Call to plant 10 million trees could give Cape Town back its shade

Tree harvesting at Cecilia forest. While other cities are protecting their urban trees and planting more trees in response to climate change, Cape Town is doing the opposite, says Nicky Schmidt of Parkscape.

The Ten Million Trees Programme, a national call by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) for the public to plant more trees in the next five years, has been welcomed by Parkscape.

Nicky Schmidt, the chairwoman of the environmental non-profit organisation, says the drive towards fynbos conservation at the expense of the Cape Town’s historic tree plantations has hurt the city’s cultural landscape, particularly in the Constantiaberg valley and, more recently, at Rhodes Memorial.

Considerable tree cover was lost within the city because of the government’s 2005 forestry exit strategy in the Western Cape, she says.

The “exit lease” was assigned to South African National Parks (SANParks) on April 1, 2005, for the management of Tokai and Cecilia plantations as part of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) after MTO Forestry were granted the right to harvest about 600 hectares of plantations over a 20-year period to 2025.

In late 2006, SANParks created a “management framework” to address issues related to biodiversity conservation, heritage resources, recreational activities and ecotourism relevant to the future management and rehabilitation of the plantations. This strategy is under review at present (“Tokai Cecilia Management Framework review launched,” Bulletin May 27).

The Tokai and Cecilia plantations were of critical recreational value to Cape Town’s citizens, particularly those from previously disadvantaged communities, said Ms Schmidt.

While other cities were protecting their urban trees and planting more trees in response to climate change, Cape Town was doing the opposite, she said.

“It takes decades to grow mature trees and create shade environments, and people and communities need these spaces – especially those from under-resourced communities where there were so few green and tree spaces,” she said.

While it was important to conserve our fynbos, we should also save what remained of our tree coverage and plant local and non-invasive exotics across the city, she said.

“Ultimately, we need to find the balance between conservation and people – the balance between the natural and the urban environment,” said Ms Schmidt.

Clare Burgess, the chairwoman of TreeKeepers, a citizen-based association committed to conserving the urban forest, said the public should push for a tree-replanting programme throughout Cape Town, but such a programme would need ongoing management and maintenance.

“This has a cost and resource implication, and the City must allocate budgets for adequate tree care and water supplies to establish trees going into the future.”

Shade and heat reduction would become big issues in the next 40 years, she said, adding that Cape Town would only have shade if it stopped felling existing trees and started replanting immediately.

The past chairman of the Friends of Wynberg Park, Henk Egberink, who is also a member of TreeKeepers, believes the tree-planting programme is a “marvellous” initiative, but said it was important to establish how many trees the DFFE wanted to plant in the Western Cape and Cape Town in particular.

“This initiative from DFFE should be used as a promotion on the benefits of trees. Planting trees was one of the recommendations of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 and of the recent COP 26 meeting in Glasgow. This initiative is as a result of the commitments made by the South African government at these meetings,” said Mr Egberink.

He said TreeKeepers wanted to participate and would most likely plant a variety of trees, starting with quick-growing pioneer trees followed by diverse trees.

The DFFE says the Ten Million Trees Programme is about attaining environmental sustainability and protection and realising socio-economic benefits for South Africans.

It is calling on the public to find any number of reasons to plant trees: in honour of loved ones and to mark important events; to celebrate milestones or a win; to fight the effects of climate change; to beautify homes, towns or cities; to fight food insecurity; to protect the environment and promote biodiversity conservation; and to honour future generations.

For more information and to download a Ten Million Trees Programme entry form, visit www.dffe.gov.za. Participants can send pictures of the trees they plant, along with the entry form, to nndzimbomvu@dffe.gov.za to receive a certificate recording their contribution towards a greener South Africa.

The Ten Million Trees Programme encourages the public to plant more trees in the next five years
There has been growing destruction of Cape Town’s tree-covered landscapes, particularly in the Constantiaberg valley, and more recently at Rhodes Memorial, according to Parkscape’s Nicky Schmidt.