Heritage Forum

Stellenbosch oaks in danger

Mar 11, 2016 | Forum, News

Some of Stellenbosch’s oldest oak trees have become a danger. A mother and her baby narrowly escaped serious injuries when parts of a tree in Ryneveld Street collapsed and permanently damaged a parked car. In another incident, parts of Ryneveld Street between Kerk Street and Dorp Street were closed to traffic because one of the oldest trees, planted two centuries ago, was clearly ripping apart. Residents spotted the tears because the top part of the tree was leaning awkwardly and because of the noise coming from the gaping crack in the wind.



Many of the trees are ill – because of age or other factors – and a lot of cutting and pruning has been done lately in an attempt to manage the situation.

Ms Portia Bolton, Head of Greening, said the municipality has the necessary plans in place to manage the town’s historical trees. “The trees are managed according to a risk inventory done in 2012 and 2015, as well as a leave fungi management programme that takes place twice a year.” Ms Bolton noted that the municipality is also busy developing a strategic tree management system, which was designed for this specific goal, assisting with the proactive management of the trees.

The historical archaeologist Hennie Vos explains that the problem is partly caused by the trees’ shallow root system, which spreads out under the tree, instead of a deeper tap root system. Vos says the trees’ root systems “needs water and nutrients to feed the tree. Because the Stellenbosch oaks are surrounded by paving, tarred roads and buildings, they find it very difficult.” The town centre, mainly a built environment, is also very dry, where the water tables have to a large extent dried up. The paving under the trees keep the falling leaves from forming humus that in turn acts as food for the trees.

According to Vos the trees are experiencing immense stress “because of the environment in which they must grow … The older trees in town are simply being pruned, which actually weakens them further. Trees are similar to old people and need care, which will enable them to reach a very advanced age.”

In another article in the Eikestadnuus Riaan van Zyl, described as an expert on trees, is of the opinion that it wouldn’t have been necessary to remove any trees, were they better looked after to begin with. He does not agree with council’s notice that the removal of 80 old trees are considered due to the presence of a certain fungus which leads to their weakened structural integrity. “Flexibility and structure are kept in the cylindrical form of the tree. All oaks in Stellenbosch, especially the older trees, will look the same as those trees doomed to be removed.” He wants this plan to be reconsidered.

SHF is creating an inventory of trees as an extension of a heritage survey of 500 buildings in the town centre.

Also see previous article about old trees and when a tree is regarded as heritage.

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