In 2004, the Cape floral region was declared a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. World heritage sites aim to protect areas of outstanding natural, historical and cultural value.

The Cape floral region, in the southwest corner of South Africa in the Western Cape, consists of 13 clusters, spanning 1,094,741 hectares. It is one of the world’s most unique regions in terms of plant diversity, and 70% of the plant species do not grow anywhere else in the world.

The Cape floral region’s 13 clusters:

  • Cederberg Complex
  • Groot Winterhoek Complex
  • Table Mountain National Park
  • Boland Mountain Complex
  • Hexrivier Complex
  • Riviersonderend Nature Reserve
  • Agulhas Complex
  • De Hoop Nature Reserve
  • Langeberg Complex
  • Garden Route Complex
  • Anysberg Nature Reserve
  • Swartberg Complex
  • Baviaanskloof Complex

The world heritage site is managed by the Cape Action for People and the Environment programme. The programme coordinates the work of government and private landowners to protect the region’s biodiversity through integrated social, financial and conservation initiatives.

Why is the Cape floral region a world heritage site?

The region has been designated as one of the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Centres of Plant Diversity.

Each of the 13 clusters is home to distinct plant species and is large enough to preserve the genetic viability of this diversity.

The region has a wide variety of habitats, due to the range of elevations, soils and other conditions in the area. Fynbos, the most distinctive vegetation in the region, does not grow anywhere else in the world. It is one of the six floral kingdoms in the world, and the only kingdom to only occur in one country.

The Cape floral region hosts a fifth of all plant species in Africa, despite occupying less than 0.5% of the continent’s land mass. Southern Africa has 12 plant families that are not found anywhere else in the world. Of these, five are found in the Cape floral region.

Challenges and threats

A number of the 13 clusters are bordered by conserved land. The integrity of the Boland Mountain Complex, which is mostly surrounded by rural land, is receiving special attention. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens has been included in the Cape floral region, so that the entire area, including the surrounding Table Mountain National Park, can be managed in an integrated way. Kirstenbosch Gardens also has important biodiversity within its boundaries.

Population growth in the Cape Peninsula region threatens the long-term integrity of the area. CapeNature and other organisations are involved in a number of innovative measures to address this issue, including prevention fires, managing invasive species, ensuring adequate resources to manage the world heritage site, promoting responsible tourism, ensuring appropriate urban development that does not harm the site, and developing models to forecast potential climate changes.

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