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Let’s look at what rights trees have, and how we can put planet before profit.

Trees have been around long before legislation was thought of,
so let’s take a leaf from their book, and copy how they co-exist.

The principle of how they interact is called the Wood Wide Web
– a subterranean social network operating in the same way as our neural transmitters.

If you want to protect the planet, start at home. 

INTERNATIONAL LEGAL CONTEXT


In December 2015, in Paris,
the first-ever, universal, legally binding, global climate change agreement was adopted.
The Paris Accord is our best hope of addressing climate change that is impacting on people, wildlife, and habitats all over our planet.

In April 2019, France adopted a Declaration of Tree Rights
This states that “A tree should be considered as a subject of law, including when laws regarding human property are involved.
It should be respected throughout its life and have the right to develop and to reproduce freely, from its birth to its natural death, whether it be a town tree or a country tree.”
It further defines a tree as a “living being that is sensitive to changes in its environment, and that should be respected as such without being reduced to the status of a mere object”. Vive la France!

Let’s stay alert to future agreements that will have a global impact and local repurcussions.

LOCAL LEGAL CONTEXT

NATIONAL CONTEXT

The 2016 NEMBA list of Alien and Invasive Species – issued in terms of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 categorises invader plant species into four sections, each with specific actions required.
These regulations require landowners to comply with the DEFF Biosecurity Compliance Section. See listed Invasive Species

The CARA list – The Conservation of Agriculture Resources Act is aimed at the agriculture sector.
But many people in the urban context wrongly and /or unscupulously apply CARA category 3 invader status to motivate for felling trees on private property. CARA Invasive Plant Lists 2001

PROVINCIAL CONTEXT 

The City of Cape Town has a Green Infrastructure Programme with Best Practice Guidelines: TREES. See here for full document

The City of Cape Town has identified eight alien invasive trees (among 26 species) as part of its early detection and rapid response (EDRR) programme. See here

In terms of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) any person who intends to undertake a development which includes ’’any removal or destruction of trees’’ must submit a Notification of Intent to Develop (NID) and receive approval from Heritage Western Cape (HWC). See here/ pg 13

In a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone (HPOZ) no-one may destroy or remove a tree, boundary hedge or mature plantings without prior City approval, in terms of the City of Cape Town Development Management Scheme bylaws. See here/ pg 7

Other designated local Overlay Zones include
 the Bakoven, Clifton and Glen Beach Bungalow areas.
All these zones require special consent from the City of Cape Town Environment and Heritage Management for any proposed alteration or development – that includes the removal or destruction of trees.  See here/ pg 8

CITY CONTEXT

Trees on City land are protected, including all street verges, public places and parks.
They may not be pruned or removed without written permission from the City’s Recreation and Parks Department.
See here to report untoward incidents

Trees may also be protected through title deeds, planning approval conditions or town planning schemes.
Under the City’s requirements for building plan submission, trees on City land that could be affected by proposed vehicular access routes must be shown.
As well as any protected trees or City trees on the property and the neighbouring property, whose extended root zone could be affected by development proposals.
An omission of relevant information by a developer could constitute fraud.

If you suspect a tree is being felled without permission, read on … 

Practical Pointers

Point 1

If it’s not yours, don’t touch it

Simply put, it’s illegal to hack off a neighbour’s tree branch, roots, or even remove fruit from their tree!

The City of Cape Town’s by-law states that the tree subsides to the land, which means whoever owns the land, owns the tree and all of its by-products.

Bottom line?
Your neighbours have ownership over said tree and so may be found liable for any damages caused, but damages caused do not give you legal access to cause damages to your neighbour’s property.

If the tree is causing structural damage why not reach out to your neighbours. They may not even be aware that the tree is causing damage to begin with.
If you manage to reach an agreement, stick to what was agreed upon.

Point 2

Be aware of the very big difference between ”non-invasive” exotics and ”alien invasive” species

Mature exotic trees can offer immense benefits without posing a threat to ecological resources.

They can be extraordinary specimen trees AND exotic …
 think Arderne Garden in Claremont,
six of which are Champion Trees.

Trees add to the cultural landscape …
– 
think stone pines on Table Mountain’s skyline.

They display distinctive place-making elements in and around Cape Town …
 think the avenue of oaks or the Champion giant rubber tree in the Company’s Garden
or the majestic avenue of blue gums in Kenilworth.

