Some 150 Yellowwood trees were “accidentally” cut down by a contractor to the Working for Water program.

On August 4th and 5th a generic news article was published by several major south African newspapers. It provided some basic details about a contractor working for the Working for Water program (a government initiative to combat the negative effects of alien invasive plants in South Africa -  see, who “accidentally” cut down and poisoned 150 indigenous Yellowwood trees in March this year, having mistaken them to be the highly invasive alien, Black Wattle. The trees were between 50-100 years old. A sad day indeed, and a significant loss of trees for an arid country like South Africa.

The matter was investigated and reported by KZN Wildlife employee Allan Howells at the time. The contract has since been ended, following a period of 6 years in which work had been done for the program. Details are not exact, but the trees seem to have been near the Drakensberg Sun hotel in the Central Berg. Working for Water will only comment at a later stage.

Read the IOL news report here.

The question that many would shout aloud is: how on earth did they mistake Yellowwood trees for Black Wattle?! Even for someone like me, with an entry-level knowledge of Drakensberg flora, there are some immediate and obvious differences between the two. Anyone who is the least bit aware of the serious Wattle problem in South Africa can easily identify one when they see it, never mind someone who has been removing alien invasives for 6 years!

Is this is a case of  “a major breakdown in implementation which could very well be due to a problem that has developed in South Africa as it strives to create opportunities for all. Emerging contractors are often directed into jobs for which they don’t have the necessary skills”, as suggested by Dave Harcourt in his article, 150 Indigenous Yellowwood Trees Destroyed as Invasive Alien Species - Lessons For South Africa? Might very well be the case. Let’s hope that it is, since the situation will be far more troubling if it’s due to other reasons.

Which other reasons? Well, it seems very suspect to me that a serious mistake like this could be made by someone that has been working in the field for 6 years. And what about the wood? What was done with it? Did it earn money somewhere for the expensive wood that it is? And what about the ground that was cleared – is this significant in any way? Lets hope the general public will be informed when Working for Water issues a statement about the incident.


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Serious tribe's Avatar
Serious tribe replied to: #1918 13 Oct 2010 04:49
Thats great news. I did not realize that one could save trees that had been ring barked and poisoned. I have to ask though how the trees were mistaken in the first place as aliens by a knowledgeable crew. The two trees must bear a frightening similarity.
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #1914 12 Oct 2010 10:09
An interesting development in the story. It appears the trees were not cut down, rather poisoned and ring-barked. It seems an early intervention has actually saved most of the trees. Not sure exactly how many is meant by "most" but it certainly sounds a lot better than 150 being totally lost.
domsmooth's Avatar
domsmooth replied to: #589 26 Aug 2009 00:40
As they say in the classics, where there is smoke, there is fire. If there are planks, someone is making money from hacking down Yellow Woods.

200 to replace even 104 is not enough! Would prefer 500 personally. At a general recruitment rate, especially seen as they will be planted by the hotel and not a specialist ecologist, there will be some loss, and if 104 recruit from the 200 planted, that will be some miracle. Hopefully they are planted back where they were hacked down, and not in some grassland area which would normally not have had yellow woods, just to beautify the gardens around the hotel!!! :dry:
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #582 25 Aug 2009 23:42
Seems like the authorities have finally commented on the issue. Though no official statement has been published on their website, I came across this article in The Witness.

According to the report no trees were chopped down, but 104 small trees were ringbarked and poisoned.

The following actions were taken:

* Disciplinary action has been taken against the WfW contractor and has been removed from the department’s list of contractors.

* The WfW project manager responsible for the area has been given a written warning.

* WfW will provide 200 indigenous trees to be planted by the hotel.

* Monitoring and follow-up visits will be done.

Some preventative measures which they will implement were also listed in the article.

Is the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs justified in saying that the media reports were "somewhat exaggerated"? Maybe the technical details were not quite correct, but we still mourn the loss of a good number of indigenous trees - that should never be downplayed! :(

Allegedly the incident was discovered because someone spotted planks that had been cut from the trees being transported out of the area. Rumours or truth - will we ever know?