Practical actions for applied systematic conservation planning

Emily A. Botts, Genevieve Pence, Stephen Holness, Kerry Sink, Andrew Skowno, Amanda Driver, Linda R. Harris, Philip Desmet, Boyd Escott, Mervyn Lötter, Jeanne Nel, Tammy Smith*, Fahiema Daniels, Samuel Sinclair, Warrick Stewart, Jeffrey Manuel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Systematic conservation planning is intended to inform spatially explicit decision making. Doing so requires that it be integrated into complex regulatory and governance processes, and there are limited instances where this has been achieved effectively. South Africa is a global leader in the application of conservation plans, the outputs of which are widely used for spatial planning and decision making in many spheres of government. We aimed to determine how conservation planning in the country progressed from theory to implementation, and to identify practical actions that enabled this transition, by assessing temporal trends in the characteristics of conservation plans (1990–2017, n = 94). Since 2010 conservation planning has entered an operational period characterized by government leadership of plans, administrative rather than ecological planning domains, decreasing size of planning units, increasing emphasis on end-user products, and scheduled revision of plans. Key actions that enabled this progression include transitioning leadership of plans from scientists to practitioners, building capacity within implementing agencies, creating opportunities to integrate plans in legislative processes, establishing a strong community of practice, adopting implementation-focused methods, and balancing standardization with innovation. Learning from this model will allow other countries, particularly those with a similar megadiverse, developing context, to operationalize conservation planning into spatial planning and decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1235-1246
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
Early online date26 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • biodiversity mainstreaming
  • community of practice
  • decision making
  • implementación
  • implementation
  • integración de la biodiversidad
  • interfaz ciencia-política
  • omunidad de práctica
  • planeación espacial
  • planeación sistemática de la conservación
  • science-policy interface
  • South Africa
  • spatial planning
  • Sudáfrica
  • systematic conservation planning
  • toma de decisiones


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