The first of the 800 trees that will eventually shade the new perimeter walkway in the lower part of the Tokai pine plantation, have been planted during the past few days. Here members of the Friends of Tokai Park group prepare the ground for the trees.

JOHN YELD

Environment & Science Writer

CONSERVATIONISTS and concerned local residents have spent the past two Friday mornings helping Table Mountain National Park staff plant shade trees in the lower Tokai plantation as part of an environmental heritage project that “will be very precious for our grandchildren”.

That was the word from the newly elected local councillor for the area, Liz Brunette, who was among a group of about 50 helping to plant about 250 trees on Friday.

The week before, it had been the turn of members of conservation groups Friends of Tokai Park and Friends of the Constantia Green Belt, who had helped the park staff put about 200 trees into the ground.

The trees are part of a consignment of 600 that have been donated by Just Trees, which also helped with the planting, and which will be supplemented by another 200 supplied by the park itself, making a total of 800 shade trees around the 4.5km perimeter path of the area on the southern (Dennendal) side of Orpen Road.

The shade tree-planting project forms part of the Management Framework for Tokai and Cecilia plantations, which sets out the future vision for the rehabilitation and recreational use of these areas once mature pine trees have been systematically harvested.

The framework was agreed after a public participation process a few years ago, although it is still deeply contested by some lovers of pine plantations.

Gavin Bell, national park area manager, explained that the shade trees were being planted on either side of a hardened walkway, the surface of which was suitable for cyclists and prams, and which had been sponsored by the Pedal Power Association.

An adjoining sandy riding track, on the plantation side, doubles as a fire break.

The core inner area has been cleared and will remain as restored sand-plain fynbos, which is one of the most critically endangered veld types in the country.

The remaining pines in the surrounding “transitional areas” will be harvested on a planned basis in blocks, and the cleared area will be burnt to stimulate fynbos growth.

After eight years, which will be long enough for naturally regenerated fynbos plants to have set seed a couple of times, the block will be replanted with pines – although not with the current invasive species – and then allowed to grow for about 20 to 30 years, before being harvested again.

During this latter time, the block will again be available for recreational use such as walking and riding.

“So hopefully there will be a mosaic of shaded areas,” said Bell.

Trees being planted along the perimeter are non-invasive and mostly indigenous, but do not occur naturally in fynbos. They include the wild olive, white stinkwood, rhus (karee), Cape saffron, assegai, coastal coral tree, hard pear, Cape beech and the Rooiels.

Lessons learnt from these trial tree-planting days could be used for the planning of public tree-planting days in the future, Bell added.

Brunette quipped that planting trees in the former plantation area was “nothing different to what I do in my garden”. More seriously, she said she was “very happy” and “totally supportive” of the framework plan.

“What will end up for our grandchildren here will be very precious in the scheme of things, and it will also be the only piece of this kind of fynbos that will survive the threat of building and development.”

l Anyone wanting to help during future tree-planting days may e-mail their contact details to [email protected]

[email protected]