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Illegal tree bark stripping and plant harvesting remain a challenge at Table Mountain National Park

A tree stripped of its bark in Newlands Forest. Picture: Supplied

A tree stripped of its bark in Newlands Forest. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 1, 2022

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This article first appeared in the 28 June 2022 edition of the Cape Argus newspaper.

Cape Town - Lobby group Friends of Table Mountain has raised the alarm over the steady destruction of Table Mountain National Parks’ (TMNP) limited and treasured indigenous forests.

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The group said two areas of concern included the Newlands Forest, which it said was slowly but steadily being decimated owing to bark stripping, and the afro-montane indigenous forests above Kalk Bay in Echo Valley.

Friends of Table Mountain chairperson Andy Davies said the bark was stripped off indigenous trees by poachers and sold to traditional healers.

“Trees are being ring barked which leads to their demise. While some poachers have been caught, the bark stripping is continuing and serious concerns are being raised by local activists about the permanent and significant damage to Newlands Forest.

“We were alerted to the issue and asked Prof Edmund February, from the Department of Biological Sciences at UCT, to investigate.

“He confirmed a substantial amount of the indigenous trees had either been cut down or have had branches removed. He said that although these trees were small, they could be several decades old and it would take a long time to recover from the damage,” he said.

Davies said they also raised the concern that there was a strong possibility that uncontrolled dwelling on TMNP would lead to crime against park visitors.

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“Friends of Table Mountain’s position is that overall safety on TMNP must be improved to protect visitors and the fauna and flora,” he said.

Davies said SANParks rangers needed to patrol the hot spots, particularly at night when environmental crimes take place, use their K9 unit more effectively, and continuously use monitoring technology.

Newlands Forest Conservation Group member Willem Boshoff said the current reactive approach from SANParks was not working and a more proactive approach was required.

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“What we are seeing is that the park is becoming stressed because of the large impact of illegal plant harvesting. There is no way that one can sustainably harvest plants from the park,” he said.

Boshoff said this would have a lot of economic knock-on effects in the long run as the park degrades, with the natural flora and fauna being diminished and invasive species becoming more prevalent.

SANParks spokesperson Lauren Clayton said, “Hot spots shift as patrollers respond to incidents or area clearance and have been successful with proactive patrols where suspects were apprehended prior to the commission or during the commission of a crime.”

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She said a plan to increase the K9 capacity was affected by financial constraints, but rangers were working hard mobilising funds to have full resources to curb the illegal harvesting of plants or bark stripping.

She said the TMNP landscape was not suitable for certain types of technology, but they were exploring options where appropriate.

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