Biodiversity or conservation planners are primarily scientists, whose main tasks are to lead the identification of biodiversity priority areas in the landscape, and the development of strategies and tools that support the conservation of such priority biodiversity areas. This latter process often involves engagement with scientists and other professionals outside of the conservation sector, e.g. policy-makers, land-use planners, environmental managers and landowners.
In order to identify biodiversity priority areas, biodiversity or conservation planners firstly need to have a well-developed sense of the landscape. For this reason, they typically come from an ecology or geography background, and have spent extensive time in the field. They need to have a good understanding of the different elements of biodiversity – species, ecosystems, ecological processes – and how these interrelate. Biodiversity planners need to understand natural systems, and also how these interact with man-made systems.
Biodiversity planning is a scientific rigorous exercise that draws very heavily on data – biodiversity planners therefore work together with biological researchers and institutions – to gather, analyse and interpret biodiversity information.
Due to the complexity of the science and amount of data that inform the process, modern biodiversity planning relies heavily on computers – to perform analyses and also to convey results. Biodiversity planners are therefore good at organising and working with large amounts of data, using database and statistical tools and software. The primary output of biodiversity planning is always spatial – meaning they are best illustrated with maps. Biodiversity planners, therefore, are skilled operators of spatial analysis software packages (e.g. to analyse satellite remote sensing images), and specifically GIS – Geographical Information Systems.
Biodiversity planners need to be able to convey this complex science, and therefore they need good report-writing skills to capture the scientific assumptions and methodology of each biodiversity planning process (i.e. in a technical report), but also for writing more accessible documents to guide the implementation of the biodiversity plan. For this reason, biodiversity planners need to work closely with the implementers of the plan, in order to understand how best to present the information.
Biodiversity plans are used by conservation agencies to inform their own conservation actions – protected area expansion; reserve management; rehabilitation or restoration, and biodiversity planning can be involved in various levels of those activities, down to developing costing models for different options, etc.
Biodiversity plans are also used to inform land-use planning and environment management. They often work with authorities such as local or provincial government, to incorporate their conservation or biodiversity plans into the broader planning of the municipality or the province, to ensure that the environment is given attention along with the development needs such as roads, housing and industry.
Biodiversity or conservation planners are likely to travel to destinations all over the country, depending on their assignment. They work in all kinds of weather conditions, depending on the location. Their work involves an interesting combination of being outside surveying the landscape and collecting or verifying data, working indoors with computers, maps and legal and policy documents, and working both on their own and in teams of other scientists, as well as with authorities.
Schooling & School Subjects
National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics and Physical Sciences
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences
In addition, check the university admission requirements to see if you qualify for the programme you want to do.
Degree: BA with Geography or Town and Regional Planning or BSc degree in Conservation Ecology, Environmental Science, Natural Resource Management, or other related field, including subjects such as Zoology, Botany, Ecology, Geographic Information Systems, Environmental Management
Another option is BSc Urban and Regional Planning e.g. Wits
Postgraduate: This degree can be followed by a postgraduate qualification or short courses on biodiversity or conservation planning which are offered by US, UP.
Possible Career Paths
Most people do a basic life science or environmental science degree, often with a GIS component, then start working and develop biodiversity or conservation planning skills through short courses, post-grad studies and ‘learning on the job’.
The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)
2 Cussonia Ave
Tel: (012) 843-5000
SANBI Cape Town Office
Tel: (021) 799-8800
South African Wildlife and Environmental Society
1 Karkloof Road,
Tel: (033) 330-3931
South African National Parks - SANParks
643 Leyds Street
Tel: (012) 428-9111
NCC Environmental Services (Pty) Ltd
26 Bell Close
Westlake Business Park
Tel: (021) 702-2884
Department of Environmental Affairs
473 Steve Biko,