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I want to draw your attention to the current state of our nation’s yellowwood forests.
Dr Steve Boyes at the site of recent illegal logging of yellowwood trees in the Wolfridge Forest, one of the last-remaining intact Afromontane forest patches in South Africa that has been earmarked for protection. In 1994, the new ANC government inherited a policy of sustainable timber harvesting in yellowwood forests from a regime focused on self-sufficiency during the Apartheid years. Hala Village in the valleys below Hogsback Mountain where Cape parrots used to feed on yellowwood fruits, Celtis fruits, wild olives, and wild plums before they were chopped out by greedy colonists or burnt under communal land ownership. There is a shocking example in the harvesting records compiled by DAFF in King William’s Town for the period April 1994 to March 1995. The core vision of the “Amathole Forest Yellowwood Harvesting Levels” technical report by DAFF reads: “Forests are managed for people and we need to create an enabling environment for economic and social development through sustainable forestry, especially at the local level”.
For centuries the best furniture, homes, boats and luxury goods were made from shining yellowwood timber.
If you care about our natural heritage, you must institute a zero tolerance, zero harvesting quota for the Outeniqua yellowwood (Afrocarpus falcatus) and real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius) for the whole of South Africa under any circumstances. Legal and illegal harvesting of yellowwoods happens even though these trees are nationally protected. One of a small grove of large, emergent yellowwood trees between 250 and 1,500 years old in the Aukland Forest Reserve, the only protected area along the Amathole Mountain Range and one of the last-remaining patches of large yellowwoods in South Africa. The Wild Bird Trust volunteers to establish a website for the location and photo of all “Heritage Trees”, so that every South Africans can find these magnificent trees in their area and even report back on their condition or send in a photos. Over 200 yellowwood seedlings ready for distribution to micro-nurseries in the surrounding villages. A load of yellowwod saplings ready to be moved to the planting sites below the Hogsback Mountains (behind). We ask you, as concerned citizens and a public benefit organisation, to recognize officially that our natural heritage is more important than natural resource use, announcing that saving our remaining yellowwood forests is a national priority. Yellowwood sapling planted in an Afromontane forest patch in the Amathole Mountains where very few yellowwood trees remain. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the future of our indigenous forests and our national tree. I fully support your cause and agree that we need to build a proud and sustainable SA with resources that we are proud of and that we carefully nurture and protect for future generations.
First of all let me start by saying thank you for the amazing job you are doing getting the word out there. It was really inspiring and motivating to see someone doing some real effort to save the forests and trees.
I wonder when man will again get to see giant grandfather trees watching over the earth; standing tall, composed and steadfast like saints. I hope this plea mobilises the South African Govt to aid and work with the NGO’s to protect what remaining forests there are.
It marks the end of a very hard era for the country, and comes at the same time as the first non-racial elections held in the country after more than 340 years of white domination.
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Get into a game of volleyball, try the climbing wall and swimming pool or the Longtable pub that provides the perfect setting for legendary revelries and gob-smacking nosh. A socio-economic truth for Africa is that we have the most untapped natural and human resources on Earth.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has never had the specific mandate to restore our national forests. On the right is the Aukland Forest reserve with some large yellowwoods remaining and the new smallholdings on the left with domesticated fruit and nut trees.
We need to restore degraded forest habitat and provide temporary solutions to existing problems like nest boxes to to supplement the availability of suitable nest cavities.

Each of these community members represents a household with a micro-nursery with 100 yellowwood saplings. These records account for 81 real yellowwood (Umcheya) and 32 Outeniqua yellowwood (Umkhoba) trees that were harvested from indigenous forest in the Amathole Mountains that year. Just look at this radically altered landscape that used to have elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards and much else.
We, the Wild Bird Trust, are fully supportive of this vision and work with local communities to grow and plant trees in our indigenous forests everyday. Named for the beauty of its wood, yellowwood adorns our parliament, estate homes, courts, embassies, and old bank buildings. Permits are, however, still active that allow sawmills to harvest yellowwood trees up to their quota every year. None of the sawmills or harvesting contractors that sell or cut down yellowwood will go bankrupt or lose their jobs, as these businesses depend on blackwood timber to be profitable.
The Afromontane forest patches of the Amatholes used to have thousands of these amazing trees side-by-side in impressive 40m-tall stands. Old people in the villages near the Amathole Mountains have seen their ancestral forests destroyed and replaced with pine and Australian wattle.
We are proud of our rich natural heritage here in South Africa and cannot let another yellowwood tree be felled. I feel very strong about this situation and think drastic changes are needed in order to somehow grab the attention of those in higher places. I am a carpener’s son who has appreciated the beauty of a yellow wooden table, stairs, cabinets, flooring etc.
