Fingers of the Forest

“Fingers of the Forest”, is emerging as a seed idea born from the recent fires and urgent attention needed on the boundary of our precious indigenous forest. So just as a seed, scorched by fire, grows with ferocity after the fire, so this seed idea will grow rapidly into a workable solution that can have a positive benefit on our environment.

The pine plantations literally blanket the earth in the Knysna Area. There are very few places where the land is still connected to the forest. To bring the land back into balance, indigenous trees need to be planted, but not just planted, they need to have a vein into the indigenous forest to connect with it. A forest consists of plants, trees, animals, bugs, moss, mycelium etc. The land needs to source these creatures from the main forest.

We have done an extensive study into Pine forests and what dangers they create for local communities. The firebreaks are obviously inadequate. When you start to dig around and discover who owns the land and who takes the profits from these vast timberlands its a wormhole.

The plantations have been planted without proper consideration for the environment or the living creatures in it, they have cut the living forest off from the land. This is damaging the land and reducing the size of the last piece of indigenous forest in South Africa.

The Knysna Forest needs to reconnect to the land and interconnect with the small pieces of endemic forests that are scattered around. To do this we need to begin creating fingers/corridors of fire-resistant endemic trees. Coming out of the main forest and then continuing in long corridors of 50-100 meters in width. Corridors between the plantations should consist of indigenous trees that are fire resistant.  They will take less long-term management than keeping a firebreak clean and provide more protection as a firebreak. These trees can also be harvested after their growth period and be used as indigenous woods.

Until now, eleven meters of open space around every farm owners individual boundary (which needs to be cleared three times a year to be effective) is the current law. This is not effective, but because the law says a firebreak needs to be like that, citizens are compelled to follow it. However, this cannot stop a forest fire and in my opinion, it often makes things worse. However, an endemic forest can(stop a fire). This is not rocket science. It is pure logic. Why have empty space when you can grow a corridor of the endemic forest as a firebreak and even be able to harvest wood from it once it has been established?

These corridors increase species diversity by allowing small animals and birds etc to thrive and move freely from one section of the forest to another. The animals pollinate and spread seeds, constantly increasing the natural growth of the forest. 

A project like this has huge consequences for the amount of increased green in the area.  And a gigantic step to reducing South Africa’s carbon footprint with the public sectors direct involvement in co-operation with the pine corporations and responsible persons. All the firebreaks can be corridors of endemic forest. Everyone wins,  the pine companies, the environment and the people who belong to the land.

We want to initiate the start of this project “Fingers of the forest” with immediate effect. A nursery will be the first step, combined with a massive clearing and replanting program. The nursery will be for many thousands of trees. We are in negotiation with San Parks officials and municipality (with SCFPA approval) to be allowed the right to revitalise the boundary of the indigenous forest. 

Step two; will be to find the funding to assist local dwellers to extend the forest into their properties. Eventually crossing the entire Kraaibos community and joining the endemic forest four and a half km away. Creating the first corridor and surrounding Kraaibosch community with an endemic forest firebreak. With funding, this could be possible within five years.

‘The hand’ from which the fingers extend will be with the particular community (In this case Pachamama Forest Retreat) along the forest edge who will nurture baby trees plants and other forest sources to feed these corridors, providing the forest with fingers which travel over the land connecting the land with the heart of the indigenous forest and creating the much needed new technology, of forest finger firebreaks and woodlots. These heart communities will also plan new strategies to deal with invasive trees after a fire and assist local forest communities to implement new strategies to prevent overgrowth of alien species after a fire. Nurturing the newly burnt land until local species have taken hold.

The global awareness of the necessity to plant trees has reached the highest numbers ever. It’s time to plant trees. And find fun ways to do it.

Extensive read about our Reforestation Project

Currently, the Pachamama forest retreat land is occupied with two-thirds of invasive trees. These trees are not indigenous to the land. They include several species of Pine, the Australian Acacia (Wattle) and Karri Eucalyptus, these types of trees have been imported to Southern Africa since the eighteen hundreds. Traditionally the natural forest was predominated with slow-growing trees. Therefore, exotic, fast growing species were brought to South Africa to meet the demands for timber, mine props, charcoal and tannin (for tanneries). However, these trees ‘escaped’ from their plantations into the natural environment. Currently, about 200 plant and tree species are classified as ‘invasive’ trees, in addition, without the presence of their natural enemies – which are mostly left behind in the country of origin – they are able to reproduce fast, survive and spread at an alarming rate across the landscape. Thereby causing personal, environmental and economic damage.

(Richardson et al., 2000a; van Wilgen et al., 2001).

It is estimated that about 90% of the Garden Route’s Fynbos vegetation is invaded by Pine trees. In addition, Australian Acacia and Eucalyptus cover 29% and 14% of the land respectively.

