At the southern tip of Africa, the vibrant city of Cape Town rests in the centre of one of our planet’s smallest and most remarkable ecosystems. The Cape Floristic Region is world famous for its vast and varied landscapes and its incredible diversity of habitats and species. As one of only six recognised floral kingdoms in the world with 9,600 recorded plant species – 70% of which are endemic (found nowhere else on the planet) – the region has been identified as a biodiversity hotspot.
Much of the diversity of the Cape Floristic Region is associated with the fynbos biome, a Mediterranean-type, fire-prone shrubland. In addition to its intrinsic biological value, the fynbos biome also provides significant economic, cultural and recreational value to the region through ecotourism as well as the provision of ecosystem services and harvestable products.
However, in spite of its immense ecological and social value, the fynbos biome is also one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. While some areas have been successfully conserved within nature reserves, which play an invaluable role in protecting urban nature, the natural vegetation of Cape Town’s Lowlands (often referred to as the Cape Flats) has increasingly been removed to make way for agriculture, development and urban expansion. Ecosystems have also been damaged by pollution, over-extraction of water, alien invasive plant species and increasingly frequent fires. Much of the remaining off-reserve fynbos wilderness now exists as fragmented segments amongst farmlands and urban areas, where populations of plant and animal species are becoming too small to remain viable. To date, the city of Cape Town has lost 14 species of plants to extinction.
Historical Fynbos Vegetation Cover in Cape Town, compared to vegetation lost to and fragmented by agriculture and urbanisation under a socially divisive governance, compared to our vision of bridging those socio-ecological divides. Source: BioNet (top image) and Census data/Adrian Firth (bottom map)
In addition to the ecological pressures facing the city, Cape Town also continues to battle numerous social challenges. Due to the legacy of Apartheid, it remains one of the most spatially segregated cities in the world. This can quite starkly be seen in terms of access to green space with differences in the quantity and quality of nature freely accessible to residents largely running along lines of race and socio-economic status. This has led to a situation in which many people rarely (if ever) have the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from safe and abundant green space or appreciate first-hand the wonder of the fynbos biome.
Our response - The Fynbos Corridor Collaboration
In response to these ecological and social challenges, the need for community-led fynbos rehabilitation in Cape Town is gaining traction. In most residential areas there are members of the public involved in greening private gardens and public spaces. In addition, various organisations in Cape Town have established off-reserve fynbos conservation and rehabilitation programs targeting fynbos habitats in community spaces such as parks, school yards and places of worship and along riverbanks, roads and train lines.
However, while well-intentioned, these numerous fynbos rehabilitation projects tend to be isolated and uncoordinated and, as a result, are limited in their impact. Each project has its own focus and goals, utilises a different strategy, employs a different rationale for plant selection and sourcing, and carries out different methods of monitoring, evaluation and reporting (if any at all).
As a response to this situation, a group of Cape Town-based urban greening NGOs (Ingcungcu, Greenpop and Communitree), funded by the Table Mountain Fund, established the Fynbos Corridor Collaboration in 2018. Over three years, these organisations, in consultation with numerous stakeholders, developed a set of guidelines for coordinated fynbos rehabilitation in Cape Town. The Fynbos Stepping-Stone Corridor Strategy, framework and this website and mapping platform, details those guidelines.