Working in partnership towards ecosystem stewardship

Mondi is helping in several ways to preserve and protect the natural capital that provides the ecosystem goods and services. In production landscapes, this helps maintain biodiversity. In this section, we focus on how we, through our engagement with key partners, are continuing our work towards ecosystem stewardship. Mondi’s involvement includes:

  • certification of all our owned and leased forests;
  • supporting the multi-stakeholder process to identify and protect the key intact forests in the areas of North-West Russia where we operate;
  • identifying, classifying and helping preserve high conservation value (HCV) areas;
  • contributing to the HCV Resource Network;
  • participating in the WWF New Generation Plantations (NGP) project;
  • being the major sponsor of the Mondi Ecological Network Programme (MENP) at Stellenbosch University, South Africa;
  • being the major sponsor of the WWF Mondi Wetlands Programme (MWP);
  • assessing the value of ecosystems;
  • using national biodiversity tools and the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT);
  • implementing ecosystem management plans;
  • control of alien invasive species and the use of fire; and
  • control and monitoring of pests and diseases.

Forest certification

Mondi owns or leases 316,000 hectares of plantation forest in South Africa and leases and manages 2.1 million hectares of boreal forests in Russia. We are committed to maintaining Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™) certification of all our owned, leased and managed forests. In 2013, we maintained 100% FSC™ certification of all our owned, leased and managed forests in Russia and South Africa.

High conservation value areas

We recognise our responsibility to conserve our HCV natural resources and, where possible, to help restore ecosystems that have been damaged by Mondi’s activities or other historical activities.

We actively support the preservation of HCV areas in both South Africa and Russia. The identification and protection of HCV areas helps us to manage our impact on biodiversity. We are engaged in partnerships to identify, classify and preserve forest and other ecosystems designated as HCV areas owing to their ecological or social significance. As at December 2013, Mondi has set aside 638,810 hectares for conservation in Russia and South Africa (26% of our landholding).

The classification of HCV forests is highly dependent on the particular sociocultural and ecological context. HCV forests are determined following a broad and inclusive stakeholder consultation process.

Pleasingly, a number of agricultural communities via global sustainability round tables have adopted the HCV concept. This positive step promotes the use of HCV beyond the forestry sector and therefore has important implications for global conservation, and the development of standard terminology and methodology.

The identification and protection of key intact forests of north-west Russia

Boreal forests are classified as slow-growth natural forests and are managed on a rotation of approximately 110 years. Mondi leases and manages 2.1 million hectares of boreal forest in the Komi Republic of Russia. Comprising mainly pine, spruce, birch and aspen and some larch species, elements of these boreal forests represent some of the last remaining intact forests of Europe. The boreal forests serve Russia and the rest of the world both as a source of timber and also as a symbol of biodiversity, and are an important moderator of global climate. Natural boreal forests that are sustainably managed are seen as climate-neutral.

We actively support and participate in a multi-stakeholder process led by the NGO Silver Taiga in Komi (north-west Russia) and WWF (Russia), and involving the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, Greenpeace and the forest communities to identify and protect some of the last remaining HCV intact forests in Europe. The delineation of five intact forests associated with Mondi’s operations has been agreed. During 2013, one of these intact forests areas was registered for the establishment of the Koigorodsky National Park.

Mondi has given our leased HCV intact forest areas full protection status and does not harvest these 70,000 hectares.

Silver Taiga, in conjunction with Mondi, is helping to train Mondi staff in the identification of HCV areas. Wetlands and rivers are protected by Russian law and given the status of HCV areas but other examples are pockets of a rare larch, community areas and hunting grounds.

High conservation value areas in South Africa

We minimise the impact of our plantation and forestry activities on the environment by identifying and helping to protect important and vulnerable ecosystems such as indigenous forests, HCV wetlands and grasslands. Where valuable existing remnants of endangered ecosystems, such as mistbelt grasslands, are identified and located on our landholdings, we aim to connect these remnants and/or link them to larger viable areas on or off our properties via ecological networks or biodiversity corridors, to help maintain biodiversity.

We do not convert natural forests, riparian areas, wetlands or protected areas into plantations. The conversion of grasslands or degraded agricultural lands is subject to an environmental impact assessment and a national multi-stakeholder licence application procedure in order to ensure adequate protection of water resources and biodiversity, including HCV grasslands.

