Ever since the advent of European people at the Cape, natural areas on the Cape Flats have come under increasing threats from various sources. Housing, industrialization and agriculture have all taken their toll, whilst in many places woody aliens have displaced the indigenous vegetation.

Furthermore, what is alarming is the poor conservation status of the Cape Flats. Western Cape lowlands overall support the most poorly conserved vegetation type in South Africa. About one percent of the Flats fall within official nature reserves. The long-term survival of most of the remaining natural veld is not guaranteed. Strandveld, for example, is highly threatened by coastal developments and alien invaders and only about 32% of the original vegetation remains with less than 1% conserved in small areas.

The concept of a nature reserve on the University of the Western Cape’s campus originated in the early 1960’s through the keen interest of a group of academics attached to the University. With careful planning the idea reached realization in 1977 with the official proclamation of the Cape Flats Nature Reserve under Section 12(4) of the Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1974. In 1978 the reserve became a National Monument, today known as a Provincial Heritage site.

The Cape Flats Nature Reserve is a private reserve and falls under the administration of the University of the Western Cape. Although the reserve was first created as a refuge for Strandveld and Coastal Fynbos, it now also functions as a base for ecological teaching, environmental education and research.

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Location and size

The 32 ha Reserve is situated between 33 S latitude and 19 E longitude, on the University of the Western Cape campus, Bellville South and can be reached by following Voortrekker Road from Bellville and turning onto Modderdam Road, or by following the N2 National Road from Cape Town and traveling to Bellville (using the M12 ). Public transport is by train to Unibell station or by bus to the University. The Reserve is bounded by the Belhar/Unibell railway line to the south and Modderdam road to the north.

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Geology and topography

The Cape Flats is covered with a deep mantle of Recent and Tertiary sands which in the Reserve are calcareous in nature. A central area has NE-SW trending dunes to 64 m a.s.l. and which is part of a now fragmented dune system to the north, west and south. This area is surrounded by gently undulating flatland (55 to 57 m a.s.l.) while a vlei has been artificially created in the north-eastern section.

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Climate patterns follow those of the western Cape winter rainfall region (warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters), with an average precipitation of 500 mm p.a. with 75-80% falling during the period April to September. The average rainfall for the period October to March is just below 100 mm. Mean temperatures are 26 C in January and February to 6 C in July. Frost is rare on the coastal flats but is encountered one or two days a year in the Reserve.

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The vegetation of Cape Flats Nature Reserve can be categorized as West Coast Strandveld and alkaline Coastal Fynbos. Strandveld is a broad-leaved, sclerophyllous scrub (2 - 3.5m high) restricted to the dune area, while Coastal Fynbos frequents dune depressions and slopes as well as large parts of the surrounding flatland. Coastal Fynbos also supports extensive pioneer grassland, indicative of previous disturbance. Reed beds as well as peripheral wet-loving shrubs and other forms dominate the vlei habitat.

A number of major dune scrub, flatland and vlei plant communities have been identified, bearing testimony to the wide variation in habitat and community species composition found in the area. The broad communities are depicted in the vegetation map here in this brochure.

Over 220 indigenous plant species are found in the Reserve. Dune scrub is dominated by the tall, woody shrubs, Olea exasperata (slanghout), Rhus lucida (besembos), R. gauca (blinkblaar) and Euclea racemosa (bosghwarrie), while flatter areas, the dune depressions and lower slopes have small to medium-sized shrub elements such as Nylandtia spinosa (skilpadbessie), Phylica ericoides, Zygophyllym flexuosum (spekbossie), Passerina rigida (gonnabos), Aspalathus hispida, Metalasia muricata (blombos) and Rhus laevigata (ranktaaibos). Reeds are prominent in localized places and include Willdenowia teres, Ischyrolepis eleocharis (katstertriet) and Thamnochortus erectus (jakkalstertriet), the latter forming fairly extensive stands on parts of the flats. Disturbed areas of the flats are colonized primarily by the grass Ehrharta villosa (pypgras), Helichrysum niveum and Tetragonia fruticosa (kinkelbossie).

Vlei species include the sedges, Scirpus littoralis (steekbiesie), S. nodosus (vleibiesie) and Fuirena spp., as well as Juncus kraussii.

Carpobrotus sp.Succulence is an important element in Strandveld and the Reserve is no exception. Common species include Ruschia macowanii, Cephalophyllum procumbens, Euphorbia marlothiana (rare on the Cape Flats and elsewhere) and Carpobrotus acinaciformis (sour-fig), particularly in open parts.

