Site of Conservation Significance

Recently – July 2006 – The Cavern was awarded the status of Site of Conservation Significance. This title is given only to sites that contribute significantly to nature conservation. The Cavern qualifies because of its:-

The Cave Sandstone cliffs represent a desert period when this whole area was part of the prehistoric super-continent Gondwana.

Natural communities:
The Fern Forest is a very good example of Afromontane forest that spread here from the highlands of East Africa during the wetter periods in the last million years. It is exceptionally rich in trees, with over 60 species noted so far. Thirty-five of these are endemic to South Africa, showing that speciation has occurred since the parent forest retreated back to East Africa.

Protea woodland is very well represented, and is the only habitat that supports the endemic Gurney’s Sugarbird. Proteas are also Gondwana relics, with near relatives in Australia and South America.

Rare species:
Among the rare birds are the Halfcollared Kingfisher, Bald Ibis, Black Stork, Secretary Bird, Martial Eagle, Lammergeyer and Cape Vulture; mammals include the Mountain Reedbuck, Vaal Rhebuck, Brown Hyaena and Serval. Four rare flowers are found here; Scilla natalensis, Disperis fanniniae, Eucomis autumnalis and Protea dracomontana. The Berg Bamboo is another very rare plant, found in only a few places in the Drakensberg.

Endemic species:
Endemics are those species found only in South Africa, sometimes only in the Drakensberg. More than 20 birds are endemic, including the Fiscal Flycatcher, Bush Blackcap, Chorister Robin, Cape Rock Thrush, Bokmakierie, Swee Waxbill, Forest Canary, Cape Weaver, Cape white-eye, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, and the Greater and Lesser Doublecollared Sunbirds, all of which can be seen in the garden. The most important endemic animal is the Drakensberg Dwarf Chamaeleon, common here, yet confined entirely to the Drakensberg.

Many of the endemics present are typical of the uplands, emphasising the “island” role in speciation and endemism.

David Johnson

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