The Turkish Oak on the corner of Harewood and Companje, in Somerset West… spared, for now?
The contractor removing what appears to be a healthy tree.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Shané van der Merwe (resident): On behalf of the Friends of Harewood Park

On September 2, private contractors started felling and removing poplar trees in Harewood Park by order of CoCT’s Recreation and Parks Department and/or the Invasive Species Programme.

Concerned residents of Helderberg Estate started a WhatsApp group for the Friends of Harewood Park to discuss the situation.

According to Professor Dirk Bellstedt, a biochemist affiliated with Stellenbosch University and also a resident of Helderberg Estate, the removal of poplars are somewhat warranted since the large trees close to Companje Road pose a risk of falling down and obstructing the road due to the Polyphagous Shothole Borer (PSHB) beetle (Euwallacea fornicates) infestation, and the white poplar (Populus alba) is on South Africa’s National List of Invasive Species.

On September 14, another team of private contractors arrived in Harewood Park, however, with orders from the CoCT to fell a lane of Turkish Oak trees (Quercus cerris) bordering the park in Harewood Avenue.

These trees are not on South Africa’s National List of Invasive Species and were planted by the CoCT in the 1980s to compensate for the lane of English Oaks (Quercus robur) that were in poor health.

Harewood Avenue used to be a registered heritage site and one of the most beautiful roads in Somerset West, with large, historic English Oaks lining the road.

These oaks suffered from fungal wood-rot and powdery mildew which caused their leaves to go grey and fall off prematurely in autumn.

At first, the older, hollow oaks could still survive, but the arrival of the PSHB infestation dealt these trees the final blow, and the CoCT had to remove most of them in the 2020s.

The Turkish Oaks, however, seem to be coping very well with the PSHB infestation with no branch dieback, very little gumming and staining and few visible entry and exit holes.

Residents were eager to find out why and by whom the order was given for these trees to be cut down. Several attempts to contact DA councillor Gregory Peck went unanswered and residents gathered in the park.

According to CoCT official Mr Zabileon the Turkish Oak is an invasive species. When residents pointed out that it is not on South Africa’s National List of Invasive Species, they were told that these trees are being cut down due to PSHB infestation.

The PSHB infestation was first discovered in a London plane (Platanus acerifolia) tree in Oldenland Road, Somerset West, in March 2019.

It has since been discovered in Newlands, Rondebosch, Mowbray, Claremont, Kenilworth, and in Observatory along the Liesbeek River.

Significant infestation has also been observed in the Stellenbosch region.

According to some sources, over 10 000 trees in Somerset West alone could be affected by the PSHB infestation (“Beetle infecting and killing SA’s trees could cost municipalities R275bn”, Fin24, 25 May 2022).

Does the City of Cape Town plan to start felling ALL affected trees?

Why was there no consultation with residents who will be footing the bill for these private contractors?

Several parties have pointed out that there is no public participation or consultation with any civil organisation when applying the felling policy.

The Friends of Harewood Park agree with Riaan van Zyl, arborist and member of TreeKeepers that the removal of “living trees” will be an extra cost to the City, “For which there is no budget. […] Where is the money going to come from?” (“Tree replacement programme launched as removal of infested trees forges ahead”, People’s Post, 21 March 2023).

According to a study published in 2022 by the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (CIB) at Stellenbosch University, the potential economic impact of PSHB in South Africa will amount to R275 billion over the next 10 years (“Invasive beetle to hit municipalities and property owners where it hurts”, People’s Post, 14 February 2023).

Initially it was assumed that the first contractor had returned to continue felling the poplars, but by the time residents gathered in Harewood Park on 14 September 2023, seven Turkish Oaks were felled.

A resident stopped the contractor from felling an eighth tree before Mr Zabileon was able to contact his superior, Mr Phumudzu Ramulabana.

Mr Ramulabana arrived to address the residents, and the felling of the Turkish Oak trees was put on hold, for now.

But we, the residents, and Friends of Harewood Park, wish to be informed of any further developments. We demand a formal meeting with CoCT officials in which all interested parties can express their opinions so we can work towards a solution that all can agree to.