Taming the wild

The first people of Cape Town, the San and Khoi, lived very different lifestyles from those we live today. They depended directly on their natural surroundings for food, clothing, medicine and shelter, and their small populations and nomadic lifestyles had less impact on the environment.

When colonists first settled in Cape Town and started farming and trading, they were surrounded by nature. They could not have imagined that one day most of the shrub lands, streams and grassy plains with their flowers, fish and wildlife would be gone. In those early years, conserving nature was the last thing on people’s minds.











Agriculture starts

Agriculture was the first stage in a long process of transforming the landscape of Cape Town. Settlers ploughed up large areas of veld to plant crops like grapes and wheat. They planted European trees like oaks and poplars to make them feel more at home. Towns and roads developed where they were needed, with little concern for the natural ecosystems that were destroyed in the process.








The city expands rapidly

Recently the City of Cape Town has been developing very rapidly.

  • From 1993-1996, an average of 750 hectares were developed each year in the city.
  • From 1998-2002, this figure increased to more than 1 200 hectares per year!








Conserve it before we lose it

People only started becoming concerned about conservation when natural resources and species started to become threatened. Until the 1980s, little conservation planning took place. Most sites set aside for conservation were “left-over” areas that nobody really wanted, like steep, rocky mountain slopes, sandy flats and soggy wetlands.

Today the Table Mountain National Park conserves most of the Cape Peninsula mountain chain. However, most of the natural areas in the lowlands of the City are small and fragmented.







Map of transformation of the natural environment in the
City of Cape Town


Have a look at the maps to see how much the natural environment of Cape Town has changed in the last 350 years.

  • The base map shows areas that had been developed by 2005.
  • The overlays shows the natural environments in Cape Town before European settlers arrived in the seventeenth century, remaining original vegetation, suburbs and elevation.

The maps reveal that:

  • Mountain Fynbos is well conserved in the City.
  • Some large areas of Strandveld remain, but little of this is formally conserved.
  • Very little Sand Fynbos or Renosterveld survives in the City
  • There are a number of large permanent wetlands but very few seasonal wetlands remain and only one or two are conserved.










A story about fragmentation












Why is fragmentation a problem?
Fragmented natural areas experience more problems than large, intact natural areas.














Biodiversity Network of the
City of Cape Town


Reconnecting the fragments

How can we address the problem of fragmentation and help Nature to survive in the City of Cape Town? Many organisations and individuals are working together to do this:

  • The City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Network is a plan to protect important fragments of nature throughout the City and improve the links between them.
  • There are more than 20 nature reserves in the City. These are cared for by people working for national, provincial and local government as well as private organisations.
  • Many volunteers from non-governmental and community-based organisations are helping to care for urban Nature.
  • Schools are involved in environmental projects like EcoSchools and indigenous greening. Indigenous gardens are important ecological “stepping stones” for plants and animals to move between natural areas.

To find out more, go to Section 6: Conserving nature in the City.