In South Africa, the relative extent of range degradation under freehold compared with communal tenure has been debated. This study presents findings from a ‘released’ communal area, where a former freehold farm was transferred to communal ownership in 1976 and compares this with an ecologically similar farm still under freehold tenure. Analysis of historical aerial photographs demonstrated an increase of 21·5 per cent in shrub abundance at the communal site after change from freehold tenure (1975–1985), but a slight decline of 0·3 per cent in the years preceding the change (1968–1975). Conversely, at the freehold site, shrub abundance declined by 12·8 per cent over the period 1968 to 2004. Field measurements revealed significantly (p <0·05) greater frequency of both woody and dwarf shrubs under communal tenure as well as significantly lower basal cover for all ground vegetation. Mean point to tuft distance values were also significantly lower at the communal site for both grasses and all ground vegetation. However, mean range condition score was significantly (p = 0·03) higher at the communal site because of the significantly (p = 0·01) greater frequency of Themeda triandra. We conclude that although the communal site does show some evidence of vegetation degradation relative to the freehold farm, range productivity has not declined in the short term, suggesting that more permanent range degradation at the site has been limited. A more conclusive evaluation of the link between tenure change and range degradation will require longer-term research at released sites, including measurement of established degradation indicators such as soil erosion.
Bibliographical noteThis is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article:
Bennett, J. , Palmer, A.R. and Blackett, M. (2012) Range degradation and land tenure change: insights from a ‘released’ communal area of Eastern Cape province, South Africa. Land degradation and development, volume 23 (6): 557–568, which has been published in final form at http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ldr.2178
- vegetation degradation
- rangeland management
- communal areas
- land tenure
- South Africa