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NATURAL FORESTS
 
Definition of a natural forest

A natural forest is a generally multilayered vegetation unit dominated by trees (largely evergreen or semi-deciduous), whose combined strata have overlapping crowns (i.e. the crown cover is 75% or more), and where grasses in the herbaceous stratum (if present) are generally rare. Fire does not normally play a major role in forest function or dynamics except at the fringes.
Source: Shackleton, 1999

Area of natural forests

The total mapped area of natural forest (also called indigenous forest) in South Africa is approximately 0,5 million ha. The large Afro-temperate forests of the southern Cape, although distributed close to the coast, are aligned with the inland forest types of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province. This is because the southernly temperate latitudes compensate for the altitude of inland forests.

Historical change in indigenous forest area was investigated in the Karkloof/Balgowan region of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands (Eeley, Lawes & Macfarlane 2002). A relatively small reduction (less than 6%) in total forest area was recorded from 1944 to 1996 but there was a substantial loss of small forest patches (<0.5ha). This study emphasised the importance of mapping indigenous forests at a fine scale (to include forests patches less than 1 ha in extent). Earlier mapping projects, albeit at a provincial or national scale, used a minimum mapping unit of 50 ha a scale - far too large to capture the widely dispersed and patchy nature of indigenous forests in the country.

Thathe Vondo, Limpopo
Source: DWAF
Key Data on Natural Forests
Land ownership of natural forest areas
Land ownership of natural forests in South African is not known directly but can be inferred, to some extent, by level of protection. It is assumed forest patches that do not have some form of protection have either communal or private ownership. Almost half of all natural forests in South Africa are found on private property or land under communal tenure.
 
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Forest type Area (ha) Percentages
National Provincial Municipal Private/ Communal Unknown
Albany 23143 0 33.0 0 66.8 0
Amatole Mistbelt 64424 45.0 1.3 ? 0 53.0 0.5
Drakensberg Montane 1926 0 47.0 0 52.7 0
Eastern Cape Dune 10941 0 8.3 0 91.1 0.6
Eastern Mistbelt 42162 41.0 11.0 0 48.1 0
Eastern Scarp 33765 19.0 26.0 ? 0 54.9 0
KwaZulu-Natal Coastal 21092 0 61.0 0 38.7 0
KwaZulu-Natal Dune 12398 13.0 23.0 0 64.3 0
Licuati Sand 24276 6.1 36.0 0 57.8 0
Lowveld Riverine 15830 20.0 ? 29.0 0 51.1 0
Mangrove 3054 0.5 71.0 0 28.8 0
Mpumalanga Mistbelt 34542 3.3 11.0 0 85.4 0
Northern KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt 5323 0 15.0 0.1 85.0 0
Northern Mistbelt 19349 100.0 ? 3.6 0 0 0
Pondoland Scarp 12441 33.0 10.0 0 54.9 1.7
Southern Cape Afrotemperate 77535 63.0 5.5 0 29.2 2.2
Swamp 3022 0 67.0 0 32.8 0
Transkei Coastal Platform 61490 ? 61.0 0 0 38.5 0.2
Transkei Mistbelt 30859 59.0 0 0 40.9 0
Western Cape Afrotemperate 4731 43.0 9.5 0 47.6 0
Western Cape Milkwood 2500 0 2.0 0 98.0 0
TOTAL 504803 ?          
             
Source: Berliner & Benn, 2004; Forest types follow von Maltitz et al., 2003.
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Lowveld Riverine Forest
Source: DWAF
Pondoland Scarp Forest
Source: DWAF
 
 
Related References
  List of 2012 Champion Trees
  Policy Principles and Guidelines for Control of Development?Affecting Natural Forests)
  Declaration of list of national forest types as natural forests (Government Gazette 31232, Notice 762), 18 July 2008
  Access to State forests - General rules and conditions
  Policy regarding Access to State forests
  Assessment of the Livelihoods Importance of Forestry, Forests and Forest Products in SA, 2004 
 
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Assistant Director: Technical & Information Services
Izak Van der Merwe
Tel: (012) 309 5771
E-mail: izakvdm@daff.gov.za