Every year, hundreds of people gather to plant thousands of trees, engage in workshops and activities, and to dance under the stars together in celebration.
Platbos Forest is a unique and very special pocket of indigenous forest found near Gansbaai in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It’s composed of a mix of afrotemperate and coastal thicket species and is said to be the Africa’s southernmost forest. Platbos is a declared private nature reserved managed by Francois and Melissa Krige and is home to a large variety of endemic plant and animal species, but with only 17 or so different tree species. Historically, much of the area was forested, but these days, as a result of climate change, fires and agricultural development, only small and isolated pockets of forest remain in the region. Parts of Platbos had been impacted by potato farming nearly a hundred years ago. The agricultural effort was abandoned after the crop proved to be non-viable in the area and the areas of forest that were cleared were left to be invaded by invasive plants, mostly Rooikrans (Acacia cyclops) and Port Jackson (Acacia saligna).
Francois and Melissa Krige began an effort to restore the parts of the forest that had been cleared to indigenous forest via an active invasive clearing and tree planting campaign since taking ownership of the forest in 2005. Greenpop, a Cape Town based tree planting group that I’ve worked with a lot under the Six Kingdoms banner and independently, have supported the work of the Platbos Trust over the past 6 years, by hosting 2 reforestation festivals per year, where participants gather to plant upwards of 8 000 trees over 2 weekends.
My role during the festival is to ensure that all tree planting preparations and facilitation is done to the highest standard possible, while creating a fun and engaging learning and working environment for the attendees. I’ve been to at least 7 of these events and I am constantly amazed by the scale of work that is achieved, and almost more importantly, the joy and sense of camaraderie that it brings to the people at the festival.
Our goal with the reforestation work at Platbos is to create a densely planted closed-canopy of trees that will prevent alien vegetation from regrowing and will foster the conditions for a healthy and diverse forest to develop over time. As such, we plant the trees very closely together, at an approximate density of 5 trees/m3. Trees are planted around a mulch pit made from invasive biomass, and walls are constructed down slope of the trees to increase percolation of rain and to prevent runoff. The system mimics the occurance of ‘mother trees’ in forest ecology that provide nutrients and shelter to developing saplings when they die.
We also attempt to have as much diversity as possible when planting the trees, and all seedlings are foraged from the forest to ensure as much genetic similarity as possible to the original tree species in the area. The species that we plant are predominantly Celtis africana (White Stinkwood), Sideroxylon inerme (Milkwood), Olea africana (Wild Olive), Apodytes dimidiata (Hard pear), Kiggeleria africana (Wild Peach), Diospyros whyteana (Bladder nut) and more.
We run two festivals during the season- One is the family fest, focused on providing a safe and exciting place for families to get together, plant trees, camp, attend workshops and experience the outdoors. The other is the friends fest, where people of all ages gather to do the same.
It’s been amazing to me to see families returning year on year to the event, and watching the children as they grow from little grubby toddlers playing in the sand to larger grubby boys and girls planting and getting involved. My favourite part about the event is the opportunity it gives people to rewild themselves and their families a little bit, to sink into nature, learn from her and give a little back. It’s an amazing thing to see over 600 people gather with the single shared intention of planting trees and learning from one another and I’m grateful to everyone who has ever taken the leap to join.