Monday, August 5, 2013

Stripped! A new spate of bark stripping threatens Newlands Forest.

Last week Newlands Forest came under a fresh wave of attack from bark strippers reaping bark for cash. The targeted species this time is boekenhout (Rapanea melanophloes), a species most prevalent in the younger forest, and easily identifiable by its lenticelled bark and pink flush of young leaves. Patricia Littlewort, "custodian" of Newlands Forest who has been walking and documenting the forest for over sixty years found the trees following a description of the locality by Sean Archer.

Over 25 trees were counted in an initial assessment by Patricia and myself, representing the largest single attack on Newlands Forest to date. Bark stripping has been responsible for some of the largest trees in the forest, including a massive >500 year old cape olive, succumbing to starvation. The phloem in bark carries the nourishment for the plant from the leaves to the roots. By ringbarking the tree this nourishment is effectively cut off, leaving the tree to slowly die from root starvation over several months.

It has been argued that trees regenerate after bark stripping - not so in Newlands Forest. The summer-drought period in the SW Cape means that the plant dessicates and experiences stress during summer. This is the period when growing and regeneration of stripped bark would take place in summer-rainfall regimes. If this stress doesn't kill off the tree, the tree is left defenseless without its bark, so the stripped area becomes a site of both insect and fungal infection.

What is to be done about it? More policing? Fix the holes in the fence? 
I recommend coming up with a technological solution providing electronic eyes and ears for the forest. A similarly technological solution has been implemented in the amazon with cellphones that "listen" for the sound of chainsaws ( 
We could use relatively cheap Arduino chips or something similar (eg. linked to mobile phones, cameras and trip beams. These should be placed strategically, and if the switch is triggered, a photo gets sent to headquarters or an internet site for threat assessment. This could be locally developed, and would cost a fraction of the cost of increased policing. 

Contact David on to get involved in funding or developing such a system.
Twitter: @TNBloganist

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