exist with internal properties and external contexts and do not occur isolated in space and time. They can thus best be described as linked social-ecological systems. Little comprehensive work has yet been done concerning the structure and functioning of PLCAs. However, an understanding of their emergence, long-term persistence and contribution to conservation is highly relevant. How can PLCAs maintain their identity against disturbances in order to be resilient into the future? Spatial patterns and relationships determine the answer to this question. Geographical location influences the private conservation estate through different drivers, namely biophysical conditions, network connections and membership, as well as socio-economic conditions. I thus used a comparative, spatially explicit and holistic approach to better understand spatial resilience of PLCAs in the Western Cape Province of South Africa as case study region. The approach was based on assessing representative measures for four elements of system identity (being components, relationships, sources of continuity, and sources of innovation). I expected that geographical location and spatial variation in social-ecological factors strongly influence PLCA types, socio-economic interaction networks among protected areas and other stakeholders, contribution to conservation by PLCAs and their ecotourism performance. Information and data for this research were obtained from personal interviews conducted with owners and managers of 70 PLCAs across the province. Additional data were derived via conservation authorities and online tools. My findings show that the identity and resilience of PLCAs are strongly dominated by the influence of spatial location and heterogeneity in factors such as ecological features or socioeconomic context. I was able to verify existing PLCA types, namely game and habitat reserves, which strongly depended on the biophysical context. Visitation rates were influenced by location which determined the adopted corporate model of PLCAs. Clear neighbourhood effects emerged in socioeconomic interaction networks, which further highlighted great potential to enhance collaboration across scales. PLCAs provided a substantial contribution to conservation targets in terms of importance (covering critical biodiversity areas) and urgency (protecting ecosystems of threatened status). My findings will be valuable to highlight opportunities for more effective conservation in the study region, and to advance insights into the spatial resilience of social-ecological systems.