The assessment of variable buffer zones to manage rocky ridges in Johannesburg, Gauteng
Garratt, Iain Michael Ronald
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In the pursuit of sustainable development, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are acknowledged globally as a tool designed to assist governing authorities by providing the information required to make an informed decision regarding development proposals. South Africa has entrenched this EIA requirement in the presiding environmental legislation: the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1 998). In the effort to manage the negative impact of development on the rocky ridges of Johannesburg, the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, conservation, Environment and Land Affairs (GDACEL) has introduced a buffer zone requirement in the procedure of the EIA. The Red Data Plant Policy for Environmental Impact Evaluations for GDACEL described a buffer zone as a collar of land that filters out inappropriate influences from surrounding activities. As a tool in the EIA, a buffer zone is a worthwhile concept. However, the determination of the dimension of the buffer zone on rocky ridges, is non-discriminatory between sites, and thus, presents potential contention between decision-making authorities and developers. There is a need for further research to establish a scientifically acceptable method of determining site-specific buffer zones for individual EIA applications. The key objective of this paper is to suggest the possibility of determining a buffer zone that accommodates the unique environmental aspects of each site. This is achieved by determining the distance between the edge of existing developments and the point at which the successional climax community within the adjacent natural vegetation is established. Three suitable study sites, consisting of developed residential estates on ridges adjacent to nature reserves, were identified within the greater Johannesburg metropolis. The three study sites identified for this assessment include Kloofendal (west), Morning Hill (east) and Kliprivier (south). Within each study site field surveys were conducted along transects starting 5m from the development edge and ending 75m within the nature reserve adjacent to each site. Quantitative (species density) and qualitative (Braun-Blanquet cover-abundance values) data analysis was employed to describe and evaluate the identified plant communities. The data in this study provides clear indication that a 25-35m buffer zone would suffice for these specific plant communities to maintain a climax successional status if impacted on by residential development. This paper thus makes a case for permitting the determining of variable buffers zones, based on a gradient analysis of a plant community, as a potential panacea to the problem of resistance and reluctance to accept present standard buffer zones.