South Africa's first national assessment of spatial priorities for biodiversity conservation, released in 2005, aimed to identify conservation priority areas for mainstreaming into all sectors at national and provincial scales. This National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment (NSBA) was based on a planning for implementation approach in order to deliver defensible products useful to decision-makers. The NSBA aimed to produce a map of broad-scale priority areas for future finer-scale assessment and conservation action. This map summarized information on species, ecosystems, ecological processes, and the pressures they face from human activities. Owing to the complexity of the priority area map, two additional user-friendly products — maps of ecosystem status and protection levels — were developed. These products represented the habitat loss and protected area coverage of South Africa's ecosystems relative to their conservation targets. A year after release, we reflect on the NSBA process, products and uptake by implementing agencies (with a specific focus on the terrestrial biodiversity assessment) in order to contribute to the growing body of documented best practice in conservation planning. The ecosystem status product has been widely used at national and provincial scales due in large to its clear and compelling message. The protection level and overall priority map have also witnessed uptake, the former in guiding the expansion of protected areas and the latter as an integrated map of national biodiversity status. The strong collaboration of local planners and implementers with in-depth experience of biodiversity assessment, using a systematic approach and focusing on communicating a few high level messages, appears to have contributed to the initial, successful uptake of the NSBA. We conclude with a call to address data and monitoring shortcomings before the next NSBA in 2010.