Green side of SA forestry industry

Clairmont Protea caffra; the Protea is host to the Critically Endangered Pennington’s protea butterfly. Picture: SAPPI

Clairmont Protea caffra; the Protea is host to the Critically Endangered Pennington’s protea butterfly. Picture: SAPPI

Published May 26, 2024


Cape Town - The World Economic Forum said biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse was one of the top five risks facing world economies.

Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. It is essential for all processes that support life on the planet, including the very beings that have caused more than 83% of habitat loss – humans.

This decline is exacerbated by climate change altering weather patterns faster than ecosystems and species can evolve to match them.

With global biodiversity declining faster than at any other time in history, something needs to be done.

According to Dr Ronald Heath, director of research and protection for Forestry South Africa (FSA), “propelled by human activity, the unsustainable use of natural resources and the over-exploitation of species, the ‘sixth mass extinction’ is not a futuristic ideology; it is upon us.

“The days of relying on conservationists to solve the problem are over.”

A recent survey revealed that 61 000 hectares of indigenous forest and more 171000ha of grasslands and connected wetlands are being managed by the South African forestry sector, ensuring biodiversity and ecological networks within a production landscape are preserved. These areas provide refuge for an array of animals, birds, plants and micro-organisms.

FSA is the industry association that represents forestry corporates and timber farmers. By working with conservation agencies and NGOs, the sector is helping to conserve many rare and threatened ecosystems and species found on its landholdings.

“Our local forestry landscape stretches across 1.7 million hectares, or 1% of the country’s landmass. Only 70% (1.2 million hectares) is planted with trees that supply timber, pole, pulp, paper and packaging markets,” he said.

The rest remains unplanted, and more than 305000ha are managed in their natural state within forestry landholdings. This mosaic of natural spaces and forestry landscapes provides a web of conservation corridors.

In 1999, MTO Forestry commissioned several studies to establish the health and situation of Hewitts ghost frog colonies. Since then it has evolved a set of practices that minimise the impact on the frogs and boost their numbers.

MTO’s Knysna sand fynbos project is another success story, involving the conversion of 68ha of plantation to this critically endangered ecosystem type.

The three-decade strong WWFMondi Wetlands Programme focuses on the responsible stewardship of forests and freshwater ecosystems, and the maintenance of important habitats. Mondi now manages more than 15 000ha of wetlands on its South African landholdings.

Sappi has seven declared nature reserves on its landholdings in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. One of these is Clairmont Mountain Nature Reserve, which is home to 10 red data (threatened or endangered) species, such as the Denham’s bustard, Pennington’s protea butterfly, red stinkwood and Cape parrots.

These reserves are part of South Africa’s Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi).

NCT Forestry and Agricultural Co-operative is looking after the Lenjane conservation area.

Western Cape