The air was still thick with the droning hum of chainsaws when the questions started pouring in. The barrage of who, how, and why, was tied together with emotion and disdain. Two natural giants, steeped in town heritage and ecological value, had been reduced to mere lifeless stumps. And the community were demanding answers.
The loss of the two big trees behind Pick n Pay is not the first time, and won’t be the last, that these types of questions are posed. Whilst we can’t turn back time and alter it, perhaps we can use these recent activities as a learning opportunity.
Great Brak River is home to numerous large trees, both indigenous and exotic. These trees define the landscape, support numerous life forms, and some even possess historical and familial importance to the town and its people … But what protects them?
In order for a tree to have protection in South Africa it needs to be at least one of the following: a protected species, a registered heritage/champion tree, or protected by bylaws. If it doesn’t fall within any of these categories, the tree’s existence simply falls to the discretion of the landowner. There are even times where landowners are compelled by law to remove certain species, which are deemed to be invasive.
Whilst we in Great Brak River have a few protected species like milkwoods and yellowwoods, we don’t have any registered champion trees. Nor does municipal bylaw speak to any tree that is not on a sidewalk or municipal land. Not only do most of our large tree species not have any form of legal protection, but when trees like milkwoods have protected status this is often simply ignored.
The reaction to trees getting cut from our landscape in a time where they provide us with so much is understandable, but it speaks to the reactiveness, as opposed to proactiveness, that is far too common in the case of conservation. We need to plant new trees as we find ways to give acknowledgement to those already a vital part of our community. We can’t just blame the landowner or hold them solely responsible for the future when we have done nothing ourselves to put legislation in place to protect what we deem important.