Study Sites


Impacts of Land Use on Biodiversity of the Southern Drakensberg


The southern Drakensberg outside the uKahlamba-Drakensberg Park has traditionally been viewed as an extensive grassland region supporting mixed beef and dairy farming, or settled by rural, agricultural communities. This pattern has, however, changed markedly over the past couple of decades.

Today, a greater variety of land uses occurs in the region, though no one particular land use is dominant. Current land uses include conservation, plantation forestry, communal settlement, commercial agriculture, urban settlement, and recreation. A commercial agricultural property may practice a range of agricultural activities, but most properties tend to concentrate on only one or two activities.

Traditional mixed beef and dairy operations have generally become specialised towards either beef or dairy. Overall, beef farming has decreased, apparently in response to the changes in economic climate and farm security issues. This has created an opportunity for alternative land use based on recreation or on plantation forestry. Despite what many consider as marginal growing conditions, the latter has shown an exceptional rate of growth over the past ten years. Recreational activities, especially those based on trout fishing, have assumed an economic importance that may equal or exceed that of beef farming. The socio-political history of this country has had repercussions on the manner in which land under communal tenure is used.

In short, when planning approaches for the conservation of biodiversity in this region, one has to consider the highly diverse and dynamic nature of land use in the region. Effective study thereof has to embrace the range of land use and not simply to focus on one or two land uses. For the purposes of this project, it was therefore deemed necessary to cover the five conspicuous forms of land use in the area, namely conservation, dairy, forestry, communal tenure, and commercial livestock farming.

burnt grassland dairy cows


  1. Assess the impact of different land uses on biodiversity at the community and species level for plants and for selected taxa of animals. Specific attention is given to characteristic species such as threatened, endemic, and functionally important species.
  2. Investigate the effect of different land uses on ecosystem functioning with specific reference to primary production, nutrient stocks and flows, and carbon sequestration.


A foundation for the relationship between landuse, biodiversity, and ecosytem functioning is sought by a once-off survey, with depth of insight provided by critical site-based studies conducted over a full growing cycle.


  1. Set up a study framework to determine the impacts of landuse on biodiversity in the Eastern Mountain centre of plant diversity.
  2. Undertake research on biodiversity and ecosystem services in relation to landuse/management practices.
  3. Facilitate visits by other researchers to the Drakensberg sites for the purpose of sampling specific components of diversity, or of investigating specific aspects of ecosystem functioning.
  4. Integrate biodiversity and ecological data as part of an ecological economic model.
Project executants Tim O'Connor
Eden Wildy



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