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Bywaters’ Head of Sustainability, Ed van Reenen, Writes About His Recent Work With Greenpop to aid reforestation in South Africa

Preserving South Africa’s Forests

I recently returned to South Africa for two friends’ weddings and to spend time with family over Christmas. During the trip, I arranged a tree plant through the environmental organisation Greenpop (Bywaters provided funding for the trees, which is part of a wider reforestation charity partnership program). Greenpop has planted over 101,000 trees to date, the majority of these in underprivileged regions and neighbourhoods of southern Africa.

In 2018, Greenpop hosted a tree planting festival in the area around my family’s home near Knysna, on the famous Garden Route of South Africa. Recently this region has been severely affected by fires and water scarcity with devastating consequences. In November last year, 86,000 hectares of land were burnt in just 10 days, 15 people have died, thousands of people were displaced by loss of homes, and 2.5 billion bees have displaced through hive destruction.

Greenpop put me in contact with a local sustainability education centre, Heartland School of Self-sufficiency, a partner for their recent tree planting festival. Mikyle and Ansgar from the Heartland team facilitated a morning of tree planting for myself, Tamzen (my girlfriend) and Bruno (a close pal of mine).

Planting “The Mothers of the Forest”

The site for planting the indigenous trees was on a hillside recently affected by the fires. As the area was largely cleared of forest, a number of the 20 trees we planted were pioneer species which would establish the first foothold of a returning indigenous forest. Mikyle from Heartland said, “We are getting you to plant a number of Keurboom trees. These trees do more than help fight carbon emissions: the Keurbooms fix nitrogen into the soil and pave the way for other indigenous species to establish themselves. They have a nickname, ‘The Mothers of the Forest’.”

Other types of tree which we planted along the hillside were Mahomgany and Cape Ash. As well as volunteer efforts to plant trees, there are a number of paid workers who are aiding the reforestation efforts at Heartland. It was wonderful to see employment being provided in addition to reforestation as the areas work opportunities is scarce.

The morning was physically challenging with us working on a slope to create holes for the trees with hoes and spades, positioning the young sapling trees, and filling these with soil in a manner to create a dam for water retention. We were provided with running water to give the trees roots a good soak on placement in their new homes. It was rewarding work and will be fantastic to return to Heartland in the upcoming years and see the trees growing, and indigenous forest returning to the valley.

A Family Connection

My great-grandfather was one of the settlers to this area and established a forestry and wood furniture business. These activities are in some part to blame for the loss of indigenous forest that has made the area more susceptible to fire and drought. However, in the early Twentieth century, there was an abundance of forest and the environmental sustainability concerns of the last few decades were not even considered.

A good outing and the swim in the farm dam to cool off and wash away the soil was exceptionally refreshing!

The Picture above is of Edward van Reenen, Tamzen, and Bruno planting in an indigenous tree, surrounded by a number of Keurboom saplings sprouting in their soil.


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