Those of us who have been closely linked to the emergence of this Symposium over the last number of years can reflect with satisfaction on an idea that has relevance and has solicited a strong positive response to participate. SCCP 2015 will again bring practitioners, activists, policy makers and academics together to debate development and conservation concerns, which so often appear to be at odds with one another. I can remember, many years ago, as a student arriving at a Natal Parks Board protected area in the Drakensberg on a rainy, out of season week day. To say that the game ranger who greeted my request for accommodation was hostile, was not an exaggeration! The brief conversation thereafter made explicit his view that the reserve was about preserving the fauna and flora of this special landscape and visitors such as myself were simply an irritant, to be endured.
Context is always important in understanding behavior and there was a rationale for that ranger’s point of view, whether we appreciate or distance ourselves from it. Today that attitude would simply not find favour. The role of park managers and their staff – our front line conservationists – is more complex and the threat to protected areas and biodiversity conservation greater than ever. As we now know, developing relationships with communities around protected areas, and at an institutional level, fighting for resources to further conservation, are just some of the skill sets required of such organisations.
It is this contemporary context that highlights why SCCP 2015 is such a crucial vehicle for bringing us together. Formal protected areas are one of the options for biodiversity conservation. What we also realize is that we must now champion a view of conservation that embraces the broader landscape scale of understanding and in which a complex web of role players are all at work.
Wildlands is one of the organisations that is relevant to this broader landscape view of development and conservation and therefore to SCCP 2015. Wildlands is dedicated to working towards a sustainable future for all. In this respect its work is now to be found in the many geographies of South Africa, from the landscapes of KwaZulu-Natal, in the Maputaland- Pondoland-Albany Hotspot (MPAH), to the Kruger to Canyon biosphere and many others. It is an organization that prides itself in innovative ways to address both conservation and community development needs, and as such aligns its thinking to the goals of the National Development Plan and sources its funds from government and private sector organizations to carry out its mandate. I remain impressed with the ability of the organization to ‘make a difference’ where it establishes its footprint.
It is the success of organisations such as Wildlands that will be crucial to the future of biodiversity conservation in the coming years. It is a world in which we will need to communicate our messages of intention succinctly, address a wide range of expectations and in the process ensure that biodiversity and broader development goals are met. These issues are likely to feature prominently on the SCCP 2015 agenda and we can look forward to exciting learning experiences at the Symposium.
To all delegates and those who will challenges us through their work and presentations over the period of the Symposium and in the follow up activities that will ensure, have a superb symposium.
Professor Rob Fincham
Chairman of the Board