Tree activists paint bark strippers into a corner

Volunteer Emily Marshall paints a fever tree. She was joined by her dog, Ziggy.

The TreeKeepers, a Kenilworth-based non-profit organisation, is raising the alarm about tree bark stripping, which is slowly killing trees in forests and urban areas across the city.

A handful of volunteers joined TreeKeepers on Saturday April 22, World Earth Day, to paint around 20 fever trees in a parking area off Palmyra Road and opposite the Claremont railway station.

The founder of TreeKeepers, Hugh Tyrrell, says they want to create awareness and encourage the public to take action.

“Tree bark stripping is a problem that is getting worse so we want to protect the trees in the urban areas and the forests,” he said.

Mr Tyrrell said the trees were on municipal land, but the organisation had been given permission to paint them to deter the bark strippers, who sell the bark to indigenous-medicine traders.

TreeKeepers treasurer Ceridwen Oliver-Evans said they used a basic PVA paint, which was recommended by the City’s arborist.

“We give these trees two coats of paint and we do not paint over the areas where the tree bark has been stripped,” she said.

The paint devalued the bark making it worthless to the tree bark strippers, she said.

Ward councillor Mikhail Manuel raised more than R11 000 for the project through a crowdfunding campaign he launched ahead of running the Two Oceans Half Marathon on Sunday April 16.

”TreeKeepers are doing very important work in the ward to protect the trees and the money raised is to support TreeKeepers in doing their work,” he said.

There were many old trees in the southern suburbs that added to the character of the area, he said.

“When the tree bark is stripped, it restricts food going to the leaves and branches and it results in killing those trees in a number of years,” he said.

Mr Manuel said the paint would not harm the trees.

Last week, the Table Mountain National Park’s Sea, Air and Mountain (SEAM) special operations rangers arrested three bark strippers who were caught stripping trees in Newlands Forest in the early hours of Tuesday April 18.

The rangers ambushed the bark strippers and seized four bags of bark, which led to the arrests, said TMNP manager Megan Taplin.

The team had been in the Newlands area as part of an extended operation to combat illegal bark stripping.

The three suspects were in police custody and had been charged under the National Environment Protected Areas Act, said Ms Taplin.

“It is our hope that they will share more information on other members operating in the area,” she said.

She urged the public to report any suspicious activity to 086 110 6417.

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TreeKeepers members Mary Marshall, left, and Ceridwen Oliver-Evans remove the old paint from the trees before applying more paint.
Painting trees, from left, are TreeKeepers founder Hugh Tyrell, volunteer Patty Hardy and ward councillor Mikhail Manuel.