Wonderful article submitted by Matt Gennrich on our nature reserves

Map of nature reserves in St Francis region

Click to xxpand map

Cape St Francis is home to 4 different nature reserves showcasing the amazing biodiversity of the fauna and flora of the area covering some 132 hectares. The largest being the Cape St Francis Nature Reserve encompassing Shark point, then the smaller Seal Bay Nature Reserve , followed by the Irma Booysen Nature Reserve on your left as you enter Cape St Francis and then the well-known Seal Point Nature Reserve around the lighthouse. All have well maintained trails and paths for the use of runners and walkers as well as some dedicated cycle paths in some areas.

Usage of the reserves by locals is on the increase. Between 2016 and 2019 during the months of May and June, there were, on average 143 people making use of one the trails, captured via a camera trap. Whilst, in 2020, some 314 people were recorded walking or running by the same camera, more than double the previous average.

The people of the greater St Francis area are no doubt making more use of what the reserves offer during this stressful time and enjoying the benefits of being out in nature. Apart from the many varying types of natural vegetation (the reserves are alien free), and the some 400 species of indigenous plants, a variety of animal life can be encountered if one is lucky. This varies from bushbuck, wild boars and the odd lynx to otters, whales, and dolphins. The trails also offer stunning views of Cape St Francis and the coastline from Shark to Seal point and out towards Oyster Bay.

The reason for the nature reserves is simple, and that is to protect the extremely sensitive and highly endangered local vegetation. Work on protecting this area and proclaiming these reserves began some 35 years ago by a small and dedicated group of residents.

The local vegetation is called St Francis Fynbos/Thicket Mosaic and occurs only in the lime-rich coastal sandy areas scattered between the eastern Tsitsikamma in the west and Cape Recife in the east.

This vegetation type falls within the Cape Floral Region – the CFR which extends roughly from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, covering an area of 90 000 km2. The CFR is home to 9000 plant species, 70% of which are endemic (i.e. grow nowhere else in the world) and has been identified as a biodiversity hotspot and recognized as a global priority for conservation.

St Francis Fynbos / Thicket Mosaic is found in only a tiny part of the CFR, namely 0.2% of the 90 000 km2 area.  Some 64% this vegetation has been disturbed – mainly by dense stands of alien plants (84%) and coastal development (16%). Scientific studies show that this vegetation is under dire threat – from past impacts and future threats. It has been classified as Critically Endangered and requires protection under national legislation because of this status. Hence the need for the nature reserves to protect the vegetation in this area.

There are many positive spin offs of protecting the vegetation through the 132hectare network of reserves, for the people of and visitors to the greater St Francis area. These include being able to make use of the reserves via well maintained and clearly marked paths which include the identification of some of the plants in the Irma Booysen reserve, whilst being able to enjoy the un-spoilt beauty  of the area often without other people. Property values have also benefitted as more homeowners look for alternative lifestyles to that what cities and towns offer.

The 4 proclaimed municipal reserves are managed according to a memorandum of understanding with the Kouga Municipality which delegates the full responsibility of maintaining and caring for the reserves to Friends of St Francis Nature Areas abbreviated to FOSTER.

FOSTER is run by a small hard-working committee that are dependent on the income of member subscription and generous donors to maintain the reserves. Membership is open to all and is not limited to residents of Cape St Francis as the reserves are for the benefit of all in the greater St Francis area. Membership costs less per year than a good meal in a restaurant at R200 for individuals and R300 per family or corporate.

Those that have never walked or run through the reserves should consider doing so, as the reserves offer a wonderful alternative to a beach walk especially during inclement weather. Maps of the walks and trails can be found on the FOSTER website at foster.org.za, which also features photos of most of the 400 plant species as well as a bird and animal list.