In South Africa, we have identified and mapped 13 nationally significant vegetation types by using our Environmental Conservation Data Base standard, which simplifies them further into five distinct vegetation categories: natural vegetation, wetlands, traditional weed areas, maintained areas and bare land. A biodiversity score which determines high, medium and low conservation status for each forest estate is based on all of the data sources and the greatest priority is given to HCV status estates.

Mondi identifies the conservation status of any species of special concern (endemic and threatened species) on our landholdings, in an effort to manage the habitats appropriately and thus conserve these species.

Baseline surveys of Mondi land were started in 2008 with a number of objectives: to allow the verification of a particular HCV area; establish floral and faunal species; and reveal the number of species that are threatened (critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable).

We support and work in close co-operation with NGOs and research bodies to actively manage land, fresh water systems and biodiversity. We have been involved in some of the early, pioneering work on ecosystems, playing a key role in the conservation of wetlands, grasslands and HCV ecosystems. In particular, we participate in the South African Biodiversity Institute’s Grassland Programme and the Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, and actively encourage other landowners and interested parties to do the same. As a result of these efforts, two of Mondi’s areas in South Africa have been registered as private nature reserves and the largest part of the Mondi SiyaQhubeka Forests has been incorporated in the iSimangaliso World Heritage Park.

Following the identification of HCV areas within its boundaries, Mondi’s Gilboa estate in Karkloof, KwaZulu-Natal, was the first forestry property to be proclaimed a private nature reserve in South Africa in. Located at the headwaters of three of KwaZulu-Natal’s important river systems, the Umvoti, Myamvubu and Mholweni Rivers, it includes functional wetlands which provide significant services such as water purification and flood control. The Gilboa estate also has 283 hectares of ‘endangered’ Midlands mistbelt grasslands, home to various threatened species. In 2011, Gelykwater (829 hectares), an area rich in mistbelt grassland was our second forestry property to be proclaimed as a private nature reserve. Mondi SiyaQhubeka Forests is a flagship for HCV conservation in our South African operations and the conservation partnership with the iSimangaliso World Heritage Park continues to provide benefits for conservation and our commercial forestry operations.

WWF New Generation Plantations (NGP) project

Plantation forests comprise even-aged monocultures and are established primarily for wood and fibre production. They are intensively managed and have relatively high growth rates and productivity. Provided rainfall is adequate, they generally tolerate a range of soils and growing conditions, including degraded and agricultural land.

The proportion of plantation forests has significantly increased in the past century as they have assumed greater importance as a source of quality wood and fibre. Research has shown that, if managed responsibly, intensively-managed plantation forests can play a significant role in the provision of ecosystem services and future wood supply.

Forest plantations currently occupy 5% of global forest cover but supply 40% of global commercial wood and fibre requirements. These forests can provide important economic and ecological value and can relieve the threat to natural forests. However, if not managed responsibly, they can incur significant environmental and social costs.

The global NGP project is a collaborative effort between WWF and several companies and governments. Mondi is an active participant in the project, aimed at promoting best practice in the design and management of forest plantations by identifying examples of well-managed and appropriately located plantations that contribute to healthy, diverse and multi-functional forest landscapes and are compatible with biodiversity conservation and human livelihoods.

In 2013, together with WWF (SA), Mondi co-hosted the NGP Africa regional meeting and field visit. Around 40 participants took part to learn how companies and conservationists are working together to develop and promote best practice plantations in production landscapes. A number of Mondi’s forests were used to illustrate NGP principles.

Mondi’s SiyaQhubeka Forests, located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa is an example of a good practice NGP. Through SiyaQhubeka Forests – a partnership between Mondi and our black economic empowerment partners, government and local communities – we have ensured that some 9,000 hectares of land, including a large plantation area, is incorporated into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, providing protection for sensitive wetland and other HCV areas and much-needed additional space for elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, cheetah and other game to roam.

It has been predicted that globally an additional 40 million hectares of plantations will be needed by 2050 to meet demand for wood, fibre and fuel. Mondi believes that plantations adhering to NGP principles, which do not convert natural forest, can be part of the solution to meeting this demand.

