The implementation of research recommendations at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
A comparative study Biodiversity is not a static phenomenon and many variables have an effect on accelerated biodiversity loss. While most of the variables affecting biodiversity loss are caused by humankind, many species are affected by more than one variable simultaneously. Six fundamental causes for biodiversity loss have been identiﬁ ed, namely
- unsustainable population growth and associated increased pressure on natural resources;
- a reduced spectrum of agricultural, forestry and ﬁshery products;
- failure of economic systems to attach appropriate economic value to the environment and resources;
- inequality in ownership, ﬂow and management of the beneﬁts and utilisation of resources;
- insufﬁcient knowledge in the application and use of resources; and
- legislation and institutional systems that promote unsustainable abuse of the environment (Middleton 2003:250).
The worldwide loss of biodiversity makes the management of protected areas more important than ever. Protected areas are under increasing pressure to become economically viable and independent of state grants. Tourism creates the mechanism and opportunities for protected areas to increase their economic viability while advancing the appreciation of nature. The management of these protected areas therefore includes the management of visitors. South Africa is the third most bio diverse country in the world. Amongst a variety of nature conservation endeavours nine national botanical gardens are managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). One of the nine national gardens is the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden situated in Roodekrans towards the west of Johannesburg. A study was launched to determine preferences of visitors to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden by making use of semi-structured interviews. The purpose of the study was threefold. Firstly the study was launched to determine whether visitors to the garden had an increased awareness of the ideals of environmental conservation after their visit to the garden. Secondly, the study determined the spatial preferences of visitors to the garden which was thirdly correlated to the time that they spent at each area. A number of recommendations were made and a comparative study followed twelve years after the initial study in which the implementation of the resultant ﬁndings was determined through observation and a comparison of information pamphlets and garden layout maps. It was found that large-scale changes took place in line with the recommendations made after the initial study. These included the demolition of unsuccessful theme gardens and their replacement by topical theme gardens such as water-wise gardens and a garden that attracts butterﬂies and birds. The educational function of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden was greatly improved by adding more information plaques throughout the garden, a new interpretative centre and many additional information pamphlets that had been absent during the initial study. Major structural changes were made, such as the building of an amphitheatre which reduced the negative impact of noise and disturbance surrounding the nests of the Verreaux’s eagles that breed successfully in the garden. The changes undertaken at the garden show innovative improvements in line with the con servation principles outlined by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). The evidence of the implementation of research recommendations from the initial study could play a direct role in improving the visitor experience, which would facilitate the economic viability of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden in its endeavours to reach its conservation goals. Further research is suggested to continuously determine the areas of preference of visitors in the evolving landscape of the garden to ensure renewed interest of visitors to the garden. If botanical gardens want to succeed in their goal to increase the environmental awareness and consciousness of visitors, continuous visitor and tourism research is required to improve the visitor experiences that will result in drawing visitors in future.