L Hendricks on first Champion Trees

30 Jan 2007
Water Affairs and Forestry proclaims first Champion Trees

30 January 2007

The Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Mrs Lindiwe Hendricks,
proclaimed the first 21 Champion Trees as protected under the National Forests
Act No 84 of 1998 in the Government Gazette of Wednesday, 6 December 2006.
These are individual trees and groups of trees short-listed by a panel of
experts from a list of proposed trees, considered to be of national
conservation importance. This declaration comes a year after an initial list of
trees was published for comment.

Among the listed trees are:

* the famous Tsitsikamma Big Tree along the Garden Route
* the Post Office Milkwood Tree of Mossel Bay
* Sagole baobab in Limpopo province (largest tree in South Africa)
* Camphor trees planted at Vergelegen Estate three centuries ago.

During 2006 each of the trees had to be visited, measured and evaluated by
officials of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF). Of the trees
on the initial shortlist, two were destroyed by storm winds and another by
fire. During August last year a strong wind toppled the tallest tree in Africa,
a Saligna gum tree of more than 81 metres tall. A storm also destroyed most of
the largest Cluster fig in the country, on the south coast of
KwaZulu-Natal.

In Cradock, a historic Holly oak planted more than a century and a half ago,
was seriously damaged by a fire and finally destroyed by a property owner who
feared that the tree may fall over. The rest of the trees on the list now
proclaimed appear to be sturdy and in good health, except for a large River Red
gum tree (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) on the Bergzicht Square in Stellenbosch
which appears to be infested with a sap-sucking insect called Thaumastocoris
austraulicus. Another exception is the Sophiatown Oak in Johannesburg which
died more than a year ago and of which the site is maintained due to its
historic significance. The mutilation of this tree by a property owner led to
the initiation of the Champion Tree project, aimed at pro-actively protecting
trees of national importance and sparing them from a similar fate.

The search is now on for the next tallest tree among the grove of Saligna
gum trees in Woodbush Forest Estate in Limpopo province, where the tallest tree
was toppled by wind. These trees were planted in 1906 and many of them are
close to 80 metres tall, which means that the next contender will still rate as
the tallest tree in Africa. Although slender, the Woodbush trees are almost
twice as tall as the Tsitsikamma big tree, an Outeniqua yellowwood along the
Garden Route that receives more than 80 000 visitors per year.

The Champion Tree Project has entered an exciting phase, with new
discoveries of exceptionally large trees. In Aderne Gardens in Cape Town an
enormous Indian rubber fig was measured by officials. It has a trunk
circumference of more than 11 metres and a crown diameter of more than 44
metres. Applying the international formula for tree size that combines height,
trunk size and crown diameter, it was discovered that this tree has a size
index similar to the Sagole baobab in Limpopo province. This means that the
title for largest tree in the country is now shared by two trees at the
opposite ends of South Africa, one an indigenous tree in the far north and the
other an exotic tree in the far south.

A new cycle of nominations for Champion Trees begins at the start of August
each year, while the nominations of the previous cycle are then evaluated by
DWAF and its panel of experts. At the second evaluation session of this panel
in October last year, it was also recommended that a logo be developed for the
Champion Tree Project, to appear on plaques to be erected at all the declared
trees around the country. A nomination form is available on the DWAF website
(http://www.dwaf.gov.za/forestry).

Enquiries:
Mr Ephraim Monyemoratho
Assistant Director: Forestry Regulation
E-mail: monyemorathoe@dwaf.gov.za

Mr Izak van der Merwe
E-mail: vandermerwei@dwaf.gov.za

Issued by: Department of Water Affairs and Forestry
30 January 2007
Source: Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (http://www.dwaf.gov.za/)