Not enough funding or expertise to maintain Tokai Arboretum

Glenda Doller next to a fallen tree in Tokai Park.

Tokai Arboretum is in a neglected state and choking under alien vegetation, according to a group of hikers who visited it.

Glenda Doller, of Constantia, was among the Peninsula Ramblers group that hiked the lower slopes of Constantiaberg recently.

She said Lister’s Place also appeared neglected, worse than after the fire of 2015.

Friends of Tokai Park (FoTP) chairman, Tony Rebelo, said SANParks, which took over management in the 1990s, did not have sufficient funding or expertise to maintain the arboretum and the group was exploring various alternatives.

“The arboretum is arguably one of the most important historical sites in the country in terms of our silvicultural history,” said Dr Rebelo.

However, SANParks spokesperson, Babalwa Dlangamandla, said they, along with Working on Water and Working on Fire, had the staff, funding and expertise to continue the rehabilitation of the arboretum and surrounding area.

Few trees were killed by the 2015 fire, but some were deemed unsafe and so the area was closed to the public. It was officially reopened in 2017, with the proviso that the arboretum parking – used mainly by mountain bikers – be relocated to the Tokai picnic site.

Dr Rebelo said maintenance of the arboretum would require a full-time horticulturist and two labourers to maintain it to international standards.

The arboretum was declared a national monument in 1985. Lister’s Place, erected in the late 1980’s, was excluded and was originally an information centre with a classroom and a museum and then converted to a tea room.

Regarding the area appearing neglected, Dr Rebelo said there was no landscape plan for the arboretum. “Should the area be lawns with trees? Or planted beds of shrubs between the trees? Or a natural fynbos understory? Mowing lawns will eliminate much of the alien invasive shrubs. Planted beds, if properly maintained, will also help control the aliens,” he said.

Whatever happens, SANParks must remove nationally-listed alien invasives.

Dr Rebelo said gums continuously shed branches and bark, which, along with the cluttered undergrowth could give the mistaken appearance of neglect. And many alien invasives were coppicers (they resprout if cut back).

Dr Rebelo said alien clearing at Tokai Arboretum had been an issue since 1885 – alien wattle seed banks could survive in the soil for well over 100 years.

Dr Rebelo said the FoTP regularly monitored the arboretum for infestation by the polyphagous shothole borer beetle (“Invasive beetle threat”, Bulletin, May 2).

“Gums are not affected by this beetle, but the clamshell lerp is now in the area and weakening a few eucalyptus species.

“With an old arboretum, regular deaths are the norm. There is also no current replacement policy for dead trees,” he said.

Dr Rebelo said SANParks would include Lister’s Place in the development plan for the Tokai Manor precinct. However, its actual use, whether as a museum, tea room or arboretum restroom, would be negotiated with the developer, and it would open once the tender process with a private operator had been completed, he said.

“We believe it should primarily be an information centre/museum for the arboretum. But if the arboretum has a dedicated staff, it may have to serve as offices for them as well, at least in the short term, until a more appropriate building can be designed and built.”

Baboons have removed thatch from Listers, but the building is still sound. Dr Rebelo said SANParks had promised to re-thatch this year.

One of the effects of the 2015 fire, is that the arboretum will no longer be baboon proofed. This affects recreation, specifically, picnics which are no longer feasible.

Ms Dlangamandla said invasive, undesirable wattles had invaded the arboretum after the 2015 fires.

SANParks teams, she said, were working continually with volunteer groups and Working for Water contractors to remove them.

The alien infestation in Tokai was a result of more than a century of commercial timber planting and harvesting and it could take many years to fully rehabilitate the area, she said.

For more information about the FoTP, visit them on Facebook.

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