Green City Spotlight: Cape Town Executive Mayor Daniel Plato | Earth Day Network

By Sebastian Rosemont and Cam Wejnert-Depue

Executive Mayor Dan Plato

Earth Day Network interviewed Cape Town, South Africa Executive Mayor Daniel Plato to talk about the city’s initiatives and the increasingly important role of biodiversity in the city. Cape Town officials Julia Wood, Biodiversity Management Branch Manager; Cliff Dorse, Conservation Services Unit Coordinator; and Dr. Charmaine Oxtoby, Biophysical Specialist; also contributed their insight into the city’s initiatives.

Cape Town uses the Biodiversity Network (BioNet), a continually updated conservation plan that is fully integrated into the city’s development planning. The BioNet protects over 85,000 ha of land, equating to approximately 35% of Cape Town’s land and the city boasts one of the most biodiversity-rich urban areas in the world. Both within the city and in nearby conservation areas, there are many opportunities for inhabitants and tourists alike to learn about and engage with the natural environment.

Biodiversity Projects and Initiatives

What is a biodiversity project that you are particularly proud of?

In the past decade, over 15,000 ha of City of Cape Town land has been formally proclaimed under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003).

In the CCT Biodiversity Report 2018 there is a summary of the top 10 achievements of the past 10 years for the Biodiversity Management Branch. Also see Chapter 4 Biodiversity management actions, especially protected area expansion mechanisms.

Does your city have a citywide biodiversity plan? 

Yes. The Biodiversity Network (BioNet) is the fine-scale conservation plan for the City of Cape Town that has been incorporated into the City’s five-year Integrated Development Plan, and Municipal Spatial Development Framework. The BioNet has been in use for over 15 years and is updated every two to three years. The BioNet covers 85,000 ha (approximately 35% of the land that falls within the City’s municipal area) and includes a map identifying remnants of vegetation and corridors required to conserve samples of our biodiversity in striving towards meeting national and international biodiversity targets. The BioNet forms the basis for implementation of the City’s Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (LBSAP).

The BioNet was the first systematic biodiversity plan to be published for any municipal area in South Africa. The BioNet was adopted as a City policy in 2015 and incorporated into the 2017 Western Cape Spatial Biodiversity Plan.

64.8% of the BioNet is conserved compared to 34.1% a decade ago.

What are some of its key features?

This systematic biodiversity plan indicates Critical Biodiversity Areas and Ecological Support Areas that are needed towards meeting biodiversity targets for terrestrial and wetland ecosystems and to ensure optimal ecosystem functioning. Incorporating climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies into the analysis resulted in a 1% increase in the area required towards meeting targets. This small change resulted from the high levels of biodiversity in the city and the large extent of transformation that has caused limited choice in selecting different sites.

What role do green spaces play in your city for species and humans alike? How is the city working to expand them?

Ecological goods and services accruing to humankind via the conservation of natural and semi-natural areas (i.e. green spaces) are many and include: clean water provision; flood attenuation; filtering of runoff and air pollution; replenishment of groundwater; coastal protection; atmospheric carbon sink; oxygen production; tourism; recreational, educational, cultural and spiritual space; and existence and future-use values of plants and animals. Thus, conserving biodiversity offers many benefits to humankind, including an improved quality of life and health, although difficult to quantify in purely financial terms. In addition, restoration of natural areas contributes to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Well-managed conservation and public open space areas are associated with enhanced property values, improved urban community relationships, and reduced levels of violent crime in adjacent areas. Yet, some communities view natural remnants as crime havens and a threat to their safety, largely because many sites are invariably covered in alien Acacia thickets and receive no management. The challenge is to find the necessary resources to effectively manage these irreplaceable remnants, and to change public perceptions.

Natural ecosystem goods and services are so basic that they are often overlooked, and less often recognised for their importance. Natural assets represent the ‘stocks’ of environmental resources, while ecosystem goods and services are the ‘flows’ of benefits derived from these assets. Natural resource-based tourism is one of the highest income generators and includes angling, whale watching, birding, hiking, and a host of other outdoor pursuits.

Table Mountain National Park continues to be one of the top attractions for visitors, be it Capetonians or tourists. For example, Cape Point and the Table Mountain cableway recorded 280,000 visitors in December 2017 alone! Other paid entry points such as Silvermine and the Boulders Beach Penguin Colony remain popular destinations. The City’s nature reserves receive around 400,000 visitors annually, recorded mostly through manned access points. This figure is an underestimate, because the majority of the City’s nature reserves are open access areas. These open access areas attract large numbers of visitors on a daily basis for sport and leisure activities.

The BioNet is the City-wide map that identifies areas of biodiversity value and priority for protected area expansion. We have currently secured 64.8% of the BioNet (areas identified in 2009) under formal conservation management (including proclamation and perpetuity stewardship agreements), with the biodiversity target of 65.5% by December 2022.

