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The CWCBR has a long history of human habitation. The legacy of this is an identifiable West Coast culture and a vibrant regional economy. Expansion into the area has been relentless and vegetation, in particular the Renosterveld located on rich soils, has disappeared over time as agriculture has expanded. Human impacts are intensifying as both urban and industrial expansion increases. Land use, infrastructure and population are now interlinked. Critical factors that determine direct loss of habitat through land conversion result in further loss of species and amenity through degradation of natural resources.

Planning framework and approaches

The CWCBR is an entity involving multiple layers of authority, ranging from the international to the local level. At the international level the MAB (Man and the Biosphere) programme confers responsibility to South Africa, but confers no jurisdiction to UNESCO. At the national and provincial levels jurisdiction extends over the whole Biosphere, while at the local level, four municipalities have jurisdiction over specific areas as indicated in Figure 2. At a finer level of detail the CWCBR is a mosaic of properties that are either privately or publicly held. A significant number of plans and policy statements at each of these levels have been investigated in an attempt to understand their influence on the CWCBR.

It must be recognised that the market is the most potent driver of change within large sections of the Biosphere, but is institutionally under-represented. Much of the land is held under freehold title and treated as a commodity, while ecosystems are interconnected systems that have no regard for cadastral boundaries.

A number of planning approaches for the CWCBR are to be used in national, provincial and local level planning. These include bio regional planning that aims to create greater balance between conservation planning and development planning, classifying “bio regions” on the basis of objective criteria to allow definition of different management systems. In addition agro-ecological zoning and conventional regional planning approaches may also be applied.

Land cover and use

Land cover in the form of buildings, infrastructure, crops or vegetation, is an indication of the underlying land use. This factor was explored in depth within the CWCBR through the use of an epochal analysis of satellite imagery. This indicated that agriculture covered 47% of the CWCBR, while natural vegetation covered 25%, and other vegetation and alien vegetation covered a further 16%. While the CWCBR is a large area, urban uses already cover some 290 square kilometres (8%).

Conservation planning

The findings of a number of conservation planning studies in the area were analysed. Collectively, these recognise the rich bio diversity, varied landscapes and immense eco tourism potential of the area, coupled with the extensive loss of natural areas. A re-analysis of the ecological importance of the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) shows the CWCBR to be of moderate to high ecological importance – in particular the Saldanha Peninsula, which received low prominence in earlier studies.

The analysis emphasises the importance of both the designated southern and northern cores of the Biosphere. However, it is clearly evident that past studies have focused on the protection of bio diversity rather than on conservation per se, and have not dealt with people and economic development as key conservation drivers.

Conservation status

Conservation of natural areas is predicated by what remains of any particular natural area and what state the latter finds itself in at any given point in time. The fragmentation of natural vegetation into remnants compounds the problem. For the CWCBR the situation is severe with all vegetation types excepting Swartland Alluvium Renosterveld, Swartland Silcrete Renosterveld, and Saldanha Limestone Dune Thicket undergoing major transformation and fragmentation.

Table 2

The conservation status of the natural areas of much of the CWCBR, coupled with the low proportion of conserved vegetation and the lack of security of many of the areas conserved, is a cause of great concern. Regardless of their current conservation status, 8 out of 12 of the vegetation types occurring in the CWCBR will be unable to meet a minimum conservation target of 25% (sensu Cowling et al. 1999). This aspect is summarised in Table 1.

Security refers to the relative safety of an area. National Parks, Provincial and Local Authority Nature Reserves and Protected Natural Environments are regarded as more secure than Private Nature Reserves, National Heritage Sites and Conservancies. From Table 2 it is apparent that the conservation status of the first 8 vegetation types must be improved. Highest priority should be given to types with high insecurity and where the CWCBR contains a high percentage of the CFR total and total area is small— namely Hopefield Sand Fynbos, Atlantis Sand Fynbos, Saldanha Flats Calcrete Thicket, Saldanha Granite Renosterveld, and Saldanha Limestone Thicket (see Figure 2). Table 2 below indicates that even meeting the 10% conservation target requires more than 5500 hectares of additional conserved areas, and the 25% and 50% conservation targets are not achievable for a number of the vegetation types.

Priority conservation areas need to be determined spatially. This requires investigation at the appropriate scale. The CAPE irreplaceable areas analysis focuses on the regional scale. It identifies areas with high levels of irreplaceability throughout the southern and central areas of the CWCBR, but lower levels in the north (Figure 7). An analysis of the ecological importance of remnants within the CWCBR at a sub-regional scale, and using an index that is not a composite, indicates high levels of importance throughout the region (Figure 7). Of note is the high level of ecological importance of parts of the Saldanha Peninsula. The next stage of investigation within the CWCBR should be at the level of individual remnants, and within larger remnants, to differentiate levels of ecological importance