Conservation Incentives
Landowners and Conservation

The document below is a summary of a proposal prepared by the Cape Conservation Unit of the Botanical Society of South Africa. It proposes changes to legislation in order to provide incentives to landowners to practise conservation.

Conserving South Africa's Biodiversity

South Africa has some of the highest levels of biological diversity found anywhere on earth. However, many priority areas are highly fragmented and expensive to purchase. Thus, formal reserves cannot provide a representative and adequate conservation network. Further, conservation agency funding and capacity are limited.

Private landowners are responsible for almost 80% of the land in South Africa and, in particular, manage much of the remaining rare and threatened habitats that are underrepresented in the National Protected Area Network. Current programs outside formal reserves are widely regarded as insufficient. Few inducements are available to farmers and other landowners to conserve, and penalising regulations are unable to ensure that crucial elements of biodiversity are retained.

Incentives are?

Incentives positively influence the way people behave towards their environment. They can motivate, accommodate, enhance rights, or provide financial benefit.
Disincentives to encourage sound landuse are usually regulatory, and are an important, but fallible, safety net.
Example: Permits to plough.
Perverse Incentives lead to significant and unnecessary biodiversity loss.
Example: A diesel rebate is available to industries which may threaten biodiversity (mining, forestry, agriculture) but not to those protecting it (alien clearing, conservation).

Biodiversity under Threat

Many of our most rich habitats are under severe pressure from invading alien species and inappropriately sited commercial agriculture, afforestation, and urban development. To illustrate, 55 of South Africa's 68 vegetation types have less than 10% of there area conserved, far below international standards.

We propose a creative solution: Conservation Incentives

The Incentive Proposal

Incentives offered to landowners (private, communal or government) can achieve many conservation goals. Mobilising conservation outside reserves could result in:

  • A vastly improved protected area network in priority habitats
  • A cost effective way of conserving many natural habitats which spreads the financial responsibility among landholders and all levels of Government.
  • Significantly improved efficacy and reach of Government land management programs.
  • Improved local economies through better resource management and rural job opportunities in ecosystem rehabilitation and restoration.

Why Incentives?

  • Incentives can leverage greater conservation gains than laws and regulations alone.
  • Priority areas for conservation action are mostly located on commercial farmland, which is prohibitively expensive to buy.
  • Incentives provide a novel way to share conservation costs between landowners and various levels of government.
  • Incentives can operate without displacing people from the land and can even create employment.

Applications of Conservation Incentives

Government could:

  • Build an effective conservation extension service to motivate and educate owners of priority areas.
  • Create an enabling framework for non-statutory reserves to complement the formal network.
  • Persuade municipalities to zero-rate priority areas for conservation action.
  • Make private conservation land or donations tax deductible (Income and Capital Gains).
  • Channel existing government assistance with land management (especially alien clearing) to biodiversity priorities. For similar socio-economic benefits, environmental gains are also ensured.

When and Where should Incentives be Offered?


  • Rare habitats are particularly vulnerable during transfer of ownership-sale, estates, and land reform. Incentives need to be in place for new stewards to practice sound land use and conserve irreplaceable sites.
  • To ease the uptake of new laws or regulations that change a landholder's responsibilities (eg clearing alien plants), a fixed window period of incentives should be offered until the responsibility becomes accepted good societal practice or "duty of care".


  • Conservation Incentives should be used to secure priority areas for conservation. These include irreplaceable habitat remnants, crucial productive ecosystems, Ramsar and World Heritage Sites, and non-state land in expanding or newly formed Parks.
  • Government expenditure on land management is substantial. Incentives should be used to protect/insure this to leverage greater investment from landholders.
  • Incentives must be built into as wide an array of laws and mechanisms as possible to avoid reliance on one policy instrument for conserving biodiversity.

Benefits for Government

Leveraging greater investment (both in terms of resources and land) from the private sector will drastically reduce the fiscal cost of fulfilling our obligations under several International conventions. Further, conservation ensures the provision of ecosystem services (eg clean water) and biological resources required for socio-economic development in the long term.

Conservation Incentives maximise conservation effectiveness and minimize costs to government and the wider public.

Policy and Legislative Requirements

Several new laws provide opportunities for Conservation Incentives:

  • The Biodiversity Management Act.
  • Revised Agricultural Act.
  • Local Government: Property Rates Act.
  • Tax Law Amendments.

Key Recommendations

Remove perverse incentives that affect biodiversity:

  1. Perverse incentives in Local Government Rating and Agricultural permits must be turned around to encourage sustainable management of irreplaceable biodiversity and heritage.
  2. Remove provisions in tax laws that make private conservation one of the most heavily taxed landuses in South Africa.
  3. Make diesel and other rebates available to industries protecting South Africa's Biodiversity

Create an enabling climate and positive extension service:

  1. A new scheme of conservation area classification that recognises non-statutory reserves and provides the framework for providing incentives should be adopted.
  2. Government programs that promote sound landuse must be sustained through appropriate incentives that encourage private investment.
  3. Treasury could consider judicious income tax deductions for (a) donations of conservation rights in land and (b) expenditure on clearly defined conservation activities.
  4. Local government must take responsibility for land management, adopt a sectoral conservation plan in IDPs, and provide rate rebates for sound land management.
  5. Local government must take responsibility for land management, adopt a sectoral conservation plan in IDPs, and provide rate rebates for sound land management.
  6. Provincial Government must equip its conservation agencies with sufficient personnel and resources to effectively identify, negotiate and offer incentives for priority conservation areas.

Support and secure incentives with appropriate regulations:

  1. Financial and economic incentives should be guaranteed by Title Deed restrictions or development conditions until suitable regulations are in place.
  2. As a result of a conservation plan, priority conservation areas will be identified which will have restricted development and land-use. Financial or property right incentives could ensure landholders' compliance.

Click here to view the full proposal:

Full reports on the Botanical Society's Conservation Incentives Proposal are also available by or mail from the Botanical Society of South Africa (+27 (0)21 797 2284).

Mazda Wildlife Fund


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