"Save it with Flowers"
By Hugh Paxton, World Wide Watch Magazine
"SIR FRANCIS DRAKE on his round-the-world jaunt called Good Hope 'the fairest cape' on earth. He was probably referring to the incomparable view of Table Mountain draped with its tidy white tablecloth of cloud cover. But he might also have been smitten by the flowers. I was! It was September, the southern right whale breeding migration was beginning (they come so close to the shore that they sometimes nudge the rocks), the Cape fur seals were having pups, and great white sharks had gathered to eat them.
It’s a busy time, spring in the Cape! And the flowers are explosive! The Cape Floristic Region (CFR) is the smallest of the planet’s six floral kingdoms in terms of geographical coverage but one of the largest in terms of biodiversity. A total of 9,600 plant species grow here (70% found nowhere else), the level of variety is comparable to tropical rainforests, and on Table Mountain alone there are more species of plants than can be counted in the entire United Kingdom. Vertebrates total 560 species, many highly specialized, dependent for their survival on this floral extravagance.
The predominant vegetation is fynbos (an English loanword from the Afrikaans for 'fine bush'), and fynbos-covered sea cliffs and meadows in flower resemble dazzling quilts of color. However, this has not protected the extraordinary landscape from development or conversion to agriculture. The mountains’ rugged topography makes them unsuitable for farming and largely intact, but less than five percent of lowland fynbos enjoys protected status.
The pressures on this habitat areimmense, but eco-economics are coming to the rescue. South Africa’s annual flower trade is worth $45 million, and fynbos plantlife includes highly prized genuses like Erica and Protea. A coalition of conservation organizations and the private sector are pioneering the sustainable harvesting of the Cape’s wildflowers for sale in the United Kingdom and South Africa and, since this is proving a great deal more profitable than other destructive land uses such as planting barley or ostrich farming, the amount of land being protected is growing.
Prior to the Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative, which was supported by the Global Environment Facility and United Nations Development Programme among other organizations, just 48,000 hectares of the Agulhas Plain’s fynbos were protected. The area has since all but doubled and is set to triple in size in the near future. An ecological certification system is in place, and over 150 local families are benefiting from the newly created job opportunities. Business is blooming. And so is the fairest Cape."