Why it matters to look after trees

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 find ways to become climate resilient. Bounce back after disruption and disaster. Deal with threats. Overcome ignorance. To work with nature, instead of in opposition to it.
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Trees are the ultimate multi-taskers. They lift our spirits, make oxygen, take up CO2, cool and clean the air, make neighbourhoods safer, and are good for business.

More than something pretty to look at or sit under, trees are elemental infrastructure that improve our quality of life, much like buildings, streets and sewer lines.

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

BENEFITS

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 fulfil 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

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, it’s the smallest, and proportionate to size, the richest, taking up less than 0.5% of Africa but containing about 20% of Africa’s flora.

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

What else makes fynbos unique is very nutrient-poor soil.
Which means that it has very few trees, let alone tall trees – a notable 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 Cape Town‘s climate conditions, are water wise, wind-robust  and adaptable, such as specimens from other Mediterranean climates.

The biggest threats to this unique biodiversity are urbanisation (the movement of people from the country to the city through the destruction of natural areas as the city expands), and the spread of invasive aliens.

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INVASIVE VS INDIGINOUS

We need to understand the crucial difference between ‘Alien Invasive’ and ‘Alien’ plant species. 
And move from a mind-set of threat to intelligent management.

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

To be listed as ‘alien’ does not necessarily mean it 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)
(NEMBA link)
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

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 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. The clock is ticking.

We urgently need solutions that are not limited to reductionist, intractable approaches (like the City’s current domination model – that kills the tree in order to kill the beetle), as much as we need safeguards from cowboy contactors 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.
Internationally, there are several effective treatments based on alternative scientific trials.

All need to be considered.
This is a country-wide threat. It requires a sustainable solution. 

DESTRUCTIVE HUMANS 

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