Love’s offshoots: Couple rebuilds forest from ground up

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Love’s offshoots: Couple rebuilds forest from ground up

The forest, a pilgrimage for nature lovers, has been officially declared a nature reserve

Journalist


A couple’s dream of growing a tiny forest in the Western Cape came true last week when it was officially declared a nature reserve.
Melissa and Francois Krige have added 50,000 trees to Platbos Forest — so-called because of its stunted vegetation caused by shallow soils — since they discovered it near Hermanus a decade ago, nestled in old sand dunes among fynbos and alien vegetation.
The area is a botanical oddity that has inspired several scientific studies. But it might well have not survived had the Kriges not moved in and created fire breaks to protect it from regular summer infernos. 
Through their efforts, the 50-hectare forest has now become a place of pilgrimage for nature lovers who flock there for tree-planting festivals.
“It was the forest that drew us here,” Melissa Krige told Times Select. “We found it quite by chance.” 
The couple also cleared alien vegetation that had begun infiltrating from the forest edges and bought additional degraded farmland for reforestation.
As a result, Platbos has started to attract more wildlife, including leopards, which roam among ancient Afromontane trees — including a 1,000-year-old yellowwood.  The thicket is small enough to explore in a couple of hours, but deep enough to sustain a thriving forest ecosystem.
The couple now hopes to create “green corridors” by linking Platbos to other forest pockets that have survived generations of tree felling and land clearing for agriculture.
“One of the main benefits of it becoming a nature reserve is that it [conservation status] gets written into the title deeds and it means the forest is protected,” Melissa said.
“It means whoever comes after us will have the same strict conditions. Its story can carry on long past us.”
The Kriges manage an indigenous nursery on the edge of the property and offer accommodation in tented camps and forest cabins. They also maintain a matrix of forest trails that bustle with visitors during annual “reforest” festivals in March when hundreds of people arrive to plant seedlings in demarcated growth corridors.
“There is a greater vision of creating green corridors that allow safe movement of animals,” said Krige, who has lived on the property with her two children since 2008.
She said by far the biggest threat to the project was the increasing frequency of fires, partly because of climate change and population growth.
“As a result of that, summers are very stressful. But having been afforded nature reserve status means that the forest has been flagged, which means it needs a different management approach – and that will help us with our conservation.”
CapeNature spokesperson Marietjie Engelbrecht said the newly proclaimed Platbos reserve would need to fulfil the same requirements as any provincial nature reserve.
“The landowners have partnered with CapeNature to assist them with their vision for protecting and restoring the remnant forest in perpetuity. To this end CapeNature has supported them with the declaration process and is pleased to finally have Platbos Forest declared as a nature reserve,” Engelbrecht said.
“The owners should be commended for their determination and have been instrumental in proactively managing the forest. The core forest area is now entirely clear of invasive alien plant species.
“These woody alien species pose one of the biggest threats to the forest as they are highly flammable and, when present, allow fire to enter the forest where it would not normally be able to do so. The Kriges have also been instrumental in developing a forest restoration project.”
Engelbrecht said Platbos was a unique remnant of southwestern Afromontane forest, “which at one time would have covered large areas of the Western Cape, but is now mostly confined to steep kloofs and valleys in mountainous areas where it is sheltered from wind and protected from fire”.

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