With the coinciding crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and human population growth the planet needs production systems that increase usable productivity while maintaining the services the environment provides. There is also an urgent need to recover services and biodiversity that have been lost through poor land management/use.

The philosophy behind Regenerative/Holistic Planned Grazing is that livestock are used in a high intensity / short duration grazing scheme so that soil health is improved, facilitating the carbon and water cycles and increasing diversity and productivity in fauna (domesticated and wild, vertebrate and invertebrate) and flora.  While there is reasonable evidence for the benefits of this approach in temperate ecosystems, further work is required to validate this, and to develop good practice to achieve this in dry, nutrient poor savannahs.

A research and training project was initiated in February 2021, with the valued support of Investec,  with the objective to validate the ecological, economic and social benefits of holistic planned grazing on a multiple land-use site, measuring the impact of planned grazing on land degradation, soil restoration and carbon sequestration and comparing this to traditional land management on adjacent properties.

The key objectives for the first year of this planned multi-year study were;

  • Baseline data collection for vegetation and soil factors
  • Baseline data collection for key faunal groups (termites, butterflies and birds)
  • Analysis of soil samples for carbon and other nutrients
  • Analysis of the economic viability of planned grazing relative to traditional models

SAWC, and the supporters of this work, including Investec, are working together to support reduced carbon emission, increased carbon sequestration, skills development in the communities living near the western boundary of Kruger National Park, and to raise awareness of the SAWC as part of these initiatives. This is being done by trying regenerative land practices, through cattle manipulation (planned grazing) and measuring these impacts. The site is then used to train herders and other personal associated with regenerative land use.

The first year of work was largely exploratory and a ‘set-up’ phase, where investigation of what can be achieved and what is ‘working’, as well as establishing relationships with the landowners/managers was at the core. A considerable amount of good work has been accomplished in this time with the support of Investec.

The project is located on sections of three adjacent properties near Gravelotte and it is here where the Southern African Wildlife College has proposed a long-term study to track the effect of this change of management. This by contrasting the results with those of neighbouring properties that continue to practice traditional selective rotational grazing for cattle or cattle and unmanaged wildlife.

The objectives of this research project have now been expanded to:

  • Validate the regenerative/holistic planned grazing (HPG) process – does it achieve restoration through improved soil health, biodiversity, resilience, ecosystem services and what is the business case for this practice i.e. is it economically viable.
  • Implement and document adaptive management in a controlled real-world situation to achieve these benefits
  • Train students, community and commercial livestock herders/owners in the best practice of HPG
  • Communicate and demonstrate how far the HPG process achieves these benefits in a real-world African lowveld situation
  • Use the project and the site for the applied learning component of the new applied Diploma in Natural Resource Management (undergoing the accreditation process), which will be offered by the SAWC (3rd year students)
  • Use the project and the site for applied research into best practice in climate change, human-wildlife conflict etc.
  • Monitor the project continuously and evaluation, which will be done annually to assess progress and objectives achieved.

The work conducted thus far includes:

  • Climate Change & Biodiversity baseline and monitoring
  • Baseline water infiltration and storage
  • Termite activity monitoring at fixed points – 12 months of data has been recorded thus far and is ongoing.  
  • Drone survey for monitoring – the second annual survey was completed in May/June 2022 and the data analysis has been completed.
  • Annual biodiversity indicator monitoring – the annual surveys of birds and butterfly species were conducted as per the work programme
  • Soil Health – biodiversity and microbiology baseline data
  • Livestock spatial land use data
  • Cattle spatial use monitoring 
  • Economics and viability data
  • Implementation of a training programme

Additional  activities:

  • Establish sustainable funding for the longitudinal study site
  • Locate, prepare and establish a research camp
  • Regular stakeholder meetings with landowners and managers

The College’s sincere thanks is extended to Investec for enabling this project and for the continued and vital support provided to this important project.