What is so special about the St Francis Nature Areas?
The southwestern Cape is especially blessed in plant species. Known as the Cape Floral Kingdom, it is one of only six such Floral Kingdoms in the world and extends roughly from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town and inland, covering an area of 90 000 km2. It is home to 9000 plant species, 70% of which are endemic (i.e. grow nowhere else in the world).
In different areas – from one hill or plain to the next, we find completely different plant species growing together in their own communities or vegetation types. The entire region can be divided into these vegetation types comprising species that grow in their particular area and nowhere else.
Our local vegetation type is named ‘The St Francis Fynbos/Thicket Mosaic’ and occurs only in the lime-rich coastal sandy sites scattered between the eastern Tsitsikamma in the west and Port Elizabeth (Cape Recife) in the east. This relatively small area comprises 0.2% of the Cape region – pretty unique as you can see!
Since European settlement, the area has undergone considerable damage and disturbance – by urbanization, agriculture, forestry, alien plant invasion and spread of coastal towns and resorts. As a result of these past impacts and future threats, scientific studies show that this vegetation is under dire threat. It has been classified Critically Endangered and requires protection under national legislation because of this status.
Currently, 63.8% of the St Francis Fynbos/Thicket Mosaic has been disturbed – principally by dense stands of alien plants(84.2%) and development (16.3%). All of the remaining natural habitat is covered in medium to light infestation of aliens, predominantly rooikrans (Acacia cyclops), and is thereby severely threatened. Indeed, of all the vegetation types in the Cape Floral Kingdom, the degree of alien infestation is highest in the St Francis Fynbos/Thicket Mosaic.
At the global level, The Cape Floral Kingdom has long been recognised as a global priority for conservation action. Owing to its high concentration of endemic plants and invertebrates and its vulnerability to threats, it has been identified as a biodiversity hotspot of global importance.
Our national responsibility is embodied by our country’s signing of the internationally ratified Convention on Biodiversity to ensure the effective conservation of our national heritage
Its safeguarding, therefore, is a responsibility for all South Africans and especially for those who own property in the area!