Voortrekker Monument management accused of cutting down protected trees
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Pretoria - The management of Pretoria’s most-visited heritage site, the Voortrekker Monument, have been accused of breaching laws and not following legal processes before cutting down protected trees.
Last week, a social media uproar erupted when pictures and videos of fallen trees and plants at the monument were circulated. Richard Gill from the Dendrological Society of SA compiled a report in which he alleged that numerous trees up to 60-years-old, including succulents, aloes and more, were cut down and destroyed.
This included yellowwood trees which are protected under the National Forests Act of 1998.
In terms of the legislation, these may not be cut, damaged, destroyed or disturbed without a licence granted by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Gill further said that the monument sought, but did not use legal advice or follow all of the legal processes.
“They were advised that a full assessment needs to be done before cutting off the trees and plants.
“They were also asked to put their plans on hold but they went ahead instead and destroyed the trees,” Gill said.
Gerhard Pretorius from the Voortrekker Monument management, however, said there was preservation of the facility’s tangible historical heritage as well as the natural heritage.
He insisted that poor (and non- existent) maintenance on the part of the previous managers of the monument was the main reason behind its current state.
“Trees grew too close to the wall, which is not allowed; some started growing even on concrete. We had to remove them because they would have caused damage,” he said.
He added that the monument’s site was 341 hectares in size and there was ongoing maintenance being done to manage the flora, and that invasive plants and trees, as well as traps and snares, were regularly removed from the reserve.
“In-depth research has been done on the restoration of the historic gardens around the monument based on an approved Heritage Management Plan.
“Advice has been sought from various heritage specialists and horticulturists to ensure a balance between historical and natural heritage,” he said.
Pretorius added that when a garden grows uncontrolled for too long and is not cared for, damage occurs that is difficult and expensive to repair years later.
“Heritage conservation is the core goal of the monument, and we remain steadfast in the pursuit of preserving and protecting our culture and natural heritage in a balanced way,” he said.
Gill said they were, however, mostly concerned about who made the decisions that severely affected the gardens, who the various heritage experts and horticultural experts the monument consulted were, and whether or not necessary permits were secured for conducting activities with threatened or protected species.
“The damage has been done and can never be undone. What is left for us now is to look forward and try to find a solution,” he said.
Efforts to obtain comment from the National Heritage Council of SA yesterday were not successful.