Holidaymakers destroy protected dune forests for firewood, campsites

Milkwoods, a protected species, and other trees are removed for firewood on the east bank of the Quenera River. Gaping holes are appearing in the dune forest.
Milkwoods, a protected species, and other trees are removed for firewood on the east bank of the Quenera River. Gaping holes are appearing in the dune forest.

Dune forestation in Buffalo City Metro is under threat from holidaymakers who callously cut down protected trees for firewood.

According to environmental experts, unless swift action is taken by the municipality there will be an ecological disaster.

An environmental activist sent the Dispatch photographs of people carrying away branches from milkwood trees on both sides of the Quenera River.

The source asked to remain anonymous in case of reprisals.

Open fires are also being lit in coastal dune forests at Bonza Bay and Leaches Bay.

The environmental activist said as coastal populations expanded during the festive season, demands for recreational opportunities on beaches grew, resulting in damage to forest dunes.

For two years running the source has reported the illegal activity to BCM. Municipal spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya confirmed that certain trees were being damaged by holidaymakers.

The source said: “There is absolutely no law enforcement or compliance in the area, as with other designated camping spaces in the metro. Citizens set up their campsites randomly. There are no designated camp stands, and in some instances, a brush cutter is used to mow down the indigenous grass species in the sensitive floodplain to make a camp site.

Over the past weeks huge branches were cut from a variety of forest species, including the protected coastal red milkwoods.”

The trees are protected by the National Forest Act of 1998 and may not be disturbed, damaged, cut or destroyed. Neither may their products be collected, removed or transported except under licence granted by the department of water affairs, forestry & fisheries or another delegated authority.

The evidence of coastal red milkwoods having been cut is clearly visible in a number of instances, particularly where mature trees have been targeted for firewood. Some sections of the dune forest have been hollowed out due to this illegal activity,” the source said.

This is a potential disaster should the forest be set alight. The ecology of the whole area has been compromised by BCM allowing revellers to abuse this open space.”

Neil Smith, of environmental safety organisation Ukhuselo Management Services, said removing or damaging the trees could result in a fine or even a prison sentence of up to three years.

“If these trees are being destroyed in coastal recreation areas, I would suggest people using it for braai wood are probably unaware that it is protected, despite it being common sense not to destroy a tree in coastal dune thickets,” Smith said.

“As a BCM initiative, I would even look at providing free firewood in these recreational areas from the plentiful alien invasive wattle trees that exist in the municipal area, which would save the milkwoods and help with the removal of wattles.”

Ngwenya said the municipality had received a complaint over the destruction of vegetation.

“The milkwood trees were brought to certain areas to prevent dune erosion at Quenera,” he said.

He said the Bonza Bay site was occupied by 100 families but the area was no longer a designated camping site.

“But during the festive season, it has become a favoured destination for this purpose and access to the area is not regulated. This results in the area becoming extremely congested as New Year approaches.”

He said the metro had challenges in regulating and controlling the crowds due to staff and resource shortages.

“We have removed people but the situation needs more prevention to ensure this does not occur in future. The solution would be to make sure that access to the area is blocked off completely, especially during the festive season.”