Haemanthus sp.The Reserve is well known for its wealth of spring annuals when species such as Dimorphotheca pluvialis (Cape rain daisy), Senecio littoreus (hongerblom) and Steirodiscus tagetes form multi-coloured carpets of white and yellow on open dune slopes. Also striking is the high number of bulbous or tuberous plants (geophytes) which include Albuca Canadensis (soldier-in-the-box), the fragrant smelling Gladiolus carinatus (mauve Afrikaner), Lachenalia spp. (viooltjies), Babiana ambigua (bobbejaantjie), and Moraea fugax. In autumn individuals of Brunsvigia orientalis (candelabra flower) and Haemanthus coccineus (April Fool) add splashes of red.

Flowering plants of the Cape Flats Nature Reserve An interactive key to their identification.

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GrysbokDespite the low density of mammals, as with the Cape in general, the Reserve has a good representation of small mammals. Apart from grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis), small mammals include the Cape grey mongoose (Galerella pulverulentus), Cape hare (Lepus capensis), Cape dune mole rat (Bathyergus suillus) and at least nine species of rodent. Among the latter are found the stiped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) and the Cape greater gerbil (Tatera afra).

Cape canaryOver eighty-two bird species have been recorded in or flying over the Reserve. Common species include Cape bulbul (Pycnonotus capensis), Cape robin (Cossypha caffra), bokmakierie (Teleophorus zeylonus), Cape turtle dove (Streptopelia capicola), laughing dove (Stigmatopelia senegalensis) and speckled mousebird (Colius striatus). Characteristic waterfowl and waders are yellowbilled duck (Anas undulata) and Cape teal (Anas capensis), blacksmith plover (Vanellus armatus) and three banded plover (Charadrius tricollaris).

Snakes such as the common mole snake (Pseudapsis cana) and Cape cobra (Naja nivea) are fairly ubiquitous. Breviceps sp.The angulate tortoise (Chersina angulata) is another reptile which is also frequently encountered, as are several species of lizard and the Cape dwarf chamaeleon (Bradypodion pumilus).

Frog species known to occur here include the sand rain frog (Breviceps rosei).

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The management goals and objectives for the Reserve are to conserve and protect the integrated ecosystems representing the natural fauna, flora and geological features that fall within its boundaries. For management purposes the Reserve can be divided in two areas, an older pristine area and a slightly disturbed triangular area of approximately 12ha that was added in 1987 as compensation for the part that was removed when the entrance road to the University was constructed. This triangle was highly infested by alien invasive species such as Acacia saligna and Eucalyptus calophylla. The entire are has been cleared of alien invasive plants (except Eucalyptus calophylla, which is regarded as a low threat infestation) and active management practices have been and will continue to be applied in this area. For the remainder management is geared towards maintaining the existing natural veld, by minimal disturbanc and an extensive weeding programme. The weeding programme is aimed chiefly at preventing the establishment of woody aliens, notably Port Jackson willow (Acacia saligna). All Acacia seedlings, as well as annual weeds and grasses are controlled either chemically or mechanically, depending on their density and where they occur. Regular checks are made to the area, especially in areas where accidental fires have occurred as fire promotes the germination of Acacia saligna seeds.

It was decided not to embark on an active revegetation programme for the highly disturbed sites of the Reserve. In some areas, and as part of the educational programme some indigenous plants have been established. The heavily disturbed section of the Reserve, the Triangle that was initially covered by annual weeds and grasses now shows a very successful natural return of indigenous species.

There are sections of veld that must be burnt in order to clear the area of moribund vegetation. These areas will be identified and its viability examined given the restrictions placed on burning in the Reserve.

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A nursery associated with the Environmental Education Unit (to which the Reserve belongs) affords facilities for the growth and propagation of indigenous species from this area and elsewhere on the Cape Flats. Some rare species are also kept under cultivation, and one of the Nursery’s programmes was to propagate plants from seeds or cuttings for introduction into disturbed parts inside the Reserve.

Currently, the Nursery produces plants for an indigenous outreach programme and for local home-owners. The Nursery is also used for research purposes.

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The Reserve is listed as a core botanical site on the Cape Flats. Given the current precarious conservation status of the Cape Flats, this reserve should be conserved for its uniqueness as the only nature reserve that affords visitors an opportunity of the original Cape Flats vegetation. Furthermore, it contains two Red Data Book species (rare and endangered species). The Reserve provides an excellent asset for the University of the Western Cape’s staff and students as well as outside individuals. Several staff and students are involved in active research programmes linked to the Reserve. With its associated Environmental Education programme, the Reserve provides a much needed service to many of the impoverished Cape Flats learners.

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