Trees are becoming almost sacred in a world constantly battling against carbon emissions and their resultant climate change with its dire ripple effects on every sphere of our planetâ€™s functioning. Nothing represents life, growth and vigour like an ancient, sturdy tree.
Hidden on the slopes of the Baviaanskloof hills, just beyond Gansbaai, is 70ha of indigenous forest. A rare and aw-inspiring site in this part of Fynbos country. Platbos Forest is privately owned by Francois and Melissa Krige, who made it their home in 2005. It boasts 13 tree species, some as old as 1000 years and transports visitors to a green wonderland where pollution is a foreign concept. Together with their two children, this family redefines the concept of â€˜treading lightlyâ€™, using only renewable energy to power their wooden house in the forest.
The name â€˜Platbosâ€™ translates to â€˜flat forest or bushâ€™, aptly describing the initial image one forms of this area. At first glance, this forest is easily mistaken for alien vegetation and consequently became known as the Overstrandâ€™s best kept secret. The word is quickly spreading though, since this densely canopied jewel has survived the gradual temperature incline over the years and boasts with the wrinkled, twisted branches and roots that seem to carry the centuriesâ€™ wisdom.
trees & fynbos grow in harmony
What few visitors realise, however, is that Platbos used to stretch right through the valley, covering a presumed 500ha and growing in perfect harmony with the coastal Fynbos vegetation.
‘For the last 300 years people have come to this forest to take. We are here to give back to this ancient valley.â€ These are the words of Francois, explaining he and Melissaâ€™s absolute passion to restore the forest to its former glory and raise awareness about this rare treasure. They launched the Trees for Tomorrow reforestation project in 2008, encouraging visitors to donate trees that they will then plant on the forestâ€™s edges. More than 2700 of these trees have already been planted.
But recently, their vision to expand the forest back through the valley suddenly flourished. Together with Helen Turnbull, founder of Serendipity Africa and Maarten Groos, owner Farm 215, the neighbouring Fynbos eco-retreat, a new initiative was created. Trees for Tourism is a large scale reforestation project that hopes to encourage the local tourism industry to get involved with restoring this valley. Farm 215 is the pioneering site and, thanks to a beneficiary from Cape Town, 12 000 trees have been planted on the farm over the last 4 months. All the trees came from the Platbos nursery, skillfully maintained by Francois himself.
learning from observing
In the lower part of one of the gorges of Farm 215, alien vegetation that infested after agriculture destroyed the indigenous plants have been removed to make way for the new trees. Young trees, sourced from the Platbos nursery and home in the area now reach from the shallow waters to the tip of a nearby peak. These knee length trees canâ€™t reach much higher than the surrounding Fynbos yet, but they bear the hope of a restored forest. Francois wanted to achieve a closed canopy as soon as possible and the trees were therefore planted in close proximity. Further up in the gorge, a small remnant of indigenous forest still remains. The aim is to connect these two areas in recreating a sizable forest.
With no knowledge of how to go about such a large scale endeavour, these tree-enthusiasts had only the forest to teach them. But hours of walking amongst the trees and observing their growth patterns and natural spread made Francois confident that the project will be successful. To boot heâ€™s having fun on the project, as these wonderful creations have a special places in his heart.
This area is well known for its incredible Fynbos vegetation.There has been some concern that these rare and protected species could be damaged by the reforestation, but this is hardly the case. Maarten Groos is adamant to protect these species too. Farm 215 is committed to conserving this largely endemic vegetation. The farm itself is the perfect destination for experiencing the Capeâ€™s pride and joy, with Fynbos reaching endlessly across the slopes.
Another wonderful motivation for rehabilitating the area, is the possibilities it holds for returning wildlife. From the forest floor to the nooks and hollows of the highest branches, a forest like this holds amazing habitat potential for a myriad of creatures. Bushbuck, for instance, nibble on the fresh new shoots while the Knysna and Olive Woodpecker flourish higher up in the branches.
There really is no explaining the value of this initiative as it truly holds the forestâ€™ needs at heart above that of humans. And Helen, Francois and Melissa are definitely not stopping at this. The plan is to encourage other owners in the area to make land available for more trees. Standing at Farm 215, Melissa gestures over the valley and speaks of how amazing it would be to connect all the reforested areas into one band of foliage, making its way from Platbos Forest through the valley.
how you can help
By donating a tree to Trees for Tourism, you too can contribute to this revolution of trees. Visit their website or email Helen Turnbull for more information. Alternately, you can contact Melissa and Francois at Platbos forest via email or visiting the Platbos Forest website.