Think before it’s gone

Dr Alanna Rebelo, Bergvliet

I grew up in Bergvliet and we had countless dog walks at Tokai over the years, several times a week. I loved the plantations at Tokai, I enjoyed splashing in the water of the degraded canals in winter, using the homemade swings and attending birthday parties under the pines. As a child, running through the trees, I could imagine myself in a fantasy story, such as Lord of the Rings. This formative experience resulted in a strong love for those pine plantations. As a child, especially, I preferred their shade to that of hiking in the open in the fynbos of the mountains.

I have as much of a claim as anyone to what we knew in the past as “Tokai Forest”.

However there is another side to this story. And this relates to the privilege of living in one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots and the world’s smallest floral kingdom: the Cape Floristic Region (which is also a world heritage site).

Here are some fast facts:

• The sand fynbos at Tokai Park is special.

• It has over 550 species of native plants.

• Tokai contains about 500ha of the last remaining intact Cape Flats sand fynbos (1% conserved).

• Transitional planting could spell the end for many plants on the brink of extinction.

• Transitional planting with either pines or “indigenous trees” is economically and ecologically unfeasible.

• There are no “indigenous trees” to sand fynbos.

• Transitional planting would increase the fire risk in fynbos.

• There are plenty of other opportunities for shaded-recreation, including forested suburbs, and ten tree-covered greenbelts within the southern suburbs alone.

Are my recreational desires more important than saving species from the brink of extinction? As a South African, what is my role in taking a stand against biodiversity loss?

I would like to call on our community to “think before it’s gone”. At Tokai Park, both retaining plantations and transitional planting could spell the end for many species. Although the UN says that our relationship with nature is broken, I would beg to differ. I believe there are still many people who love our native species, and/or who feel a strong responsibility and want to flatten the curve on biodiversity loss.

The choice is ours.

• Alanna Rebelo is a postdoctoral researcher at Stellenbosch University. She is also a volunteer for the Friends of Tokai Park, a WESSA Friends group.