General paper

Distribution, Size and Ownership of Forests in the Southern Cape

Published in: South African Forestry Journal
Volume 158, issue 1, 1991 , pages: 51–66
DOI: 10.1080/00382167.1991.9630375
Author(s): C.J. GeldenhuysSaasveld Forestry Research Centre,


Indigenous forest of the southern Cape as delimited on 1:50 000 maps was analysed for distribution, size and ownership in six landscape zones: mountains, foothill, coastal platform, river valley, coastal scarp and dunes. I tested the hypothesis that forest distribution in the study area was limited by annual rainfall below 500 mm and not by geology. A total of 908 forest patches with size ranging from 0,3 ha to 25 706 ha covering a total area of 60 561 ha were analysed. Annual rainfall in areas where forest persists ranges between 500 and 1 220 mm, but the size and distribution of forests shows no relationship to total rainfall (above 500 mm), or to geology. The largest forests cover the foothills, coastal platform, river valleys and coastal scarp. The Goudveld-Diepwalle-Harkerville forest is the largest single, continuous forest in southern Africa and covers all landscape zones except dunes. By contrast the mountains have the largest number of forests but these are of relatively small mean area. Prehistorical natural and anthropogenic fires caused the fragmentation and current distribution pattern of the forests. The fragmentation was increased in some areas by historical fires, grazing, and forest exploitation and clearing. Ownership (State versus private) differs in different landscapes and different parts of the study area, but does not determine forest size or fragmentation. Currently the Department of Environment Affairs (Forestry Branch) and other conservation authorities control 72,7% of the high and scrub forest in all landscape zones. In contrast to most other tropical and temperate forests in the world, the southern Cape forests are small in area but differ in having a secure conservation status. A relatively sma11 area is scientifically managed for timber and fern production, and for recreation. The remainder is totally protected. Utilisation of private forests is guided by forest scientists of the Department of Environment Affairs. Plantation forestry ensures fire protection of the region and thereby the expansion of forest.

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