Why It Matters

Climate change is the threat. Urban forests are part of the solution. We are the difference.

Do your little bit of good where you are;
It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world

Desmond Tutu

Conserving trees is always a good idea!
Urban forests are environmental powerhouses.

Trees are vital to the health, wealth, social equity and resilience
of all people who live in cities.

Climate change is the biggest threat to our interconnected world. There is no Plan B for the planet.
This means we need to cope with the ever-changing ‘new normal’ – to f
ind ways to become climate resilient …
bounce back after disruption … deal with threats … overcome ignorance … work with nature, instead of in opposition to it.

Trees are the ultimate multi-taskers. They make oxygen, take up carbon dioxide, cool and clean the air, make neighbourhoods safer, and are good for business. Trees are elemental infrastructure that improve our quality of life as well as lift our spirits.

Countless studies show that trees have a significant impact and immeasurable benefits. Here are some.

Benefits of Trees

Environmental benefits of trees

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Urban forestry is defined as the conserving of trees in the urban and suburban environment.

This means the right tree, planted in the right place, in the right way, promotes the benefits trees provide for people, wildlife, and climate.
We live in a warming world, where growing threats from climate change require climate adaptation.

There is a growing awareness that if we want to grapple with climate change, water quality, waste reduction, and species loss, taking good care of our forests is fundamental.

As the world seeks solutions to this crisis, urban forestry is a key component of any civic strategy that’s looking at ways to maximise the benefits that trees provide.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS

How can we put a price tag on a tree?

People who sell timber for building or braai wood certainly do, but what about the worth of a living tree?
When you add it all up, a tree’s price is incalculable.

While trees are working hard for air quality, they’re also increasing property values, improving business performance and creating tree-related career opportunities.

Everyone wants their home to have the highest possible property value, right? Well, landscaping with trees and plants can increase a property value by as much as 20 percent, according to some estimates. 

That is a great return on investment in terms of the small amount of upkeep they require.

WELL BEING BENEFITS

Most often we plant trees to provide shade and beautify our homes and surrounding landscapes.

These are visible benefits, but trees also provide other less obvious benefits that are wide-ranging and affect individuals as well as communities.

There is a growing recognition that exposure to nature plays a critical role in promoting human wellness in multiple ways.

Human connection to trees can be restorative to psychological and physical health, by helping improve mindfulness and mental health while also reducing stress.

While access to nature encourages physical activity and facilitates social cohesion.

SOCIAL EQUITY BENEFITS

We know that trees are vital to the health, wealth and climate resiliency of all city dwellers.

Socio-economic parity helps ensure everybody benefits from the power of trees to fulfill our basic needs, such as breathing fresh air and drinking clean water. 

The wealth of a suburb can be determined by its amount of tree canopy. The natural environment is a shared asset, held in trust for the common good of all.

We need to find ways to change our social inequality – a legacy of historical inequity and inequality that has led to significant disparity.

Tree Equity is a moral imperative, not just an environmental issue.

Threats to Trees

BIODIVERSITY HOT SPOT

The Cape Floral Kingdom is a unique biome – and among the very hottest of the world’s biodiversity hot spots.

One of only six plant kingdoms in the entire world, our Fynbos biome is the smallest, and proportionate to size, the richest, taking up less than 0.5% of Africa though containing about 20% of Africa’s flora.

But it’s among the most threatened hot-spots for many reasons, such as over-frequent fires, the spread of alien invasive species, the increase in global warming and pollution.

What else that makes this biome unique is very nutrient-poor soil.
This means that it has very few trees, let alone tall trees – which is why the absence of trees in the landscape is a distinctive characteristic of Fynbos.

So while it’s patriotic to consider planting indigenous trees as a first choice, it’s prudent to choose ones that fit the Cape’s climate conditions, are water wise, wind-robust and adaptable, such as specimens from other Mediterranean climates.

The biggest threats to the biodiversity of this unique biome are urbanisation, agriculture, the uncontrolled spread of alien invasive species, and climate change.

INVASIVE VS INDIGENOUS

We need to understand the crucial difference between trees that are declared ‘alien invasive species’ and trees that are merely ‘alien or exotic’ species, and are not a threat to South Africa’s unique biodiversity.

And to move from a mind-set of threat to one of intelligent management & more carefully-used labels.

Many of Cape Town’s successful trees are ‘exotics’ that pose no threat to its existing biodiversity, even though they are ‘alien’ (imported from elsewhere).

To be listed as ‘alien’ does not mean it’s invasive and has to be removed. It does means it has to be managed properly. 

Many others which are a threat are ‘alien invasive species’ (‘foreign’ plants or animals that establish and invade natural ecosystems causing harm to our local species and environments).

Ignorance of this difference
is as big a threat, because it leads to many examples of trees, plants (and people) being removed without due process (like all forms of xenophobia).

We also need to move from a scorched earth mind-set that aims to remove all ‘alien’ plants, to one that works with the City to best manage and conserve existing, healthy trees wherever they are found.

DESTRUCTIVE PESTS

cAnd the Invasive Shot Hole Borer (ISHB) or Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (PSHB) beetle poses a significant threat to what makes South Africa’s biodiversity unique.

It could potentially be one of South Africa’s largest ecological tragedies, judging by the number of trees it has killed since arriving in 2017.

No definative remedy has yet been discovered for this devastating threat.
The infestation is spreading nation-wide.
It is conservatively estimated that the mortality rate of urban trees is 25 percent. And the clock is ticking.

We urgently need solutions that are not limited to reductionist, intractable approaches (like the City’s current domination model – that fells the tree in order to kill the beetle), as much as we need safeguards from cowboy contractors offering false hope, or opportunists with DIY treatment kits.

Some proposed treatments involve electronic/sonic deterrents.
Other experts are looking at systematic and scientific methods that factor in the sustainability of the localised environment.
There are effective alternative treatments based on  scientific trials and substantiated evidence.

Since this is a country-wide threat, all sustainable solutions need to be considered.

DESTRUCTIVE PEOPLE

Illegal bark harvesting for traditional medicine from natural forests in South Africa is happening at an alarming rate.

In the process, genetic resources, forest composition and structure are being severely degraded, threatened and destroyed.

Rare and endangered mature trees are being continually stripped of their bark for ‘muti’ (traditional African medicinal purposes).

Bark stripping from the entire circumference of the tree (girdling) causes it to die slowly as it interferes with its nutritional transport systems.
When only partial areas of the trees are stripped, it causes serious damage as it inhibits the growth pattern and weakens the tree, making it more susceptible to drought and disease.

Tree stripping is particularly prevalent in Newlands Forest where many trees are more than 100-years old. Watch this 

Arborist Francois Krige says “Recently … thousands of trees have been harvested, many killed. This is unsustainable. The pressure on the resource is too much. The people doing this damage are not traditional healers but independent harvesters who sell to traditional healers. If stopped tomorrow, it would take the forest 500-years to fully recover.”

Man-made greed. Requiring man-assisted vigilance.