Saving 300 trees at Tokai Park

KAREN WATKINS

The race is on to save about 300 trees planted to provide shade along the boundary of Tokai Park.

The neighbouring pine compartment was envisaged to be harvested in 2024 but is now due to be felled in spring or summer this year. This means that if the saplings of the indigenous trees planted do not get watered, they will die.

And with this year being the driest for 111 years and last year having the lowest recorded average annual rainfall measured across all provinces, death is certain unless something is done.

Enter Deon de Villiers and Mark Smith who, with a small core group of volunteers, have started reshaping the soil containers around approximately 330 trees and then watering them.

After filling a 1 000 litre container on the back of a bakkie, they transport the water to Lower Tokai Park and supply about 30 litres to each tree every two weeks. And while initial progress is slow, once the soil containers have all been completed, they will see greater daily progress and the maintenance can truly start.

The avenue of trees is parallel to Dennendal Road between the greenbelt bridge and Orpen Road.

Since the trees were planted in 2011 they have not had an easy life. Low annual rainfall and competition for water has kept the root structure from reaching the underground water table, relying on rainfall and sporadic watering by residents to keep alive. While a system of permanent irrigation has been planned, the high cost stands in the way of success. Seeing the gap, TokaiMTB has come forward to assist with watering through the hot summer.

The pine plantations were planted in 1996 and, due to the economics of harvesting trees on steep slopes, diseases, growth rates and wood prices, and after the 2015 fire, Cape Pine are harvesting all trees now rather than in the original proposed harvest date of 2024.

In 2011 about 800 trees were donated by Just Trees and Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) and planted by the public and various “friends” groups and school groups.

The planting arose out of the public plea for shaded recreation areas following the Department of Water Affairs (DWAF) announcement of the commercial pine exit from the peninsula in 2005.

Deon told the Bulletin this project fits into the Tokai and Cecilia Management Framework which also allows for the replanting of non-invasive pine after several years’ fynbos seeding. These pines will be harvested after 20 to 30 years growth and the perimeter trees will provide longterm shade.

The trees include Wild Olive, White Stinkwood, Rhus (Karee), Cape Saffron, Assegai, Coastal Coral Tree, Hard Pear, Cape Beech and Rooiels.

Since planting, about 20% have died with about 30% facing the same fate having already lost all their leaves.

Since they started, about one month ago, they have completed digging around 340 saplings and dispensed an estimated 11 000L of water.

Dr Tony Rebelo of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, who is also chairman of the Friends of Tokai Park, said when Cape Pine have finished harvesting the pines, the land will be handed over to SANParks for restoration to the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos that used to occur there and that is still there in the seedbank.

This is the most endangered vegetation type on the peninsula with less than one-percent protected worldwide.

Gavin Bell, manager of south section of TMNP, commends Deon and Mark for taking the initiative and watering the trees and said he would like to encourage more people to get involved.

Gavin could not confirm when the pines in lower Tokai will be removed, saying that Cape Pine are focusing on taking outstanding burnt or damaged pine and gum trees on the upper and middle slopes which are dangerous as they continue to come down in the area. “We want to get it open as soon as possible for user groups,” he said.

Since the restoration of fynbos began in lower Tokai, several critically endangered species have emerged or been restored, once thought to be extinct in the wild. Among them are Erica verticillata Whorl Heath, Erica turgida Showy Heath, Erica pyramidalis Pyramid Heath and Serruria furcellata Rondevlei Spiderhead.

Deon said a number of sponsors have already come forward to support the initiative, including the Tokai Residents’ Association, Total Tokai for fuel, Friends of Tokai Park for guidance, Table Mountain National Park and TokaiMTB volunteers.

Chairman of the Tokai Residents’ Association Arthur Clarke said they are asking the local community to assist with this project. If you would like to help, send an SMS to 082 701 0048 (as the phone is not always manned) or email tra.tokai@gmail.com

To join the Friends of Tokai Park and make a difference in the management of it, visit https:// www.facebook.com/Friends OfTokaiPark.

Cape Pine were asked to comment on the removal of pines in lower Tokai and if their focus at present is on removing trees on the upper slopes but they did not reply by the time of going to print.