Pruning debate

Michel Heyns, Somerset West

I refer to Owen Wittridge’s response to Guy and Karlo Pluck’s letter (“Upset over tree felling”, Bolander letters, March 13) regarding the felling of several non-endemic trees in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.

He quotes at length from the City of Cape Town’s vision statement, without explaining how this justifies the cutting down of beautiful old trees.

Does “our natural environment” really consist only of “valuable endemic plants”?

Have the oaks of the Western Cape not become part of a historical heritage worth preserving?

And really, given how very few species of endemic trees there are, might not “intruders” from up-country, like the beautiful Cape Fig, be allowed some space?

It needs to be stressed that neither the oaks nor the ficus trees are invasive; their removal would seem to be part of a short-sighted (and probab ly short-lived) policy of tree nationalism, not to say xenophobia, tolerating only the “true” indigenes.

As Mr Wittridge recognises, “the fynbos biome is not a tree- dominated one”.

I would have thought this would have been an argument for planting non-fynbos trees, rather than for eradicating them.

A nature reserve is also a recreation area for the people paying for its upkeep (tax-payers), not only an ideologically pure biome – and, alas, it’s not much fun picnicking in fynbos.

Mr Wittridge makes much play of the “extremely large branch” that fell from the tree that was subsequently felled.

In the first place, with proper maintenance, branches should not be falling from trees; in the second place, removing a whole tree because one branch has fallen would seem to be an over-kill; in the third place, removing a whole stand of trees because one branch has fallen would seem to be a massacre.

And really, to justify the cutting down of the ficus trees on the grounds that they are “not part of the picnic site”: how about the whole rest of the nature reserve that is not part of the picnic site?

To say “These are not easy choices, but are the right ones” is not an argument; it merely means Mr Wittridge agrees with himself.

As Mr Wittridge acknowledges, “cutting down of large trees is always an emotive subject”.

Instead of regarding this as somehow disposing of the concern of those dotty “people who are unhappy”, as if this were some kind of irrational response, Mr Wittridge could ask himself why this is such an “emotive subject”.

Might it simply be that most people love trees? And that it does not matter that much to them that the tree they’re sitting under is from the Eastern Cape rather than from the slopes of the Helderberg?