Biodiversity in the Western Cape
Biodiversity is short for biological diversity and it simply means the variety of living things in a specific habitat or region. Living things include many kinds of organisms, from the plants, animals, fungi, and algae that can be readily seen in nature to the multitude of tiny creatures known as protozoa, bacteria, and archaea that can be seen only with a microscope.
In the Western Cape we are fortunate enough to be living in one of the most unique biodiversity ecosystems in the world, the Cape Floristic Region. The Western Cape is home to unique animal and plant life such as fynbos, the geometric tortoise and other species that can only be found in this province.
Biodiversity is important as it is the key indicator of the health of an ecosystem. A healthy biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play. Also, greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms.
As citizens in this beautiful province we should take it upon ourselves to preserve our unique ecosystem, and protect it from human threats.
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Developmental Planning in the Western Cape has a unit called the biodiversity team in place to ensure our ecosystems are protected, and to make sure the Provincial Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) is followed through.
We spoke to Albert Ackhurst, the head of Western Cape Government’s biodiversity team. We found out more about the biodiversity issues in our province, what WCG biodiversity initiatives are in the pipeline, and what we can do as citizens to protect our biodiversity.
What does the WCG biodiversity team do?
The team creates policies, legislation and guidelines which promotes nature conservation and ensures that people value, protect and sustainably utilise biodiversity and ecological infrastructure.
We also provide oversight and work with CapeNature to manage and expand protected areas. We to offer municipal and sector specific support that ensures our biodiversity is taken into account during land-use and developmental planning.
The biodiversity team’s work impacts the public in the following ways:
- By presenting alternative viable livelihood options through the implementation of the Biodiversity Economy Strategy. For example, we will provide guidance on sustainable harvesting of wild honeybush and other wild flowers native to the Western Cape.
- Rehabilitating and restoring degraded ecosystems.
- Contributing towards water security and ecological resilience.
- And developing key reference resources for use in land use and development planning, environmental assessment and regulation and natural resource management.
What unique animal and plant life can be found in the Western Cape?
The animal species endemic to the Western Cape include the Cape spiny mouse, Fynbos golden mole, Bontebok and the Cape water rat, among others.
The Western Cape has remarkable floral variety as the province is richly endowed with fynbos and various species of the wild honeybush.
What are the biggest threats to the Western Cape’s biodiversity?
The Western Cape’s biodiversity is under serious threat as a result of human activities. The main dangers are:
- Alien Invasive species.
- Uncontrolled fires.
- Unprecedented agricultural development pressures and expansion of the built environment.
- Unsustainable use of natural resources through uncontrolled harvesting of wild plant and animal species.
- Changing weather patterns and climate change.
What are some of the conservation projects the WCG is focusing at the moment?
The biodiversity team is currently developing the Western Cape Ecological Infrastructure Investment Framework (EIIF). This framework will create strategies to tackle invasive species in the province and improve water security.
We are also introduced guidelines for the sustainable harvesting of honeybush, which on the decline from over-harvesting.
Are there WCG supported conservation initiatives/NGOs that public can participate in?
The public can get involved in the Biosphere Reserve Management by participating in any of the five Provincial Biosphere Reserves. As well as take part in initiatives such as Conservation@Work.
If you would like to learn more about our biodiversity please visit:
- Cape Nature
- Western Cape: State of Biodiversity report 2017
- State of Environment Outlook Report for the Western Cape Province Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health November 2017
- The wild honybush harvesting field guidelines (Click here for the Afrikaans document)
- Biodiversity Economy Programme
- The Provincial Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2015 to 2025