Listed below are several environmental and economic impacts that are caused by invasive tree species:

  • Reduction in stream flow and available water;
  • Loss of potentially productive land;
  • Los of grazing potential;
  • Poisoning of humans and livestock (e.g. Melia azedarach and Lantana camara);
  • Increasing costs of fire protection and increasing damage in wildfires;
  • Increasing soil erosion following fires in heavily invaded areas;
  • Siltation of dams;
  • Changing soil nutrient status;
  • Loss of biological diversity and threat to native plant species;
  • Changing the biomass of ecosystems;
  • Changing habitat suitability for native animal species;
  • Reduction of the borders of the indigenous forest with each fire.
  • Increased wattle growth in fire zones.

We have identified several invasive trees on the land of Pachamama Forest Retreat, listed below are the precise effects of these trees on our land.

Pinus Pinaster


Pinus Radiata


Acacia Mearnsii

Karri Eucalyptus

Species Biome Effects
Eucalyptus ssp. Fynbos
  1. Increase water repellency
  2. Affects soil erosion to a variable degree
Pinus Pinaster Forest
  1. Out-competes native trees
  2. Dense stands limit options for fire management
  3. Decreases stream flow
Pinus Radiata Fynbos
  1. Decreases stream flow
Acacia Mearnsii
(black wattle)
  1. Decreases diversity of ground-living invertebrates
  2. Decreases stream flow
  3. The destabilisation of stream banks
  4. Can increase erosion, but also used for land stabilisation

(Wilgen et al, 2001)

Three of the main problems that arise from the monoculture of these trees on plantations, the invasion of non-native trees in the Fynbos in the Knysna region and on the land of Pachamama Forest Retreat, are further explained below.

Natural Water Cycles

Many alien plants consume more water than the indigenous plants, depleting valuable underwater resources. Consequently, heavily infested areas of alien vegetation can have a reduced water-runoff up to 30%. This results in the reduction of water in the river (river flows) and reduces the groundwater reserves. Less water within the river means that nutrients and pollutants don’t get spread out properly throughout the ecosystem (dilution capacity?). This again can harm the water quality, affecting ecosystems, human health and crop yields. (‘Alien Vegetation Management’, n.d; Charnier et al, 2012)

In addition, alien vegetation has an influence on the quality of water through the biomass; the ‘terrestrial litter’ such as leaves, bark, seed, flowers and twigs that they shed to the ground. The output of biomass is relatively higher compared to indigenous species. Consequently, invasive trees with a lot of nitrogen fixers such as Acacia (Wattle) or carbon can elevate the amount of this particle in the groundwater, changing the nutrient cycle in the ecosystems (Stock et al, 1992).



Although these non-native trees use much water, they catch fire like a dry bunch of matches. These are the trees which make fire roam freely through the region. Generally, trees with needles (coniferous) burn up to 10 times faster and more intense than trees with leaves (deciduous). Trees like Pine have a large amount of sap in their branches that burn very quickly. Additionally, coniferous trees often grow very close to each other. This assists the spread of wildfire, to jump from one tree to the other. The rough, loose bark can act as a ladder for the fire to climb into the canopy, causing smothering parts and making the roots burn beneath the ground for up to two weeks. Increasing the potential to flare up again with strong winds. In addition, the bark can produce burning embers that are carried ahead of the fire front, heightening the risk for the fire to jump over to another patch of forest. When such an area of coniferous trees catches fire, it becomes extremely hot, thereby harming the soil structure of the burned area which can result in soil erosion (Chandelier et al, 2012; “Tree Species Impact on Wildfire”, 2012).

Deciduous trees have a higher crown base height, a higher moisture content of the leaves and stems and a tight, smooth bark. Altogether preventing fire burning as quickly as with Pine trees.

Having such a high coverage of invasive trees in the region. The fuel that can burn in wildfires has substantially increased. Consequently, wildfires have become more intense and much harder to control. Resulting in the Knysna fire of 2017 and the recent fires of 85.000 hectares (Tineke Kraaij et al, 2018 ).

Affection Compositional diversity animals

The number of different species in a system; the compositional diversity of animals is affected by invasive plants and trees. Alien plants have a larger decreasing effect on native species abundance compared to native species richness (Figure 1). The severity of this effect is dependent on factors such as the extent and density of the plant invasion, the stage of invasion, the region, and the taxation group (Clusella Trullas & Gracia, 2017).

Figure 1: Percentage of comparisons performed in 42 studies that found invaded sites to have (a) positive (increased diversity), neutral or negative (decreased diversity) effects on native ectotherm species richness (n = 80 comparisons) and abundance (n = 52), and (b) the same or altered species composition (n = 36) as uninvaded sites (Clusella Trullas &Gracia, 2017, p.5)

The physical conditions of the environment are directly altered by their presence. For example through changing the light, solar radiation and temperature levels. These changes in the microclimate influence the functional diversity of animals. Additionally, native animal species are not attuned to alien trees. Therefore, the presence of these trees changes the quality and availability of the possibilities to create nests, find refuges, move, or acquire food. As a result, in an extreme case, alien species could move an ecosystem from natural heterogeneity to homogeneity if left uncontrolled over a large scale and timeframe. (Clusella Trullas &Gracia, 2017; Foxcroft, 2002).


