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The forest for the trees March 15, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, holiday, South Africa, Sustainable Living.

We’ve just come back from the most blissful weeks’ holiday in Nature’s Valley, away from the crowds (the “secret season” rocks), the golf courses, driving ranges and golf estates that seem to pollute so much of the Garden Route these days.

Is it just me, or are places like Knysna and Plett getting uglier by the year? I wouldn’t go to Knysna on holiday. It’s just too crowded and over-developed with next to zero charm or character… really sad.

I guess to an extent it’s a case of urbanisation not just being a problem in the big cities like Cape Town, but in smaller centres as well. One of my main problems is that development in these places seems to be too much about luxury retirement/holiday living and kitschy tourism and too little about sustainable growth of communities.

While we were there there was an announcement for a new R2 billion development on the banks of the Knysna River which included, of course, another golf course.

How long will it take for the Knysna lagoon (estuary, actually) to collapse as an ecosystem? If our experience with Rietvlei in Cape Town is anything to go by, I fear it won’t take very long. But we won’t learn from these precedents, will we!? “Can’t happen here” is the mantra.

What struck me most on this trip, however, was the forest. More specifically the difference between the indigenous forest and the commercial MacForestTM plantations.

I imagine that much of the Tsitsikamma coast – the plain between the sea and the mountains – was once covered by a vast and mostly contiguous indigenous forest with fynbos et al filling in the gaps (I really don’t know if this is true and would love to hear from anyone who knows more about the natural history of the area).

Today, the indigenous forest hangs on in a couple of isolated pockets and in some of the deeply incised river gorges. It’s still beautiful and magical, but clearly a shadow of its glorious former self.

In contrast to the almost impenetrable, multi-story and many-specied indigenous forests, the monotonous sterility of the mono-crop pine plantations is truly sick-making. Geometrically aligned, numbered and chosen for their fast and straight growth, the alien trees in these plantations are harvested and turned into floor boards, telephone posts and mining timber on a regular basis leaving behind big stumpy scars to be filled with the next generation of seedlings.


The contrast between this and the indigenous forest is just mind-boggling. It’s so obvious that I’m not sure why it affected me more this time around than on previous visits.

Perhaps it’s because the forests are a metaphor of how we are conducting ourselves on this planet more generally? It makes me sad to think of what we’ve lost and what we’ve replaced it with, and forests are just one example.



1. Capetonian - March 15, 2007

There’s not much difference between catching a flight to Cape Town or going to Plett and Knysna, as they are getting more packed and less secluded. The parts of the Tsitsikamma forest that are left are truly magnificent.

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