I am planning to start my own production line stemming from his business shortly and through this I intend to create a fund from each item sold which will go to organisations simmilar to the Wild Bird Trust in order to assist getting rid of the alien scum and plant yellows. I am possitive that the R&D departments of most of the established mills would shine some light on the situation. Cherishing and conserving the remaining wilderness areas in South Africa is absolutely key for the long term viability of South Africa’s tourist industry, not to mention the many environmental reasons for endorsing conservation of these forests.
It is composed of two bands, red and blue, and a black triangle bordered by gold at the hoist, all separated by a green band. Endlessly excited about discovering the world through travel, I’m particularly passionate about art, history, wine & spirits, cuisine, gardens and animals — as well as humor. This amazing tree takes your breath away when you approach it and appreciate its size and grandeur. Now is the time to carefully guard this competitive edge and make sure that we use our natural resources sustainably and protect our beautiful natural heritage. For the last 20 years, indigenous forest management on government land has been increasingly underfunded after the privatization of most commercially viable plantations and forest plots. Cape Parrots are having to rely on the smallholdings, as the forest fruits are too few and are hard to find.
Many other forests disappeared in the centuries to follow as more settlers and migrants arrived to build colonies using indigenous timber felled by European “wood-cutters”, government foresters and Xhosa pit-sawyers. We have also launched a micro-nursery program that builds small tree nurseries for ten households in the village, which are stocked with yellowwood seedlings that must be grown up to planting size. This vision is, however, made impossible by the ongoing harvesting of yellowwood trees and events like the felling of over 100 large yellowwoods in one year.
Yellowwood is an important part of our natural heritage, culture, and even economic development. Unbelievably every year 50 or more large yellowwood trees are marked for extraction by government foresters. Blackwood is an invasive species from Australia with wonderful fine, red wood that is sought after by furniture manufacturers that pay up to R15,000 per cubic meter.
This could be done through carbon trading, extracting tannins from wattle bark, and even well-funded, long-term tree-planting programs managed by non-profit NGOs.
We, the Wild Bird Trust, herewith officially ask you to intervene by providing us with the necessary funding to plant the first 1 million yellowwood trees and mark all “Heritage Trees” in South Africa. I am a loyal citizen and servant of the Republic of South Africa and will gladly give of my time to solve this problem. While the black, green and yellow are a clear reference to the African National Congress (ANC, which was created and forbidden because he defended the country's black majority), red and blue are a symbol of the peoples’ union in South Africa, as it represents the white people, long time oppressor. In just a few generations we have forgotten what these forests even looked like and accepted how they appear today. This is Africa’s century and we need to make sure that we have something to show for it in one hundred years time. The truth is we are not doing enough to protect and restore our national forests and hundreds of villages, towns and cities depend on goods and services from these threatened forests. Just 350 years ago there were hundreds of thousands more large, tall yellowwood trees dominating the high canopy of an archipelago of Afromontane and southern Afrotemperate yellowwood forest patches along the south coast of South Africa from George to Humansdorp, up through the Eastern Cape, Transkei, and southern Drakensberg, and all the way north to Magoesbaskloof in the Limpopo Province. According to local Xhosa people living along the Amathole Mountains, yellowwood trees have been widely exploited for over one hundred years and the older people have seen the forests decline and disappear in their lifetimes. The fishing industry needs constant regulation and management to avoid permanent damage to our fisheries.
Most local people do not benefit from yellowwood timber sales, while the ability of their indigenous forest patches to produce food, poles, building materials, clean water, fuel wood, thatching grass, and medicinal plants has almost irreparably been diminished. By the late 1800s the demand for yellowwood had worked its way up the coastline past Knysna and Tsitsikamma into the Amathole Mountains and KwaZulu-Natal. The equivalent of 600 cubic meters of yellowwood timber or anywhere between 20 and 100 large yellowwood trees are felled legally each year in the Amathole region alone.
From the perspective of the harvesting contractors with 70-year permits to cut yellowwood trees, the yellowwood harvesting quotas are almost impossible to use, as trees suitable for harvesting are very rare (i.e. Removing blackwood from the Amathole Mountains and other catchments around South Africa helps our indigenous forests, removing large yellowwoods irreversibly harms them.
Government, public benefit organisations and local community-run enterprises are going to be the key to rebuilding our national forests. The restoration of our yellowwood forests in South Africa presents us with a development model that supports natural resource management and enterprise development in poorer provinces like the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
I live in Hogsback Village in the Amathole Mountains, own land there, will raise a family there, and am dedicated to restoring the indigenous forests of our great country.
I have also shared in my visits to knysna and stood in awe of the grotesque yellows scraping the skies above.

