Forestry on city edge

February 23, 2012

There are unique challenges to running a forestry operation on the edge of a major city, but Pietermaritzburg and NCT have found a way to make it work.

Indigenous forest in Pietermaritzburg
Forester Rajesh Ramsamy and Steve Germishuizen of the SANBI Grasslands Project, view a beautifully clean riparian area where indigenous trees have been re-introduced. The area was previously planted up with commercial trees.
A biker trail becoming an erosion ditch Forestry chemicals at NCT
A biker trail: soon to be an erosion ditch. Neatly stored chemicals at the NCT estate offices, properly labelled and contained within a bunded area, comply with FSC requirements.
 Mpumuza Forestry Contractors  PMB city estate during FSC surveillance audit
Mpumuza Forestry Contractors is a BEE company doing silviculture work in the city's plantation. Directors of the company Bongi Lamula (right) and Nonhlanhla Xulu (centre), who were employed by NCT before starting their own business, now employ 42 people. Nomusa Ntongwa (left) is Bongi's daughter. Steve Germishuizen checks the silviculture contractors' First Aid box during an FSC surveillance audit. The City Estate is part of NCT's group FSC certification scheme.


Pietermaritzburg is a city literally surrounded by a commercial plantation. It was established way back in 1910 by the municipality, and consisted almost exclusively of wattle. Over the years, some of the wattle was phased out and replaced by eucalyptus and pine as the timber markets changed. The trees were removed entirely in some areas, to be replaced by the suburbs of Northdale and Woodlands.

The plantation is owned by the Msunduzi Municipality, and has been managed by NCT Tree Farming since 1988, under whose management it has achieved FSC certification. It covers an area of 2000 ha, with 1500 ha planted to eucalyptus, wattle and pine. The annual harvest yields around 25 000 tons of timber and bark.

The eucalyptus and wattle timber is sold to NCT Durban Woodchips or as transmission poles to Treated Timber Products. The wattle bark is sold to the UCL bark factory in Dalton.

Estate forester Jeremy Dixon said that their silviculture teams are busy phasing out the pine in favour of eucalyptus. The existing compartments are mainly planted with Eucalyptus grandis, and they are now introducing high performing G x Us.

Most of the challenges that the NCT team has to contend with are common to plantations throughout South Africa – fires, pests and diseases, timber theft and steep slopes. However, they also have to contend with off-road bikers who have created dozens of trails through the plantations which are prone to erosion.Illegal dumping and timber theft are also rife in the plantations.

The city's residents are, however, encouraged to use the plantations for recreational activities such as hiking, bird watching and mountain bike riding.

One thing that the locals couldn't help but to have noticed over the past few years has been a steady transformation of the open areas inside the plantation.

Whereas in the past they were often planted up and/or choked with weeds, they are now clean and sprouting a wide variety of indigenous trees.

NCT, working in conjunction with the city's Parks and Recreation Department, has been working hard to clear the riparian areas, and in 2007, embarked on a programme of planting indigenous trees. They have managed to encourage a number of local schools to participate in the tree planting exercise, and also received assistance from the Wildlands Trust, which has donated some 20 000 trees to date.

Not only are the indigenous trees creating a beautiful, natural environment that attract a huge variety of birds and animals, but they also create a canopy that discourages the growth of invasive alien vegetation, thus making future maintenance of these areas easier and cheaper.

Published in December 2011

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