The early settlers used the natural building resource provided to them by the indigenous forests around the Cape. “After nearly 40 years of exploitation, Simon van der Stel realised that there was going to be a shortage of timber and one hundred young oaks were ordered to be planted on each grant of land in 1689. In the same year he planted 16,000 oak trees on the slopes of Table Mountain,” says Pieter, who as a Master Builder in Timber is a champion of this sustainable resource and natural forest factories from whence it comes.
This initial activity in tree planting subsided when the forests of the Outeniqualand (as the George/Knysna/Tsitsikamma area was known) were discovered in 1711. It seemed that there would be an unlimited and indefinite supply of timber for the construction of ships, harbours and wagons.
“The 200 year exploitation of the indigenous forest changed with the appointment of Captain Christopher Harison in 1856 as part-time conservator of the Tsitsikamma forest. He drummed into the government that these forests were national assets and needed to be preserved and protected for the people of South Africa,” continues Pieter.
With the natural forests protected (up to a point), Harison’s recommendations for Section and Rotation Harvesting were implemented in 1874 and the first recorded exotic plantations were planted in 1876.
Compared to other developing countries, South Africa has (and had) almost no natural forests and even less fast-growing, appropriate structural timber. It had no choice but to develop a world-class forestry industry using exotics.
“By 1943 seventy five per cent of the softwood timber consumed was home-grown as opposed to four per cent before the War. By 1975, the commercial forestry industry employed 120,000 people, plantations covered 1.2 million hectares and there were more than 150 sawmills in South Africa, which was a world leader in plantation forestry.”