They painstakingly mix and match trees as best they can, attempting to replicate the biosphere of mature indigenous forests – and now those behind The Precious Tree Project are working towards reforesting the fire-ravaged Garden Route area.
The area is enormous and this effort will take many years and many hands to even begin to make a difference.
And while food and donations have been pouring in for victims of the fires, the Precious Tree Project Team and its many volunteers will literally get their hands dirty in the rebuilding of homes while beginning reforestation efforts.
Project founder Ray Nolan, 49, who lives in Wilderness Heights, explained that the project concentrated on creating patches of forest by planting indigenous and endemic forest trees across the Garden Route.
“We use 36 different indigenous and endemic trees and are trying to use genetic material from the area, some of which has been here for thousands of years,” he said.
“We plant different species of trees in bio-mimicked mixed lots of 40 tree patches. We use pioneering trees and then secondary and more delicate trees as you would see in the forest. Where we plant, birds and insects are attracted and they spread.”
Pioneering trees like Cape beech and keurbooms, and slower growing species like the Outeniqua yellowwood are used to simulate a natural environment.
Nolan said while the Garden Route was lush with vegetation only 30% of its indigenous forest was left.
“It’s my passion to change that. This is a team effort and there are so many wonderful volunteers involved.”
When Nolan, who works for a commercial solar energy company, realised the havoc wreaked by the fires he knew what the group’s next project would be.
The Precious Tree Project, which was started seven years ago, has to date planted 10 000 trees.
“It’s a hell of a big job,” says the man who met with volunteers on Wednesday to plot a way forward.
Nolan said indigenous trees could go a long way towards mitigating fires as fire ripped through pine plantations, blue gums and black wattle at an incredible pace.
“When rainfall patterns are normal fire doesn’t really burn through indigenous forest but because of the drought and the wind, large pockets of indigenous forest also burnt,” he said.
Run through a Facebook page and WhatsApp group, the non-profit project relies solely on donations and volunteers.
When trees are ready to be planted Nolan sends out messages. “Sometimes 10 people rock up, sometimes 40. They are all just volunteers who get digging and planting trees,” he said.
Wednesday’s meeting had “the most amazing turnout, a whole lot of new people came to offer help and service. We now have an appointed administrator who will set up a crowdsourcing stream.”
“We want to create an open source so people feel safe to donate. To rebuild a forest can take a thousand years but we have to start somewhere.”
He said that the project already had a list of 12 properties where trees were wanted.
“We want to put all our structures in place in winter so come springtime we can pull the trigger and start planting. We only have 1 000 trees at the moment so we need more.”