Platbos Forest

Platbos & The Reforestation Project

As of June 2022, 93299 forest trees from the Platbos Nursery have been sponsored for planting in our Reforestation Sites.

~ Plant a Tree, Grow the Forest and Give the Gift of Growth ~

The Reforestation of Platbos Forest Reserve & the Uilkraal Valley

Background

Platbos is a botanically unique forest. It is also a rare and endangered ecosystem. Indigenous forests cover less than 0.05% of the Western Cape Province. Only 0.5% of the entire land surface of South Africa is forested today.

“Platbos is uniquely special and should at all cost be conserved and protected for future generations.”

Professor Eugene Moll & Dr Bruce McKenzie

Platbos grows on an ancient sand dune located a few kilometres inland from the coastal town of Gansbaai in the Western Cape. Platbos is Africa’s southernmost indigenous forest with trees estimated to be well over one thousand years of age. Referred to as a relic, or remnant forest, Platbos dates back in time to when much of the Cape Lowlands were clothed in primal forest. With the gradual heating up of the Earth, most of these lowland forests retreated to the damp protection of the mountain kloofs. In their stead came the drought-tolerant, fire-adapted Fynbos.

 

Platbos Forest Reserve – 50 hectares in extent – is surrounded by Agulhas Limestone Fynbos and degraded lands with high densities of invasive alien plant infestations such as Rooikrans, Spider gum and Port Jackson from Australia.

 

Classified as lowland Afromontane Forest, Platbos is quite distinct from coastal thicket which is dominated by Milkwood trees. After Grootvadersbosch Forest near Swellendam, we believe Platbos to be one of the largest remaining fragments of old growth forest between Knysna and Table Mountain.

In 1957, Botanist HC Taylor wrote:

“When I first saw Uilkraal (i.e. Platbos) Forest, some nine years ago in 1948, I could hardly believe my eyes …I spent my weekends there, seeking a solution to the problem of its origins…..In the past, perhaps over two hundred years ago, the forest must have been much larger than it is today…That which remains must be protected – and soon.”
Journal of the Botanical Society of South Africa, 1957.

As has happened to forests the world over, in the past large areas of the greater Platbos – the Uilkraal Forest – were cleared for cultivation. Our research – based on aerial photos dating back to 1938, as well as historic and anecdotal records – has revealed that Italian prisoners of war were put to work harvesting timber in Platbos and neighbouring forests in the 1940’s. In addition, large areas were cleared for potatoes, chillies and grazing for cattle in the years that followed. Locals felled forest trees such as the milkwoods, hard pears and white pears for their valuable, workable timber. Other trees were harvested for firewood.

Present-day dangers: from Forest to Fire

Where forest was felled, dense stands of flammable invasive aliens subsequently took hold. Cleared for agriculture, the sandy soil soon lost its fertility. Subsequently abandoned, these fields were rapidly colonized by alien trees. The Acacia Cyclops “Rooikrans” burns ferociously. During the devastating fires of 2006, two indigenous forests near Platbos – one moist kloof forest and one coastal thicket – were severely damaged. In 2019, a wild fire that blazed along the coast decimated the Franskraal Milkwood Forest – alien trees have now overtaken this forest. If they are not removed, and soon, this once substantial Milkwood thicket will be further diminished by this lethal cycle of fire and alien infestation, and in a matter of years from now, it will be lost in its entirety.

Gradual climate change over the millennia, alien vegetation, and a “fynbos orientated” fire management policy, all combine to make forests such as Platbos dependant on human help for their survival.

From Fire to Forest: The Platbos Reforestation Project is Born

Following the 2006 fires that burnt large areas of neighbouring land and further fragmented small patches of nearby forest in the Uilkraal Valley, Francois Krige and Melissa (Krige) Saayman, the owners and custodians of Platbos since 2005, initiated the Platbos Reforestation Project. They realized that if they were not proactive in removing the aliens on the edge of Platbos, a similar fate awaited the forest. In addition, extensive fire breaks were created to protect Platbos from alien vegetation growing on neighbouring properties. The bulk of these operations were funded through tree sponsorships, royalties derived from the Forest Accommodation, and a donation from the Parker Family of Elandsberg Nature Reserve who funded the creation of a 1.8 km, 30 metre-wide fire break around the most vulnerable edge of the forest in 2012.

Greenpop-logoOur thanks to Greenpop, our primary Reforestation Partner, for supporting our Reforestation Project through the purchase of tens of thousands of forest trees since 2011! Greenpop’s support of our vision and Reforestation Project through the annual purchase of thousands of our Platbos nursery trees – has not only hugely accelerated our Reforestation Project, but in addition has helped to fund the alien clearing and fire-break creation that are critically important for protecting and conserving this ancient yet fragile forest ecosystem. Thank you from all at Platbos!


In addition, their Reforest Fests – held annually at Platbos from 2011 to 2019 – saw hundreds of people planting trees and celebrating the importance of forests. Thanks and gratitude to each and every participant for playing such an active role in the rehabilitation of Platbos. The Reforest Fests have now moved to Bodhi Khaya Nature Retreat.

Greenpop’s ongoing support has not only hugely accelerated our reforestation projects, but in addition, has helped to fund the alien clearing, the creation of fire-breaks – and their annual maintenance – which are all critical for protecting and conserving both the reforestation sites and the ancient forest itself.

