“The environment is without question the Garden Route and the Southern Cape’s premium asset. Blessed with natural beauty, the Garden Route is no doubt one of South Africa’s top tourist destinations and the main reason people want to live in the region,” says Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI).

The Garden Route District Municipality, along with its senior partners in environmental management and conservation, is under no illusions as to the environmental challenges lying ahead for the region, and their collective responsibility to ensure the area retains its environmental allure.

“Indeed, all is not well with the Garden Route environment,” says Meiring.  A crippling drought affecting the Oudtshoorn area, the Karoo area towards Calitzdorp and the Ladismith region, has devastated much of the farming economy and there is little hope of recovery in the foreseeable future.

“With climate change, the spread of invasive alien plants and the intricate and long-term effects these environmental threats bring to the region, regional and local authorities, land managers and conservationists will have little choice but to plan around what nature will impose upon the region in years to come.”

A steady and continuous influx of population, a greater demand for fresh water and development land, an increased risk of wildfire and human pressure on a sensitive Garden Route ecology, implies that mechanisms to better coordinate the environmental sector is a key solution to create a climate-ready environment.

It is also true that, in many respects, the Southern Cape environment is increasingly being better managed under the auspices of the regional biosphere reserves, conservancies and conservation forums, all contributing in their respective ways.

The imminent establishment of an overarching Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), spearheaded by the Garden Route District Municipality: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Adaption, and other regional partners, will aim to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.

With tourism set to regain its rightful place in the regional economy, following a reported slump in national figures often ascribed to the negative impact of stringent visa requirements (now seemingly lifted), the regional economy can expect a boost in years to come.

Positioning the Garden Route as a global tourist destination will pose a challenge, and the management of the environment holds the key for the future.

Written by Marti Kirstein