18 Conservation Stewardship agreements have been signed with private landowners, with more agreements under negotiation.

Earth Day 2019 and Community Engagement

What options are available for citizens to get engaged with protecting species locally or for supporting the city’s initiatives? How is the city partnering with local organizations or movements?

Citizens can join the Botanical Society, Cape Bird Club, Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) or one of many Friends groups (e.g. Friends of Helderberg Nature Reserve).

Citizens can also register as observers on iNaturalist and contribute to citizen science data collection. We are currently widely promoting the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge taking place from 26 to 29 April 2019. This is the first year that Cape Town is entering the global competition. For more info, please see City Nature Challenge Media Release.

Not all conservation land within the municipality is owned and/or managed by the City of Cape Town. We partner with the provincial conservation agency (CapeNature) and national conservation authority, South African National Parks (SANParks). We work with the Western Cape (provincial) Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, National Department of Environmental Affairs, other departments (e.g. Water and Sanitation) and Eskom (the country’s State-Owned electricity supplier). We also work with many private landowners through the Biodiversity Stewardship programme. We collaborate with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), various local universities, expanded public works programmes (e.g. Working for Water), and NGOs (e.g. The Nature Conservancy, WWF-SA, BirdLife South Africa).

Wildlife and Endangered Species in the City

What types of species are present in your city? 

Cape Town is among the most species diverse cities on earth because it lies at the heart of the Fynbos region, in one of 35 global biodiversity hotspots. The Core Cape Floristic Subregion is considered the ‘hottest hotspot’, because it is home to the greatest concentration of higher plants in the world, outside of the tropics. Although comprising only 4% of South Africa’s land surface, the Core Cape Floristic Subregion contains nearly half of the country’s 21,000 flowering plant species. Of these 9,300 species, 68% are endemic (i.e. confined) to the region. Cape Town is a centre of endemism within the Cape Floristic Region owing to the high concentration of local range-restricted species found here.

In Cape Town, 18 national terrestrial and three azonal vegetation types are represented (of the 440 national vegetation types). In relation to conservation status, 11 of the terrestrial vegetation types in Cape Town are Critically Endangered, three are Endangered and two are Vulnerable, with only two Least Threatened. Six of these vegetation types are endemic to Cape Town.

Indigenous species recorded in Cape Town include: 3,050 plant, 83 mammal, 404 bird, 60 reptile, 27 amphibian and five freshwater fish species. Of these at least 190 plant and five Amphibian species are endemic to Cape Town.

Do you have a favorite animal or plant in the city?

Favourite animal or plant in the City? No, as our mandate is biodiversity conservation and it is the incredible wealth of biodiversity that makes our City so unique.

Are there any endangered or threatened species living in the city? How does the city protect and support them?

Red Data taxa [a list of threatened and endangered species produced by the government of South Africa] lists: 660 plants (of which 181 Vulnerable, 149 Endangered and 75 Critically Endangered), in addition to 12 mammal, 28 bird, eight reptile, 10 amphibian and three freshwater fish.

14 plants unique to Cape Town are listed in the IUCN Red List as ‘Globally Extinct’. Seven others are listed as Critically Endangered, possibly extinct.

The City of Cape Town, with partners, is making every effort to protect threatened species, especially those Critically Endangered plant species. Efforts include protected area expansion, invasive woody alien species control, improved management, active habitat and species restoration through a dedicated restoration facility and in collaboration with SANBI at Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden, and through improved environmental education and public awareness.

Has the city done a recent survey of urban biodiversity? What were the results and were there any surprises?

Watch this space for a city-wide biodiversity ‘survey’ during the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge 26-29 April 2019!


More about the Green Cities Spotlight Series: By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Increasing urbanization without responsible stewardship is a threat to local flora and fauna. With cities growing at a rapid pace, they play a critical role in protecting biodiversity and educating the public about the importance of species and biodiversity in regard to community health and well-being. Earth Day Network’s new city series highlights the important work cities around the world are doing to support biodiversity through a variety of innovative initiatives.

More about Executive Mayor Daniel Plato: Alderman Daniel Plato is a South African politician who is the Mayor of Cape Town, after having taken office on 6 November 2018, a position he previously held from May 2009 until June 2011. He previously served as Member of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament and Western Cape Provincial Minister of Community Safety. Born in Cape Town, Plato was involved in political activities during his high school career. He was a community organiser and played a crucial role in mobilising residents against the Apartheid government. He was elected a ward councillor in 1996. He has also served in various positions and internal Democratic Alliance caucus positions during his tenure as a Cape Town city councillor.


This interview is part of Earth Day Network’s Green Cities interview series with local officials. The series in 2019 will highlight success stories and innovative biodiversity initiatives in cities around the world for the Protect Our Species campaign. If you have any comments or if you are a city official interested in participating in the interview series and sharing your city’s initiatives, please contact Sebastian Rosemont, Green Cities Coordinator, at [email protected]


Photo Credit: Hilton1949