  • ‘Alien Vegetation Management’ (n.d.). Care For Nature: Alien Vegetation Management. Cape Nature. retrieved on 08-11-18 from
  • Charnier, J., Schachtschneider, K., Le Maitre, D.C., Ashton, P. J., van Wilgen, B. W. (2012) Review: Impacts of Invasive Alien Plants on Water Quality, with Particular Emphasis on South Africa. Water SA, 38: 345-356.
  • Clusella-Trullas, S., Garcia, R. A. (2017). Impacts of Invasive Plants on Animal Diversity in South Africa; A Synthesis. Bothalia, 47(2); 1-12.
  • Foxcroft, L. C. (2002). Impacts of Invasive Alien Species on Biodiversity. Invasive Alien Species, Skukuza, KNP.
  • Kraaij, T., Baard, J. A., Arndt, J., Vhengani, L, van Wilgen, B. W. (2018). An assessment of climate, weather, and fuel factors influencing a large, destructive wildfire in the Knysna region, South Africa, Fire Ecology DOI: 10.1186/s42408-018-0001-0
  • Richardson, D. M., Pysek, P., Rejmánek M., Barbour, M. G., Panetta, F. D. and West C. J. (2000). Naturalization and Invasion of alien Plants: Concepts and Definitions. Diversity and Distributions, 6: 93-107.
  • Stock, W.D., & Allsopp, N. (1992). Functional perspectives of ecosystems. p.241-259, in: R.M. Cowling (ed). The ecology of fynbos; nutrients, fire and diversity. Cape Town, Republic of South Africa: Oxford University Press.
  • “Tree Species Impact on Wildfire” (2012). How Different Tree Species Impact the Spread of Wildfire, Alberta Government.

van Wilgen, B.W., Richardson, D.M., Le Maitre, D.C., Marais, C., & Magadlela, D. (2001). The economic consequences of alien plant invasions: examples of impacts and approaches to sustainable management in South Africa. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 3: 145-168.

Reforestation Project Pachamama

The Pachamama Forest Retreat has taken on the custodianship and regeneration of this land, which is currently dominated by invasive trees which drain the soil of water and nutrients, preventing the growth and propagation of native indigenous trees and forest; whilst also adversely affecting the natural climate and rain cycles within the Knysna Area.

In reaction to the problems described above. The Pachamama Forest Retreat sees it as highly important to regenerate the indigenous forest and control the alien tree species. This will bring the benefits of:

  • Enhancing water supply
  • Reduce fire hazard, not only for the land of Pachamama Forest Retreat but also for the safety of the region
  • Increase biological diversity
  • Modify erosion impacts
  • Job creation for the local community

In response to the recent fire, we will heighten our focus on ensuring that our firebreaks are in perfect condition: allowing for 6 meters of fire break on every border of the Pachamama Forrest Retreat. In the future, these fire breaks will be planted with indigenous trees. Because, due to their high water content, these trees don’t burn. Therefore, they function perfectly as a firebreak, whilst simultaneously enhancing indigenous plant and animal species to thrive.

We are currently working hard to establish a co-operative campaign to work together closely with the Tree Planting Companies that run the Tree Plantations in the region such as “The Precious Tree Project”. The mission is to convince them to utilise patches of indigenous forest as fire breaks. Thereby increasing the fire safety of the region, allowing for connected veins/patches of indigenous forest to growth throughout the region and regenerating 10% of the indigenous forest. 

The fire has affected more than one third of the Pachamama land. This land mostly contained invasive trees such as Wattle, Eucalyptus and various species of Pine. Now that the ground has been burned, the ground is highly fertile. Recent rainfall and the Wattle seeds from all around will cause an exponential growth of invasive trees all around the land. This is contrary to the agenda of our project.

The mission at Pachamama is to use manpower over the next months to pull up the seedlings using no sprays or poisons, to gain the best result of managing invasive tree species. We will physically pull out as many of the sprouts of the non-native trees as possible and transform the land which has been affected by the fire, to be used for the growth of indigenous trees. Saplings of indigenous trees will be planted next year summer (Tree planting festival, Dec 2019). However, the fire has severely damaged our funding for the project here.  We need to ask for the support and trust of our friends and followers to establish the goals of this project. Therefore, we kindly and humbly ask for any donation you can spare. This is the last indigenous forest in South Africa, we want to continue to do what we can to assist in the expansion of the Forest, we will make sure your contribution makes a difference.