Environmental Services

To TREE or not to TREE: Part 1

To TREE or not to TREE: Part 1

Working as an environmentalist in the construction industry, in an area commonly known as the 'Bushveld', I have to answer questions regarding protected trees, tree permits, tree removal, relocation etc. on a daily basis. Most of the time these questions are asked by the same people over and over again and each time I find myself explaining it in a different way, which made me ask myself the question - Am I overthinking this?

Am I too emotional about trees? Surely my answer should be straight forward -  well it’s not. So I thought the topic of trees in construction should be pulled apart and discussed. I’m going to try and do this in sections, this being part 1.

In the Limpopo Province, there are five commonly found tree species protected by law in terms of the National Forests Act of 1998.

  • Acacia erioloba – Camel thorn
  • Adomsonia digitata – Baobab
  • Boscia albitrunca – Sheppard’s tree
  • Combretum imberbe – Lead wood
  • Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra – Marula

The protected status of the first four trees mentioned above is widely accepted by everyone I come across, mostly because they are scarce, but the Marula has been the reason for many arguments and therefore I specifically want to discuss this tree and why it is protected by law when, as clearly pointed out by many, they can be found everywhere in their masses in this area.

Marula trees can grow up to 18 m tall and can produce up to 500 kg of fruit per year

The Marula Tree

The Marula tree is indigenous to sub-equatorial Africa and can be found in 29 countries. This remarkable and beautiful tree species is considered a sacred tree in Africa and is therefore protected for its cultural and medicinal value rather than the number of trees found in the wild. Currently in South Africa the numbers are not threatened, however this is the case in some areas in Africa due to deforestation.

What makes it special? Why is it considered a sacred tree? Two things...the bark and the fruit.

The bark has magnificent medicinal properties that can be used to treat and prevent numerous ailments and diseases, and it is even believed that the use of the bark can determine the sex of a woman’s next child.

The fruit is used to make the famous Amarula liquor that we all love. It has many other uses, including being an ingredient in skin care products due to being high in Vitamin C - approximately eight times more than in an orange.

There are so many incredible things I can write about this tree (or any tree for that matter), but back onto the trees vs. construction discussion.

The bark of the Marula tree

Trees vs. Construction

Construction and development is inevitable, I have made peace with that, but the devastation of clearing undisturbed areas, the mass removal of trees, shrubs and everything associated with site clearing still keeps me up at night. 

If you tell a construction manager, who is a bit behind with the times, that he has to apply for a permit to remove a Marula tree, he ignores you. Once you repeat yourself a few times the same questions start flying: "WHY? I have a million of them on my farm!", "WHY? You can find them everywhere!" - no need to say it drives me insane. Most of the time I remain calm and explain the cultural and medicinal importance. If I’ve had this particular argument with the same person on a previous occasion I merely say, " WHY? Because it is required by law!"

During a site visit with my client's in-house ecologist we recorded a staggering 644 Marula trees alone on a 4 ha stand, if we add the other protected species the number rises to 718 protected tree species for one project.  Think of it for a moment and tell me how not to get emotional about it? Anyway before I overthink it again let’s move on.

The aim of my first post is to hopefully create awareness and to spark an interest into various aspects of construction and development and the associated impacts on tree populations.

In future blog posts I will cover how the client applies for permits, when they do it, how they feel about it and the commitments that goes with it. I would like to cover the governance of tree removal permits and maybe a few more things.  

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