Protected tree cut down for development

The yellowood tree before it was cut down.

Arbor Road in Newlands is looking considerably less arboreal after a protected yellowwood tree – reputed to be 100 years old – was chopped down despite attempts to save it.

Word first got out in October last year that the tree was threatened by development, but efforts by arboreal activists Treekeepers to save it came to nought on Tuesday February 7, when it was felled.

Yellowwoods are one of 47 species protected under the National Forests Act, but the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) granted a permit for the removal of the one in Arbor Road.

Treekeepers chairwoman Clare Burgess said they had first heard about plans to fell the tree from a nearby resident. They had hoped to get the yellowwood “champion” status, which would have overridden the DAFF permit.

“We would like to make a fuss over this particular tree as it is located in Arbor Road, Newlands, so the name of the street is very relevant. Sadly, this same street lost an old oak tree in previous years too and only the stump remains “ said Mr Burgess.

Treekeepers is not happy that the department gave the go-ahead for the tree to get the chop without consulting neighbours.

“As the city grows and we densify space in the city, the trees are going to be vulnerable and will be removed. It will change the face of the city. They also add value to our properties, yet they’re the first to be removed,” said Ms Burgess.

DAFF assistant director Izak van der Merwe admits the department made a mistake, but he says they face a lot of pressure from developers. “We are working under pressure, trying to save natural forests and trees and even have landowners or developers taking us to court for not issuing licences. One such case is now going on its fifth year.”

He said DAFF’s regional office had issued the licence to fell the Arbor Road yellowwood, but “this was premature and should have occurred only after all other approvals such as building plan approvals have been done. We are dealing with many such cases, and wherever possible we try to get layouts changed or buildings shifted to save trees”.

He said the developer in the Arbor Road case had zoning rights and that at the time it had seemed as if there was too little leeway to make layout changes. So he had advised the regional office that the department would “regrettably” have to issue a licence to remove the tree.

“I expected them to do so only after all the authorisations like building plan approvals had been done.”

But later Mr Van der Merwe saw a plan from the developers’ architects, MWP Architects, showing an alternative layout, one that would have saved parts of the tree.

“It is a pity I did not see this earlier,” he said.

“After seeing the MWP layout I realised that there could have been other possibilities, and I acknowledge that our decision may have been a mistake. Regrettably, we cannot bring the tree back, and now have to look at the way forward.

“We need to get a list of people within the metropolitan area which we have to consult before licences are issued.”

Anastasia Messaris, of MWP Architects, said they had done everything by the book and considered all alternatives.

“The permit was issued and all alternatives was discussed with the department. The development phase is not for me to disclose,” she said.

Ms Burgess said that there was another yellowwood in Main Road, Claremont, which the organisation is concerned about.

If anyone becomes aware of threats to trees, they should contact the local authority first or nominate trees to be considered Champion Trees to Vukosi Baloi at vukosib@daff.gov.za

The Champion Tree panel sits once every year in late March or April.