As of 2011, the dense stands of aliens on the Reserve have been painstakingly removed and processed into firewood and woodchip (the latter being used as mulch: an integral component of the reforestation process) and today we are proud that the 50-hectare Reserve is now 99% clear of alien trees.

Declaration of Platbos Forest Nature Reserve

In August 2018, after years and years of relentless campaigning,

Platbos was legally declared a privately owned Provincial Forest Reserve.

Surrounded by a sea of aliens and tucked away in a valley, this ancient, bonsai-like forest was all but hidden and unknown when the present-day owners bought it in 2005. Amazingly, at that time, the property was zoned for Agriculture and official forestry documents listed the area on which it grows as “disturbed agricultural land”.
Previous wildfires had burnt through the impenetrable alien thickets and destroyed ancient trees on the edge of the forest. Fire wood cutters were illegally cutting down protected trees on the forest edge and hunting snares were strewn around the forest. Fortunately, the majority of the 50-hectare forested property remained essentially intact and untouched.

“Platbos Forest is A National Treasure”

~ Cartographer Peter Slingsby

One of Melissa and Francois’ tasks was to rectify the gross error of Platbos being listed as “disturbed agricultural land” – and to ensure that the forest received its rightful recognition as a National Forest Treasure and thus safeguard it for perpetuity. It is gratifying that Cape Nature acknowledged its botanical uniqueness by awarding Platbos Contract Nature Reserve status.

“Being recognized as a Contract Nature Reserve is not an easy task and the approval process is a rigorous one – such status is only awarded to properties with high conservation value, in terms of uniqueness, biodiversity and connectivity to the landscape. Platbos is an extremely unique forest and contributes enormously to conserving the last remnants of lowland forest in the Western Cape.”

~ Odette Curtis, Environmental Consultant to CapeNature (17 March 2011).

Through their commitment, the present owners have ensured that their legacy of conservation will live on for perpetuity: no matter who owns the forest in the future, Platbos will be rigorously protected by law. In addition, their forest management plan – endorsed by Cape Nature and the Platbos Conservation Trust – now forms the basis for the ongoing conservation of the forest for generations to come.
Ten million trees programme certificate
Since 2005, Platbos has featured on television programmes such as “50/50”, “Pasella” and “Kwela”, and in numerous publications and radio shows. In 2012 Francois and Melissa’s dedication and work for the forest was acknowledged by WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) for their “determined and successful efforts to conserve a very special and endangered natural forest ecosystem near Gansbaai through the planting of thousands of additional endemic trees, ensuring protection from fires, integrating the forest into the curriculum and local economy and rezoning the land from agriculture to conservation.”

Methodology of the Reforestation Project

The aim of this initiative is to clear the aliens that pose a fire threat to the forest, and to reforest with endemic forest trees. In this way, not only is the fire risk to the forest greatly reduced, but the forest itself, and the biodiversity it supports, is reintroduced back into the landscape. The scope of the project goes way beyond tree planting: it is about reinstating the forest canopy and the biodiversity that this supports.
After consulting Forest Ecologist Prof Geldenhuys, Botanist Prof Moll and Mr Otto Pienaar from the Department of Water Affairs & Forestry (DWAF), Francois and Melissa began the Platbos Reforestation Project in 2008. Through their understanding of the fire dynamics of the landscape, and the ecology and geology of the area, they were able to identify the parts of the disturbed landscape that were suitable for reforestation i.e. areas that had been forested in the relatively recent past (afforestation, in contrast to reforestation, is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees in an area where there was no previous tree cover).

The Platbos Reforestation Project is a pioneer of its type in the Western Cape. Trees, endemic to Platbos, are planted densely together in order to recreate the forest canopy and so shade the ground as quickly as possible. The methodology of the tree planting is based on observations and personal studies of the unique ecology of Platbos. Seedlings are sustainably harvested from the forest floor and grown on at the nursery until they are ready for transplanting.

The reforestation tree planting takes place during the cooler winter months (May to the end of July) each year. Should you wish to plant a tree in person, you need to please schedule a special appointment – during these winter months – well ahead of time with Francois Krige (Reforestation & Tree Nursery appointments: +27 (0)82 6580427. Please send a WhatsApp message or email trees@platbos.co.za.

For practical reasons, it is not possible to label the sponsored trees but if you would like to visit the Reforestation sites to see the areas where the trees have been planted, you are most welcome. Please see information on our Forest Trail Page for directions to Platbos and the related entrance fees.

GPS co-ordinates for the reforestation area:
34°34’12.2″S 19°26’50.1″E

The Platbos Reforestation Project map
Click on the map to see the location of the Platbos reforestation area on Google maps

The vision of this initiative goes beyond the borders of the 50-hectare Platbos Forest Reserve and extends to neighbouring lands that were once forested

The greater dream is to create green corridors connecting Platbos to other kloof forests and nature reserves, to see alien vegetation removed and the pristine vegetation of the landscape – a mosaic of forest and Fynbos – returned to the land.

We are pleased to be working towards this vision with the continued support of Greenpop and neighbouring conservationists – Bodhi Khaya and Farm 215 – and to have the support of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy.

The Reforestation Project is managed under the auspices of the Platbos Conservation Trust, a Nonprofit Organization (Registration Number: 086-576-NPO).

Platbos is member of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy, Conservation at Work and the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association.