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2017 Whitley Award
Ian Little South Africa Terrestrial
Custodians of South Africa’s threatened grassland biodiversity

Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation

grassland stewardship

Crop production will need to double by 2050 to meet the world’s growing demand for food. However, to date agriculture has been a major threat to biodiversity, with 62% of threatened species affected by arable farming. Ian Little of the Endangered Wildlife Trust works with farmers to champion conservation of grassland habitat. He has already successfully secured 60,000 hectares of grassland for conservation purposes, which are written into property title deeds for up to 100 years; a figure Ian plans to increase with his Whitley Award.

life support

The Eastern Great Escarpment of South Africa provides catchment services for three of the country’s largest rivers, making it a vital source of freshwater for cities such as Durban and Johannesburg in one of the world’s most arid nations. These grasslands support a plethora of endemic plants and animals including golden moles and the charismatic sungazer lizard. Despite their importance, intensive livestock farming, coal mining and rapidly increasing gas exploration are inflicting untold damage – with fracking now an imminent threat.

connecting corridor

Ian has been working to understand and improve grassland management practices for over a decade, firstly to provide the science and latterly to develop pragmatic management recommendations with farmers. His vision is to establish a corridor of legally protected areas and restore grassland habitat along the escarpment, linking the uKahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage site with existing protected areas along the border between the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.

Ian’s project will:

  • Work with landowners to safeguard at least a further 30,000 hectares of the Eastern Great Escarpment
  • Train farmers in improved management practices including less intensive grazing and burning regimes to decrease pressure on grasslands and boost productivity
  • Strengthen rural capacity for sustainable farming, working with over 50 families and tribal leaders

Why it matters:

  • Demand for fresh water is expected to outstrip supply in South Africa by 2025
  • South Africa is the planet’s 3rd most biodiverse country
  • Less than 3% of grasslands in South Africa are protected, with over 60% already irreversibly transformed

“The most exciting moment so far was when our first landowner showed genuine interest in signing their property up for formal protection.”