The Newlands Forest Conservation Group has pleaded with hikers to be on the look out for perpetrators believed to be harvesting disas and stripping tree barks.. File picture: Thomas Holder/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
The Newlands Forest Conservation Group has pleaded with hikers to be on the look out for perpetrators believed to be harvesting disas and stripping tree barks.. File picture: Thomas Holder/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Orchid and tree bark thieves are damaging Newlands ecology

By Mthuthuzeli Ntseku Time of article published Mar 9, 2021

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Cape Town – The Newlands Forest Conservation Group has pleaded with hikers to be on the look out for perpetrators believed to be harvesting disas and stripping tree barks.

The group said it has received reports of a group mistakenly identified as hikers, carrying spades and buckets, “harvesting” disas near the Aqueduct on Table Mountain this week, which it said seemed like an organised group targeting this species of orchid.

Newlands Forest Conservation Group co-founding member Willie Boshoff said bark stripping was extensive in Newlands forest and has been ongoing since the late 1990s.

“Unfortunately, at the moment they are stripping a lot of trees, and it’s indigenous trees that are being targeted. The culprits are stripping faster than the forest can regenerate.

“We don’t know how big the disa harvesting is, but someone who reported it said it was the first, and I think there must be others, because when she described the group of people who had a spade and a bucket clearly shows they are organised and that this wasn’t something that happened on the spur of the moment,” he said.

Boshoff said bark stripping and disa harvesting would result in a slow ecological impact with a loss of biodiversity and the beauty of the forest.

“The disa is a flower and only found in few places on the Table Mountain, and when people start harvesting them, in two years there won’t be any left. The bark of the mature indigenous trees being killed has an impact on the ecology of the forest, and once they are killed more sunlight comes in and may dry out the forest. The impact is also seen when there is a storm when the wind breaks off the smaller trees,” he said.

Friends of Table Mountain chairperson Andy Davis said they were appalled that people were removing disas from the park.

“We urge SANParks to commit the right level of resources to prevent this kind of thing happening and to set up the asked-for hotline so that the public can immediately report these problems,” he said.

SANParks spokesperson Reynold Thakhuli urged visitors to report these incidents immediately to assist with timeous and swift response.

“This is the first incident where specifically the disa’s plant species are being targeted, and this activity is not permitted; it is illegal. The bark stripping is an illegal activity in the national park and also subject to the legislation. Table Mountain National Park is aware of this environmental crime taking place in Newlands. It is a city-wide challenge that needs to be addressed. Certain species of indigenous trees and fynbos are illegally harvested for their medicinal value for sales or personal consumption,” he said.

Thakuli said the hotline centre was still at the concept stage and a scheduled opening will be determined in due course, as funding was still being sourced.

He said rangers patrol the area frequently for preventative law enforcement and treat the trees that are stripped.

Cape Argus

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