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Table Mountain National Park, which stretches from the City of Cape Town to Cape Point at the southern tip of the Cape peninsula, is one of the core sites that comprise the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site. It was inscribed into the list of (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites in 2004. And forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, a vast area of shrubland dominated by fynbos (meaning “fine bush” in Afrikaans, one of South Africa’s 11 official languages), centred around South Africa’s Western Cape Province and extending eastward into the Eastern Cape Province and, minimally, into the Northern Cape Province. It is the smallest and richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms and the only one to be completely contained within one country.

What is interesting and sometimes confusing, however, is that the original World Heritage Site inscription did not refer to the entire Cape Floral Kingdom, but to eight separate but representative sites (comprising an area of about 553 000 hectares) chosen for that honour.

Why not just have one, continuous area, like most World Heritage Sites? Well, while all of the Cape Floral Kingdom is special in some way, much of the region is no longer in its natural state. It was therefore not possible to award World Heritage status to the whole region since it contains significant areas of agriculture and urbanisation — hardly pristine flowers! And because the Cape Floral Kingdom is such a big area, stretching from the winter rainfall areas of the south-western Cape through transitional areas to the arid Karoo, it was impossible to find one area where all the unique, precious floral species found in the kingdom are concentrated.

So the solution was eight protected areas, each representing different habitats, and between them providing the pieces of the complex Cape Floral Kingdom jigsaw. It is the series of these eight sites that has such universal value and not the individual components. To quote Guy Palmer of CapeNature Scientific Services, who co-ordinated the selection of the areas and the compilation and submission to UNESCO, the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site is “an evolutionary treasure chest, which, as a result of relatively stable conditions over millions of years, has managed to retain the gems of natural selection.”

In July 2015 the size of the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site was extended to 1 094 742 hectares and the number of protected area clusters increased from eight to 13. Twelve of these protected areas are in the Western Cape with one, the Baviaanskloof Complex, in the Eastern Cape.

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