Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan (MBSP)

Mpumalanga is a province well known for its globally important biodiversity, its wealth of natural resources and spectacular natural vistas. Its terrestrial ecosystems are characterised by high levels of both plant and animal diversity and a significant number of unique species that are not known to occur anywhere else outside the province.

Three different biomes occur within Mpumalanga and, although they all contain important and often unique biodiversity, it is in our grasslands that many of our unique, rare and threatened species and ecosystems are found. Mpumalanga’s freshwater ecosystems are also home to important biodiversity and represent high value ecological infrastructure for delivering water for human use. Endowed as it is with over 150 000 wetlands, and with the waters of at least five of South Africa’s important river systems rising in its highlands, the Mpumalanga accounts for a high proportion of the country’s Strategic Water Source Areas (27.5%) and plays a critically important role in terms of regional and national water security. Most of the wetlands occur in grasslands of the wetter highveld and escarpment regions, with the greatest concentration of pans in the Chrissiesmeer area near Ermelo. These wetlands represent high value ecological infrastructure for securing water for human use.

Although approximately 50% of Mpumalanga’s landscapes outside of our protected areas are still in a ‘natural’ state, these are not in a good ecological state – a variety of land-use pressures and consumptive practices over the years have resulted in the degradation and loss of important habitat, with the result that many of our natural ecosystems are currently classed as either Vulnerable or Endangered. As Mpumalanga is underlain by diverse and mineral rich geological formations, mining is a major land-use for gold, chromium, iron, and platinum-group metals, as well as for coal, and in some areas, granite. Half of Mpumalanga’s natural habitat has already been irreversibly modified, mostly through large-scale agriculture, plantation forestry and mining, and there is currently rapid growth in the number of applications for prospecting and mining rights, particularly for coal (more than 70% of all mining-related applications are for coal). Agriculture, plantation forestry and mining (with its associated energy-generation industry) are the cornerstones of the provincial economy. Another non-consumptive and important sector is tourism - adventure and nature-based tourism is a growing economic sector that relies on going into the future. In addition to causing direct habitat loss, these activities have significant impacts on Mpumalanga’s water security as, wetlands are often drained for mining and agriculture, plantation forestry lowers the water table and poorly-located or poorly managed open-cast mining affects the quantity and quality of water entering and leaving wetlands and rivers.

Mpumalanga’s biodiversity and ecological infrastructure is a valuable, though vulnerable, asset that could be a rich source of natural solutions to the challenges posed by poverty, unemployment, and climate change. But, for this potential to be realised, we really need accurate and up-to-date scientific information that is effectively interpreted and made available to end-users. We also need well-informed policies and legislation that safeguards important biodiversity and ecological infrastructure, together with well-capacitated institutions that are responsible for effective management and governance of biodiversity assets.

The Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan (MBSP) is such a spatial tool which serves to provide such information to end-users and guide decision making to ensure that the biodiversity objectives are achieved. The MBSP covers the whole province, which is divided into three District Municipalities: Ehlanzeni, Gert Sibande, and Nkangala, and forms part of a broader set of national biodiversity planning tools and initiatives that are provided for in national legislation and policy. The MBSP is based on an objective planning approach which considers national and provincial biodiversity targets while trying to avoid conflict with competing land uses. Planning for climate change is a common thread throughout the MBSP where it has been explicitly considered and incorporated into the spatial priorities. The spatial priorities have been developed at a relatively fine spatial scale (1:10 000 – 1:25 000) that can be used for planning at local and district municipal and provincial levels. It supports the principles of integrated development planning and integration with Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and Spatial Development Frameworks (SDFs) It comprises a set of maps of biodiversity priority areas accompanied by contextual information and land-use guidelines that make the most recent and best quality biodiversity information available for use in land-use and development planning, environmental assessment and regulation, and natural resource management. Both terrestrial and freshwater  biodiversity priority areas are identified in the MBSP, either as Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBAs) or Ecological Support Areas (ESAs). These CBA and ESA areas must be considered and taken into account in processes that will result in a change in land use and will also form part of the geographic areas in which certain activities will require environmental authorisation in terms of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations Listing Notice 3 (Government Notice R985 of 04 December 2014, as amended by Government Notice R324 of 07 April 2017), in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act 107 of 1998).

This MBSP Handbook presents the map products and explains how they were developed, and how and when they should be used. It describes the ecosystems and important biodiversity features of Mpumalanga and presents a set of land-use guidelines and other tools that can be used to effectively conserve Mpumalanga’s biodiversity as part of living landscapes that combine multiple land-uses.

The MBSP was formally adopted by the MEC (Member of Executive Council) for Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs in the Provincial Gazette No 2535 of 26 May 2023 (Provincial Gazette Notice 279 of 2023) 

 Provincial Gazette Notice

 Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan Handbook

 Biodiversity Sector Plan Map

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