Symbol drawn by the green band evokes, according to the designers of the flag: "The convergence of the various elements of the South African society which moves forward together and in unison". I would like to propose that it officially made the responsibility of every South African to rebuild our national forests, while government (DAFF) oversees, facilitates, licenses, co-funds and supports non-profit NGOs and local cooperatives that plant indigenous trees and tend to the forests along with local communities.
For many years the Tribal Authorities in the old Ciskei had forest guards under a mandate to sell yellowwood trees to timber companies.
If, one day for example, local people want to legally hunt in these forests again, we would need to let our remaining intact forest patches recover for at least two generation. Most of this yellowwood timber was used to produce the millions of railway sleepers and mining timbers necessary to sustain an explosive boom in the mining industry. The fact is that, if we continue, legal and illegal logging will very soon destroy our national forests. This list will include all protected indigenous trees over 150-years-old throughout South Africa. After our “Heritage Trees” have been clearly marked and protected, senior scientists at DAFF must supervise the development of new sustainable harvesting quotas for indigenous trees under 150-years-old.
Carbon trading is a huge opportunity, as most of the yellowwood trees planted cannot ever be felled.
A small handful of people have made a lot of money from logging and sawmilling yellowwood trees at a catastrophic cost to the remaining forests. I have wonderful friends at DAFF in King William’s Town and look forward to working more closely with them in the future. Other interpretations relate to country's natural wealth, and the blood shed by the apartheid fighters for red. Healthy indigenous forests are a direct reflection of the moral and social development of a country.
Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) programs like Working for Water and Working for Fire would benefit hugely from independently-funded non-profit NGOs and community-run cooperatives planting millions of indigenous trees in areas where invasive trees like Australian wattle are currently being removed. We need to overhaul government forestry in South Africa, end the harvesting of our national tree, and invest in the restoration of these important forests. Our national forests need more than 25 years of intensive re-planting and restoration followed by 25 more years of recovery before we can say they are even on their way to recovery. By 1900, we had already decimated most of our yellowwood forests through excessive and wasteful cutting, burning and clearing geared at keeping up with demand. We have seen more yellowwood tree poaching in the last three years than in previous years and record the loss of important yellowwood trees every year. With government backing all proudly South African businesses and corporates will support the planting of millions of yellowwoods with disadvantaged rural communities that need jobs.
It is safe to say that we now sit with less than 10% of the yellowwood trees we had 350 years ago. My dad, a kind and hard working man has not really supported organisations focussed on ecological wellbeing and therefore I feel somehow responsible as the next generation to do so. We need to repurpose the role played by both DAFF and DEA in indigenous forest management to atone for the catastrophic damage done to our national forests by previous regimes, marginalized local communities, and colonial powers.
Older people remember the yellowwood trees, the Umkhoba and Umcheya, as the “government trees” that were guarded jealously from local communities by forest guards. This will be our legacy to future generations and will uplift poor rural communities dependent on these forests. Some desperate local communities in the Transkei region are burning yellowwood as firewood. For example, we have found evidence yellowwood trees poisoned with diesel to kill them for harvesting the next year. We will build hundreds of small “micro-nurseries” and benefit thousands of people during the restoration of our national forests.
Now is the time to protect our golden indigenous forests. Right now there are harvesting contractors targeting the last-remaining intact yellowwood forest patches, eroding our natural heritage every day that yellowwood extraction continues. The new government-endorsed yellowwood harvesting protocols actually support the targeting of healthier yellowwood trees than before due to contractors complaining about poor timber quality. The trees are getting smaller, the forests are getting thinner, and the canopies are getting lower, as exotic trees invade our open spaces and water catchments.
In 1994, these local communities started cutting down and selling large yellowwood trees as a symbol of freedom after the repressive Tribal Authorities had been abandoned as part of our new democracy.
Today, only a handful of yellowwood trees over 500-years-old remain scattered in remote, degraded forest patches protected from historical and illegal logging by inaccessibility, proud landowners and local foresters.
The technical report uses inappropriate sample plots in unsuitable locations to justify ongoing harvesting of both yellowwood tree species. DAFF got this quickly under control, but today the local communities still complain about rampant illegal logging by “people from other parts of the Eastern Cape”.
In King William’s Town and Keiskammahoek (Eastern Cape) you can see 200, even 300-year-old yellowwood trees being chopped up at saw mills. It is clear that there is a need for better record-keeping and annual auditing of annual yellowwood harvesting quotas.
We need to break down this culture of exploitation and the association of yellowwood trees with “gold and money”.
Yellowwood planks are now valued at up to R25,000 ($3,000) per cubic meter, an increase in value of over 400% in the last 6 years. We need external auditors to make sure that healthy yellowwood trees are not being marked and felled. This sets a high price for our natural heritage, as legal yellowwood timber is getting harder to source and prices are being driven even higher.

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