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Bark stripping in Newlands Forest

As regular walkers in/worshippers of Newlands Forest we wince when we come across trees that have been stripped of their bark. Here is some information about bark stripping from the Newlands Forest Conservation community group.

What is bark stripping?

Bark stripping is the illegal harvesting of tree bark for private use by individuals. Tree bark has been used in traditional medicines and rituals for centuries in many parts of Africa and the rest of the world as well. It is widely used in South Africa by traditional healers in medicines and potions (“muti”).

Is bark an effective medicine?

Scientific studies have shown that most tree bark, especially near the base of the tree, has a low concentration of active ingredients. The efficacy of tree bark as a natural medicine is highly questionable and unproven.

Why is bark stripping so destructive?

The function of tree bark is to protect the internal energy transport systems of the tree. These internal systems are responsible for the transport of nutrients and water between the leaves and roots. Once the bark is removed, these systems dry out and the tree can no longer feed itself.

Removal of even a vertical strip of bark will harm the tree. Ring barking (also called girdling) is when the bark is removed from the entire circumference of the tree. Ring barking will almost certainly kill the tree.

Who is stripping the trees?

The current situation in Newlands Forest is one of independent harvesters coming into the forest and illegally stripping the bark from trees and then selling it as a commodity to traditional healers and other end-users. Given the fact that less then 0.5% of South Africa is covered by forest, it is probable that the strippers are harvesting and then transporting the bark to other parts of the country as well.

Is bark stripping legal?

It is illegal to remove or harvest any plant or tree (or part thereof) from any national park or nature reserve in South Africa.

Newlands Forest is part of Table Mountain National Park and is strictly protected by the same laws that govern all the national parks in South Africa. Legally, Newlands Forest has the same status as the Kruger National Park, for example.

How widespread is the problem?

We do not currently have an accurate figure for the number of trees in Newlands Forest that have been stripped, but it is certainly in the hundreds, if not thousands. The practice, which has been happening for at least 20 years in Newlands, has recently increased. 

But what about peoples right to practice their traditional beliefs?

Bark stripping is a complex issue. Certainly, people have the right to practice traditional beliefs. And historically, when forests were widespread and people were few, this was probably a sustainable practice, along with the harvesting of other products from the forest. But the situation today is one of tiny pockets of remaining forest and an ever-increasing number of people.

Worldwide, the future of humanity depends on communities ability to adapt to the new realities of a world that looks dramatically different to what it did a generation ago.

We believe that bark stripping is not sustainable and the damage to the last remaining pockets of indigenous forest is robbing future generations of an irreplaceable asset. The trade in illegal tree bark is as destructive as the trade in rhino horn.

What is the way forward?

We believe the way forward is through a combination of education and immediate and urgent action to try to save the few remaining pockets of indigenous forest on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain so that they can be enjoyed by future generations.  

We have to find a different path Can you help us Ixo

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