The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on 3 July this year approved the extension of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site. This approval was granted by the 39th Session of the Unesco’s World Heritage Committee taking place in Bonn, Germany from 28 June to 08 July.

Cape Floral Region

The extended Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants when compared to any similar sized area in the world. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora with some 69% of the 9 000 identified plant species being endemic to the area.

The Cape Floral Region is one of the eight South African World Heritage Sites with the other seven being:

  • Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa
  • iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Robben Island
  • Maloti-Drakensberg Park  (Transboundary with Lesotho)
  • Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
  • Vredefort Dome
  • Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

The Cape Floral Region was first added onto the World Heritage List in 2004.  At that time the site was made up of eight protected areas comprising about 553 000 hectares. The eight protected areas are located in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape provinces and are managed by the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, Cape Nature and the South African National Parks (SANParks).

The extension brings the size of the World Heritage Site to more than one-million hectares – significantly increasing the size of South Africa’s protected areas with outstanding international recognition. These include Table Mountain National Park, Agulhas Complex, Langeberg Complex, Anysberg Nature Reserve, Swartberg Complex, Baviaanskloof Complex and the Garden Route Complex. The extension also increases the number of protected area clusters making up the Cape Floral Region from eight to 13.

New heritage era

The extension also marks a new era in South Africa’s listing of World Heritage Sites.

The last time South Africa had a site added the World Heritage List was in 2007 when the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape was inscribed. Since then, the government shifted its focus to improving the management of the sites that are already on the list, putting in place measures to minimise environmental challenges in those areas.

As a result, no new nominations were submitted to UNESCO from 2007 until now. The extension of the Cape Floral Region is the first nomination to be submitted after the development of the Procedure for Nomination of World Heritage Sites. As new nominations are also being compiled, it is envisaged that in the next few years the number of World Heritage Sites in South Africa will increase and thus increasing the size of the conservation estate.

Environmental Affairs response

In accepting the approval of the extension, the deputy minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Thomson said, “South Africa is delighted to add more protected areas to its portfolio of world heritage properties. The country has in the last few years learned a few lessons in management of its world heritage sites and has through its engagement with the committee and the advisory bodies achieved high standards of conservation to levels expected by UNESCO.”