Point 3

You don’t have the right to a view

When it comes to property and our constitution, we simply do not have the right to a view, and if you want one, it’ll cost you a pretty penny.

So unless you buy the servitude to the property in front of or next to what is blocking your view, you will have to be polite to your neighbours.

(Servitude refers to the limit of building height or an extension over a certain building height.)

Point 4

If trees are on sites with buildings or structures older than 60 years, pay attention

They are probably protected, which would make it a criminal offence to damage or remove them, and The National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) could block you quicker than you think.

If you are concerned that an old tree might cause damage or fall over, have a professional tree feller investigate.

Point 5

Be attentive to a variety of threats to trees – and what you can do about them

Pests such as the Shot-Hole Borer beetle’s devastating invasion sweeping our country’s cities and gardens.

Stay alert to where you buy your firewood and compost. Your informed choices about your purchases can make a big difference. See how 

Watch out for man-made threats such as illegal bark stripping. See Threats to Trees
Keep a look-out on your walks – and report sightings.

Point 6

Be woke to the Web of Life

‘’Trees can become cumbersome, cause a lot of grief, block drains, fill gutters and become the occasional social spot for dogs, but they serve a greater purpose than keeping you occupied with cleaning up after them’’.

Trees are part of the world’s ecological community linked to each other through the transfer of energy and nutrients.
As we are. Welcome to the Web of Life!
– Pointers courtesy of Mark MacHattie – 

Action Steps

Step 1

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HEAR A CHAINSAW …

Check whether the property falls within a heritage protection overlay zone (HPOZ) or not.

Because no-one may cut, damage, destroy, or remove a tree, boundary hedge or mature plantings in a HPOZ without prior City approval.

Other areas which also require prior City consent are the Bakoven, Clifton and Glen Beach Bungalow areas, deemed a Local Overlay Zone.

Step 2

Check whether the tree is listed as a Protected Tree 
or as a Champion Tree – See here

Because if listed under either of  of these annexures, the same restrictions apply as within a HPOZ.

Approval for ‘’any removal or destruction of trees’’ must be submitted via a Notification of Intent to Develop (NID) to the City’s Environment & Heritage Management.

Failure to comply has consequences and penalties.

Step 3

Check if the tree is on public land ( City-owned land) – which includes all street verges, public open spaces, parks and sidewalks including the 1.5m strip in front of your home

Because all City trees are public assets and may not be cut by anyone without the necessary permission in writing – not even by private tree fellers
The City Recreation & Parks must be asked to have a look at the tree, and fell the problem branches for you

But if what you suspect is illegal activity happening on private property that falls outside an HPOZ, there’s nothing you can do … other than name and shame them on social media platforms, and tell TreeKeepers, for the record.

Step 4

If what you suspect is an illegal activity happening on public property /shopping malls /schools / forests Alert the City’s Recreation & Parks Dpt

Because no damaging or breaking a tree, nor marking, painting, attaching any advertising, or stripping bark is permitted

If what you suspect is illegal activity happening on a building site (actual or proposed), trees may also be protected according to the National Buildings Regulations & Buildings Standards Act, so
– check it out with the City’s Recreation and Parks Department.

Step 5

 If what you suspect is an illegal activity  …
– First identify yourself as a concerned citizen
– Then ask the offending owner and /or the tree feller to produce written proof of permission (issued by the City’s Recreation and Parks Department)
– If they can’t produce this, advise them that they should immediately cease work until the City officials have made contact with them
– Warn them that there is a fine and / or imprisonment for a period of up to three years for this contravention
– Advise them that you intend to report them to the City of Cape Town
– Lodge your report with the City Recreation & Parks Dep
And lastly, also alert TreeKeepers, so that a record can be followed up with the relevant departments.

Step 6

 Because you need as much visual proof as possible to report them and help the powers that be prosecute them, this is what you should do: –

Record the precise address, street location and closest intersections of the incident
– Make a note of the name & contact details of the property owner, as well as the name of the tree-feller company and whoever is its representative / foreman
– Take a photo / make a note of the tree- feller’s company name on its vehicle and / or the vehicle registration number
– Take a photo of how much felling has already happened, how much debris is lying around on the pavement etc.
– Provide them with your details to indicate your intent ”for the record”.

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