Table Bay Nature Reserve

Table Bay Nature Reserve

During my internship for my diploma in nature conservation, I was fortunate enough to be placed at a wetlands nature reserve called Table Bay Nature Reserve.  I was involved with bird counts, fish surveys, water quality tests, environmental education and it was an amazing year.

Where is Table Bay Nature Reserve?

Table Bay Nature Reserve falls within the Cape Floristic Region (CFR), the smallest yet most abundant of the world’s six floral kingdoms. It is found on West Coast of the in the Western Cape and is approximately 20 kilometres outside of Cape Town CBD. The climate is described as the Mediterranean, characterised by warm, dry summers from November to March, and mild, rainy winters from June to August. The south-western Cape is a winter rainfall area. The reserve is situated between the high-water mark and approximately 25 m above sea level. Rainfall varies between 273 mm and 541 mm per annum.

Table Bay Nature Reserve
White Pelicans can often be seen at the reserve.

What is Table Bay Nature Reserve?

Table Bay Nature Reserve is a protected natural environment, also known as Rietvlei Wetland Reserve. The reserve consists of the seven management sections: Parklands fynbos corridor, Diep River  Rietvlei coastal section, Rietvlei wetlands, important bird area (IBA), and core flora conservation site, Milnerton Lagoon PNE and core flora conservation site Zoarvlei (Paardeneiland wetlands), Milnerton Racecourse.

Table Bay Nature Reserve
map showing different areas of the reserve.


Table Bay Nature Reserve is part of the CFR, one of six global floral kingdoms, and is characterised by high levels of endemism. The eco-region within which the reserve is situated is known as the southern coastal belt. The reserve now falls within a highly urbanised area, with only limited remaining vegetation in its surrounds. More recently, the natural vegetation in Table Bay Nature Reserve is delineated along with six major vegetation types: Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, Cape Flats Dune Strandveld, Cape Lowland Freshwater Wetlands, Cape Estuarine Salt Marsh, Cape Inland Salt Pans, and Cape Seashore Vegetation. A total of 412 plant species have been recorded within the reserve boundaries.


The mammal fauna of Table Bay Nature Reserve comprises mostly smaller mammals, 31 mammal species are currently listed for Table Bay Nature Reserve. Rodents include the Georychus capensis (Cape Molerat), the, the Otomys irroratus (Vlei Rat) and the Rhabdomys pumilio (Striped Field Mouse). Other small mammals recorded are Raphicerus melanotis (Cape Grysbok), Sylvicapra grimmia (Common Duiker), Raphicerus campestris (Steenbok), hares, mongooses and genet, but most are threatened by the encroaching development. Recently, several sightings of Aonyx capensis (Cape Clawless Otter) and Caracal caracal (Caracal) were recorded. Also occurring here are Genetta genetta (Small Spotted Genet), Galerella pulverulenta and Herpestes ichneumon (Small and Large Grey Mongoose).

Table Bay Nature Reserve
Cape Shovelers

Table Bay Nature Reserve has a rich bird fauna, and 196 species have been recorded to date. Fulica cristata (Red-knobbed Coot) and Anas undulata (Yellow-billed Duck) being particularly common. Apart from the seasonal variations, there have been longer-term changes in some species, with some increasing, such as Porphyrio madagascariensis (African Purple Swamp-hen), Gallinula chloropus (Common Moorhen) and various plovers. Others were decreasing, such as Egretta intermedia (Yellow-billed Egret), Tadorna cana (South African Shelduck) and Tringa nebularia (Greenshank). Some new species have also been recorded, such as kingfishers and cormorants, which inhabit the deep water lakes. Fourteen fish species 33 reptile species and nine amphibian species have been recorded in Table Bay Nature Reserve.

Environmental Education

Most nature reserves have incorporated environmental education as an essential tool for bringing awareness about the reserve and nature to children. Table Bay Nature Reserve is no exception. Schools bring their students from all over Cape Town to learn about wetlands and the environment in a fun and exciting way. The reserve also has fishing programs and holiday programs geared with lots of fun activities to entertain and teach the children. These holiday programs are usually conducted by nature conservation students who are in their final year of obtaining their diploma in nature conservation. The plan that I designed was centred on camouflage; it included a quiz, an obstacle course, and making an animal out of recycled products.  

Table Bay Nature Reserve
Me facilitating a fish disection to a school group.

Urbanisation around the Reserve

Many areas around this reserve are urbanised, as well as having a refinery in close proximity to it. Urbanisation increased since the founding of Milnerton Estates Limited in 1897 as well as the establishment of the road and rail links. In 1904, a bridge was constructed between Milnerton and the Zonnekus Peninsula on the seaward side of the estuary. Today, the bridge is known as the Wooden Bridge, and the peninsula as Woodbridge Island. In 1905, parts of the lagoon were dredged for rowing regattas, but further siltation led to a curtailment of boating activities by the late 1920s. A weir was then built across the mouth in 1928 to control water levels, but was mostly washed away by floods in 1941 and 1942 Increasing development pressure saw the construction of the West Coast freeway in the 1960s and mid-1970s, including road embankments and the Otto du Plessis Road bridge, which crosses the estuary between Rietvlei and the Milnerton Lagoon. Over this period, there were proposals to develop Rietvlei as both a fishing harbour and a marina. These plans were ultimately shelved, although the north-west part of the vlei – commonly known as Flamingo Vlei – was dredged to a depth of 9–10 m to provide fill for construction in the port of Cape Town. An area of the Milnerton Lagoon below the old wooden bridge was also dredged in 1985 to provide sand for the Woodbridge Island development. In 1978, it was first proposed that Rietvlei be declared a nature area, with the proposal having been approved by Cabinet in 1982 and promulgated in 1984. In 1989, the wetland was declared a protected natural environment under the Environmental Conservation Act.

Table Bay Nature Reserve
A highway acts as a border for one area of the reserve.


Activities on offer in the nature reserve are bird watching (Rietvlei wetlands have two hides in which to observe birds in), walking, fishing and boating. Within the reserve is a sailing club called the Milnerton Aquatic Club, they are an independent company which deals with sailing, windsurfing and stand up paddling.  

Table Bay Nature Reserve
Black winged Stilt are also common in the wetlands of the reserve.

Conservation Value

Due to the urban expansion from Cape Town, a vast majority of the Cape Floristic Region which holds rich biodiversity of vegetation has been lost to development. This is very important as the Cape Floristic Region is the smallest it is critical to protect these areas. Along with this, the main section of the reserve is comprised of a wetland. Wetlands are incredibly significant ecosystems for both humans and animals.

Grey Heron


Retief J.J., 2011. Integrated Reserve Management Plan Table Bay Nature Reserve, Biodiversity Management Branch, Cape Town.

CAPE Estuaries Programme –

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