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Digging the Dirt

by Matt Aberdein / 28.05.2013

Last weekend, a large group of tree-huggers and hippies (like me) gathered to let go of modern life, enjoy some music, and most importantly, lay down some roots. The result? 3000 trees were planted in just one day in the Platbos Forest.

It was a huge feat for the team involved, and more importantly, a great need was fulfilled for the most southern forest in the world. The Platbos Forest, just past Hermanus, was previously cut down to plant potatoes, then the area was overcome by alien trees, and now has finally been graced by the hands of Greenpop volunteers. With the Family Fest the previous weekend, hippie tree-planting activists (and some normal folk) have managed to plant over 5000 trees.

If you don’t yet know about Greenpop, they are an innovative social enterprise who plant trees and generally just promote green and sustainable living. If you feel the same, it’s easy to get involved.

Reforest Fest

Around 200 people drove up in the dark of Friday evening to gather in the forest a weekend of tunes and tree planting. It was a similar feeling to that of AfrikaBurn; a sense of community mixed with a clear concern for the environment.

Tree planting is a dirty business. Don’t let anyone tell you different. It’s hard work, but damn is it rewarding. The connection you feel to the earth while planting a tree is something we seem to have completely lost living in our brick houses back in city life. Between digging the big holes, filling them with mulch (the chip wood from the removed alien trees that serve as food and a moisture holder for the new trees), and then planting the saplings, there is always something for everyone to do.

And apart from the tree planting there was always something to do: from nightime yoga and meditation to ghost stories in the forest. My personal favourite was the time spent around the big camp fires playing guitar, bongo drums and singing songs.

With Jeremy Loops away touring in LA, I was wondering what musical acts we’d be treated to at this festival. A band called Touchwood kicked off the festivities. The harmonies of the female vocalists accompanied by a diverse range of instruments and the only man in the band, a precise drummer, keeping the tempo. Holiday Murray were next up and they are simply world class. Playing to a group of kindred spirits in a forest at night was something special, new experience.


A DJ, mashing and making a series of incongruous musical connections took the crowd into the early hours, while I lay half-in, half-out my tent and watched as shooting stars flew across a visible Milky Way. I fell asleep to the unfortunate reality of returning to my city life the next day.

Does our tree planting make a difference? This was a question I heard a couple of times over the weekend. And I think to a lot of people it’s a no-brainer. The tree planting is most certainly helping this forest to be restored to it’s previous beauty, and to return balance to the ecosystem. I think one of our biggest problems is the time scale in which we will see results. We all come from a culture of instant gratification, so waiting 5 years before our trees will be big enough to make a difference seems like a ridiculously long time.

But planting is just the start of where the influence begins. It is a shift in mindset that will make the biggest difference. All 200 people that attended will now be slightly more conscious of the impact planting trees has, and they will hopefully spread the word.

I had the privilege of meeting the owner of the forest, Francois Krige, who took us on an informative forest walk through his backyard. He bought this land after trespassing on it to do some investigation. The entire attempt to restore this forest has been completely funded by him through his tree felling businesses in which he has to travel to Cape Town each week. There are many reasons that this forest has survived, but the most prominent is through the fire breaks he created. Botanists are amazed by the very existence of this forest. According to them, a forest should not be able to exist with as little rainfall as Platbos receives. Yet it is home to trees over one thousand years old. This Afromontane forest is home to only 15 species of trees, a number incredibly small compared to the hundreds that flourish in Kwazulu-Natal. This shows the difficult conditions these trees are exposed and aneed to adapt to. The most common of these trees are the Celtis africana (African White-stinkwood) and Olinia ventosa (Induqu Hard-pear) – two of the seven trees we planted.


Recently I have been hearing more and more about the organic intelligence of trees, and once again this was spoken about by Francois. Discussions around the interaction with Fungi and the way in which they exchange sugars speaks to a very low level of intelligence. Additional stories of larger areas of tree responding to Giraffes eating from one side of a forest resulting in the trees on the other side excreting a fluid that makes the leaves unpalatable to the Giraffes shows further ability to communicate. The trees seem to have an ability to network and react to external threats.

Francois has managed to raise the piece of land to the highest level of conservation and is aiming to obtain a title deed which prevents cutting for the next 300 years. This way, once he is gone the great slow growing giants will continue to reign on the sand dunes. But there is much work still to be done.

* All images Matt Aberdein

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