Biodiversity Stewardship: Cape Floral Region Protected Areas (South-Africa)

Often in  order  to  effectively conserve  biodiversity,  conservation efforts  must  focus  outside  of  formerly  protected area. In South Africa, 80%  of  the  country's  most scarce  and  threatened  habitats  are  privately  owned. Biodiversity Stewardship provides this new and proactive approach to conservation.

Location and World Heritage designation

The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site is located in the southwest corner of South Africa in the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces of the country. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004 and consists of eight clusters extending from 50km south of the City of Cape Town northwards 210km to the Cederberg and 450km northeast to the Swartberg. The 553,000 ha cluster of eight sites together form a representative sample of the eight phytogeographic centres of the Cape Floral Region.

The eight sites, their area size and the relevant Management Authorities are shown in Table 11 below.

Table 11. The eight clusters making up the Cape Floral Region. 


Area (ha)

Management Authority


Cape Peninsula National Park

17 000 ha

South African National Parks Board


Cederberg Wilderness Area

64 000 ha



Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area

26 000 ha



Boland Mountain Complex

113 000 ha



De Hoop Nature Reserve

32 000 ha



Boosmansbos Wilderness Area

15 000 ha



Swartberg Complex

112 000 ha



Baviaanskloof Protected Area

174 000 ha

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency


Total area

553 000 ha





Main ecosystem services provided by the site

The Cape Floral Protected Areas (CFRPA) WHS plays an important role in providing benefits and ecosystem services, most notably freshwater provisioning services.

The Groot Winterhoek and Boland Mountain Complex are key water source areas for the Western Cape and the protected areas in these mountains, which form part of the CFRPA WHS are vitally important to protecting freshwater resources. The Groot Winterhoek conservation area comprises of 30 608ha, of which 19 200ha was declared a wilderness area in 1985. The conservation area is particularly important for the conservation of mountain Fynbos and wildlife, as a source of clean water to the Cape Town metropolitan area and the West Coast. The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness area also forms the watershed area that feeds two catchment areas that support rural and urban areas.

Governance and management system

The CFRPA WHS is jointly managed by the following Conservation Agencies, i) The Eastern Cape parks and Tourism Agency, ii) the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board (CapeNature) and iii) The South African National Parks Board. The Governance platform for the management of the site is the Joint Management Committee.

A key aspect to consider with respect to World Heritage Sites is that of buffering of the site. In the context of the CFRPA WHS the term coined by Mr Guy Palmer from CapeNature, to refer to the various tools and mechanisms used to buffer the site, is buffering mechanisms. These mechanisms include planning tools and products, landscape initiatives, corridors, biodiversity stewardship, declared mountain catchment areas and UNESCO designated biosphere reserves.

These buffering mechanisms such as the biodiversity corridors are designed to mitigate and act as adaptation mechanism to anticipated climate change impacts. These buffering mechanisms therefore play a key role in supporting the World Heritage concept by further safeguarding the important biodiversity of the Cape Floral Region.

Biodiversity Stewardship

Stewardship  refers  to  the wise use, management  and  protection of  that  which  has  been  entrusted  to  you.  Within  the context  of conservation,  stewardship  means  wisely  using  natural  resources that  you  have been  entrusted  with  on your  property, protecting important ecosystems, effectively managing  alien invasive species and fires, and grazing or harvesting without damaging the veld/vegetation (CapeNature Stewardship Operational Procedures Manual updated version 2009).

The Biodiversity Stewardship Programme within CapeNature is aimed at engaging private landowners with conservation worthy land. Landowners voluntarily participate in biodiversity conservation by formally agreeing (through a biodiversity stewardship agreement) to secure the conservation status of their land to (i) protect important ecosystems; (ii) enable the more sustainable use of natural resources and (iii) effectively manage threats to natural systems and biodiversity. Incentives may be offered to the landowner.

A biodiversity stewardship agreement is a voluntary agreement that may be informal or legally binding, and which commits a landowner and a public conservation agency to mutually agreed conservation management objectives.

One of the component  protected areas of the site - the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness area - forms the southern core of the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor (GCBC) and is the anchor site for the freshwater corridor in the GCBC. The Groot Winterhoek Freshwater Stewardship Corridor is aimed at linking the Cederberg and the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness areas through biodiversity stewardship and encouraging better land management with private landowners.

In 2009 CapeNature and WWF jointly implemented a project to support freshwater conservation within the Groot Winterhoek Freshwater corridor. The aim was to engage private landowners to support freshwater conservation and to secure priority areas through biodiversity stewardship. 

This engagement resulted in the securing of almost 9000ha of land of which the Groot Winterhoek Protected Environment (PE) made up 4 368ha. The Groot Winterhoek PE borders the protected area and further supports with buffering the site. The signing up of another 4404ha as a contract nature reserve resulted in the securing of lowland wetlands at the foothills of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains.

Key buffering mechanisms that support the WHS, such as biodiversity stewardship also contribute to securing and supporting the ecological infrastructure (and the benefits and services that flow from it) associated with the site. The mitigation for the effects of Global Climate Change is continuously factored into the planning and implementation of all initiatives. These multiple protection layers and tools play a synergistic and complementary role to support persistence of the site.