Mondi Ecological Network Programme (MENP)

Globally, natural ecosystems are being transformed and fragmented. Even the largest of natural reserves cannot ensure species survival in the face of these impacts and mitigation measures are being sought, including ecological networks which are aimed at stemming biodiversity loss. Ecological networks consist of interconnecting corridors with associated patches of natural or restored habitat in production landscapes. We are the main sponsor of the MENP and are working with Professor Michael Samways and his research team from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa to understand and manage such ecological networks in our forests.

In 2013, a number of research papers focusing on the design and management of ecological networks were published internationally. Mondi is currently working with the MENP, WWF (SA), NGP and others to scale up the implementation of ecological networks in productive landscapes.

Prof Samways explains, "While we are not likely to see much more land being given complete protection as nature reserves, there are still many opportunities for conservation. The real progress now and in the future will be conservation on privately-owned land. This is, and will be, a two-pronged approach: land will be made to be more accommodating for important biodiversity; and it will be partially set aside, where there is development on one hand and conservation on the other. To achieve these goals it is important to marry production and conservation into an alliance where both benefit.

Says Professor Samways, "Mondi, as a significant land owner, has been dedicated for some years now to ensuring that timber is produced where biodiversity is conserved and ecosystem integrity is maintained. Mondi’s operations in South Africa have been particularly exciting as they have been a world model for sustainability, using both land design and management as the foundation for sustainable approaches for many different crops around the world."

Freshwater ecosystems and the Mondi Wetlands Programme (MWP)

Wetlands are the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems, with 48% of wetland ecosystem types critically endangered. The main pressures on wetland ecosystems include cultivation, urban development, mining, dam construction and poor grazing management, combined with catchment wide impacts.

Wetlands play a pivotal role in the management of water flows, including the purification and storage of water. They control erosion and reduce the severity of droughts and floods by regulating stream flow and recharging underground aquifers. Wetlands also play an important role in biodiversity protection, tourism, environmental education, grazing, subsistence agriculture, and are a source of food and plant materials for rural communities. Because our commercial activities use significant volumes of water, we also rely on healthy wetlands and riparian zones.

Our engagement with the Water Research Commission (WRC), University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of the Free State and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have all made an important contribution to improve our understanding of plantation water issues through projects carried out on Mondi land. In 2013, the conclusion of Phase II of the WRC’s ‘Working for Water’ backed hydrological research on Mondi’s Two Streams catchment has delivered practical research findings on the impacts of forestry on riparian areas.

Mondi remains the principle sponsor of the Mondi Wetlands Programme (MWP). The MWP has been recognised as the most successful non-governmental wetland conservation programme in South Africa and a pioneering force for wetland conservation outside reserves in the country. The programme has achieved international recognition for its success in supporting social change that encourages wetland users and owners to manage their wetland resources in a more environmentally relevant manner.

During 2013, the administration and staff of the MWP, as part of wider cooperation with WWF, were successfully transferred from The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) to WWF (SA). This new arrangement will facilitate additional funding to increase the influence of the MWP. The MWP and WESSA continue to cooperate on joint projects associated with the MWP.

With the support and expertise of the MWP, we have assessed the quality of services (values) that our key wetlands provide in our South African forestry areas and have drawn up management plans to maintain or improve the quality of wetland services. We continue to work within Mondi and with global initiatives to develop meaningful financial and quantitative systems to value ecosystem services.

Assessing the value of ecosystems

We respect the findings of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB*) study, a major international initiative to delineate the global economic benefits of ecosystem services and biodiversity; to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation; and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions in the future. TEEB’s articulation of a compelling economic case for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity is aligned with our thinking. Ecosystem services can be defined as services that are generated by the natural environment, which enhance human wellbeing, and are directly used by people. As core members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Ecosystems Focus Area, we continue to pilot aspects of the economics of ecosystems in catchment areas in South Africa.

Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool

In 2013, we adopted the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) for our business, an innovative tool designed to facilitate access to accurate and up-to-date biodiversity information, which will help provide a holistic and strategic overview of Mondi’s risks in relation to biodiversity and will complement our highly developed geographic information systems currently used in our forestry operations.

We used IBAT to map all our operations in relation to key biodiversity hotspots during 2013. We will be working in greater depth with the tool in 2014, generating data and assessing the results, in consultation with management teams at our operations.