As early as 1876 to 1914, 78 000 Clanwilliam Cedars were planted to combat their declining numbers. Over a two year period 4,3 tons of seeds were collected for replanting. Most of the Cedars were consequently logged to extinction, used for the making of telephone poles, fences and furniture. Only three tiny plantations can be found above Algeria on the plateau, above Driehoek and in Heiningvlei in the Cedarberg.

Due to the devastation of the fire which ravaged 26 000 ha in December of 2016, most of what few Cedars remained were burnt. It was at this little plantation, called De Rif, that we focused our attention on this week end with the intention of assisting this little forest to regenerate by planting one-year-old seedlings. SANPARKS spoke of how the fire break would be created in order to protect them in the future.

One of nine conifers indigenous to southern Africa, evolved from an ancient group of plants species between 65 to 225 million years ago. They grow at high altitudes between 800m to 1650m. There are only 43 conifer species left in the world and our indigenous conifer can only be found in the Cedarberg and nowhere else in the world.

They never seem to grow in dense forests due to climate change and fire. Thanks to the collaboration of JUST TREES and SANPARKS, JUST TREES has taken on the nurturing task as part of their give back to the environment, their commitment to assist in propagating seeds from this particular Cedar Tree. For the past nine years, friends, family and caring citizens arrive in the Cedarberg to help plant the Cedar seedlings, of which approximately 17% have managed to survive.

This is the second year that the Peace Tree Pilgrims have joined this inspired group to assist with the planting. The generosity and abundance that is shared over a week end with Just Trees and their team is a great way to bring different people together sharing in a common goal. It is said that the quickest way to unit people is eating together and the food preparation shared by the team was a feast to behold.

On the Saturday morning we all set out into the remote valley behind Driehoek to find what was left of the Clanwilliam Cedar Forest. Driving out of Sandrif was shocking to see how the fire had decimated everything in its way and that after all these months with very little rain, not much regrowth could be seen. It was somehow heart-breaking and it felt as though we were driving through an apocalypse. Although many of the indigenous species of fynbos do require fire for germination, the extent of regular fires under 30 years becomes a hazard as both plants and trees do not have enough time to grow into adult plants and create seeds.

As though hearing our longing to revive this struggling little forest, the rain came gently down to form a cool mist. The temperatures had dropped down to about 4 degrees and our fingers were numb as we arrived at our destination a few km from our camp site. We collected our pods of seedlings and headed up the hill holding our seeds lovingly and carefully finding the perfect place to plant them. We took some time to coax our seedlings into growing as we moved from place to place, advised to leave a distance of 15m between each tree. There weren’t many trees to plant this year as for some reason only a few 100 seeds had successfully germinated. It was therefore a small intimate planting of a few one-year-old seedlings.

As the group left, we decided to walk back to our campsite and truly connect with the scorched ground. To our dismay, the seemingly dead earth showed little promises of hope and the occasional footprint of a Duiker or the holes dug up by Baboon, reassured us that not all is lost. Peace tree has spoken with the manager of SANPARKS and offered to take the seedlings up to higher altitudes where it is believed to have more promise of survival. We have undertaken to support this project wherever possible and a night wild camping is hardly a sacrifice for us pilgrims.

Thank you Carl Pretorius of JUST TREES and your Dream Team, Rita Du Plessis from SANPARKS for your support and delicious geroesterede brood en sop. I look forward to planting successful forests with you in the future to come.