Ecology, forestry and the debate over exotic trees in South Africa

Brett M. Bennett, Frederick J. Kruger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


This article analyses the dynamics and legacy of the divisive South African debate over the hydrological and ecological impact of exotic timber plantations that erupted before, during and after the Fourth Empire Forestry Conference, held throughout the country in 1935. It examines the geographies, environments and networks that caused forestry critics, spearheaded by the ecologist John F.V. Phillips, to challenge South Africa's afforestation programme at the Conference. Phillips' spirited criticisms of forestry helped to establish an interdisciplinary research programme studying the impacts of exotic trees from forestry, ecological and hydrological perspectives in the Jonkershoek Valley, outside of Stellenbosch, that ran from 1935 to 1995. The findings of this pioneering and globally significant interdisciplinary research programme shaped South African environmental policies related to forest hydrology, biodiversity management, invasive species control and fire dynamics until the late 1980s and early 1990s. This research is still utilised, albeit in fragmented forms, in present-day national water, forestry and environmental legislation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-109
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • British Empire
  • Ecology
  • Empire forestry
  • Environmental history
  • Exotic species
  • Forestry
  • Invasive species
  • Plantations
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Archeology


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