Protecting the ecological and cultural heritage of South Africa with the National Forests Act 84 of 1998 – updated lists of protected tree species released.

05 October 2017

In September 2017, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) published an updated list of trees protected under the National Forests Act. Each year DAFF releases a list of the indigenous trees that provide  legal protection in order to ensure their survival.

South Africa is home to over 1700 species of indigenous tree and bush and many of them require protection due to habitat loss, climate change, and commercial forestry. Members of the Yellowood family and the iconic baobab and marula trees – and many others - have deep cultural and historical significance for many South Africans. Protecting indigenous trees and ensuring the ongoing ecological sustainability of forests for generations to come is the responsibility of DAFF.

The Act provides protection for listed trees that prevents them from being cut, disturbed, damaged or destroyed without a special exemption or licence from DAFF. It is similarly illegal to “possess, collect, remove, transport, export, purchase, sell, donate or in any other manner acquire or dispose of any protected tree or any product derived from a protected tree” without a licence or exemption from DAFF. These requirements apply to all protected species whether on public or private land.

DAFF further provides protection to Champion Trees, which are individual trees judged to have exceptional importance and require enhanced protection due to their size, age, aesthetic, historical or cultural value. Champion Trees include many beautiful examples of listed species, noteworthy for their exceptional size, age or historical importance, but also trees from species not specifically protected by the National Forests Act such as exotic species. The famous 300-year old Vergelegen Oak is a Champion Tree, although it is not indigenous and its species is not afforded protection by the National Forests Act. A Lombardy Poplar, another non-indigenous tree, is afforded protection in Johannesburg as it served as a landmark for fugitives from the Apartheid security forces to find the home of Ruth Fischer (Braam Fischer’s daughter) where they would find refuge.

South Africa is blessed with many beautiful and interesting trees - some of them valuable as members of vulnerable, indigenous species and some of them having played a role in the making our nation - and it is the role of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the National Forests Act to protect them for the enjoyment of future generations.

The National Forest Act provides substantial penalties for failing to comply with its provisions suh as fines or imprisonment for up to three years for harming a protected species or a declared Champion tree.

To see the updated list of trees afforded protection by the Act, click here.

To find out more about Champion Trees click here. Find your nearest Champion Tree here




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A Zimbabwean, born and bred, Tendai has been admitted to the High Courts of both South Africa and Zimbabwe, and has experience practicing law in both countries.

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