Upset overtree felling

Guy and Karlo Pluck,Somerset West

The future of our majestic, mature, exotic trees – should we cut them down?

After 14 years living in Europe, we are delighted to live in our beloved Somerset West again.

We are, however, very distressed by the fact that every time we visit the Helderberg Nature Reserve, we see another mature oak tree cut down.

I believe the role of the nature reserve should be threefold:

The preservation of our beautiful fynbos which is enjoyed and cherished by many;

the education of the public regarding our natural heritage; and

a place for the community to love, enjoy and relax in.

We understand that in our dry climate we should be planting only indigenous trees adapted to our region. In some instances the removal of mature trees is justified.

That said, whoever sanctioned the removal of the oaks and Cape figs at the bottom of the reserve is extremely short-sighted and disrespectful to the community that has loved them for many years.

Most visitors to the reserve use the picnic area to enjoy the shade there.

Should all these mature trees be removed, we will lose a lot of summer visitors.

The wooden structures put up to provide shade can never replace the coolness created by a large, mature tree.

Above the aptly named “Oak Café” are hectares and hectares of beautiful fynbos to be enjoyed, but for those who are elderly, mothers wanting a shady green spot for their children’s birthday party and other gatherings, the lawns and shady trees at the bottom have long been a favourite.

The last tree cut down is a healthy
specimen with no rot to its trunk whatsoever (the favourite argument used by those in favour of felling).

The last straw for us was the total lack of respect when the two beautiful Cape Figs
(Ficus sur) just inside the entrance gate were hacked down.

We have admired these trees since childhood.

The beautiful buttress roots which took decades to develop were obviously not deemed special enough to save them. The birds will no longer feast on their figs. I wonder how long the beautiful specimen down by the stream will last.

I wonder how the visitors to Kirstenbosch would react if we cut down the camphor avenue just because they are exotic?

The wine farms will flourish and visitors to the Reserve will dwindle in the summer as we all look for shade.

Please hear this appeal to stop cutting down the remaining beautiful, old trees. They cannot be put back and will be sorely missed.

Owen Wittridge, bio-diversity area co-ordinator: Helderberg responds:

An extract from the City of Cape Town Vision statement to its visitors reads: “We are committed to preserving our natural environment. We want everybody who walks this City to find the same commitment.

“We want all future generations to know its undiluted beauty. Our reserves are intertwined with our communities. And we depend on our communities to protect and conserve them. We want every visitor and resident to be aware that we share our city with many wild animals and valuable endemic plants. We want everyone to learn about them. See them. And know how to always treat them with respect and care. We have a city worth looking after.”

To this end, the cutting down of large trees is regretted, however warranted, in certain cases. Cases which are non-negotiable are the safety of all visitors and staff to the reserve.

The writer unfortunately failed to include the extremely large limb of this particular oak tree that fell two days prior to us having to remove it. Large branches falling from trees have claimed several lives in the Cape Town area in the past.

The Helderberg Nature Reserve is also a proclaimed nature reserve, a place where indigenous plants and animals are found. As part of the Integrated Reserve Management Plan a strategy has been formulated to first eradicate invasive vegetation and animals and then to concentrate on removing non-indigenous species; this includes species from other areas of South Africa that should not be found here. A case in point was the removal of the bontebok after the 2011 fires. These are not easy choices, but are the right ones.

It is also not the intention of reserve management to remove all of the shade trees at once.

The oaks that are being removed now are the ones that pose a danger to visitors and staff, the figs that were removed are not part of the picnic site and fall outside the high visitor use area and were highlighted to be removed. It must also be remembered that the fynbos biome is not a tree dominated one.

Trees are usually only found in secluded kloofs and ravines. Planting indigenous trees in the open requires a lot of intense management.

There are plans afoot to re-plant large indigenous trees in the reserve, however these have been delayed due to the drought.

Cutting down of large trees, either exotic or indigenous is always an emotive subject and there are always people that will be unhappy.

It is, however, hoped that the majority of people will understand the reasons behind it and still come and enjoy this nature reserve.