Have you noticed a big increase lately in the number of trees being cut down on the road verges and in public spaces? It’s been happening along Crowhill Road, Enterprise Road, Ridgeway Road, Greendale Ave and Drew Road – to mention just a few. With the season for thunderstorms approaching, no doubt many more of the older trees will be cut, or will be knocked down by strong winds and heavy rains. Most of the trees that are being cut down – or that will fall down soon – are Cyprus or gum trees, usually around 80 years old or more, and no longer in their prime. These species are not particularly environmentally friendly. They tend to use up more water than indigenous trees, not much grows underneath them and they don’t support the local insect, bird and small mammal life in the same way that indigenous trees do.
But does that mean that home owners can just cut down the trees on the verges outside their houses at will? No, it definitely doesn’t. The verges and public spaces – and the trees growing on them – are the property of the City of Harare and by extension the property of all the rate payers.
If you want to cut the trees on the verge outside your house you need to get permission first. You need to write a letter to your District Officer or to Mr Mazurura at the Parks Department explaining why you would like to cut down the trees – they’re too old, in danger of falling on your wall or house, or they’re diseased or damaged. You can find Mr Mazurura at the Parks Office in the Harare Gardens. You need to collect Mr Mazurura from his office and take him to have a look at the trees you want to cut down and get his go-ahead before you can proceed.
From this point on things are no longer so clear and everything seems to be “it depends on what the agreement is.” We were not able to get clear answers from the District Office, the City of Harare, Parks Department, the Environmental Management Agency and even the Forestry Commission. Each institution referred us to the next. In desperation we contacted Environment Africa who said they were not sure about the relevant by-laws but would be looking in to the matter further. We managed to establish that if you cut down trees without written permission you are liable to a fine, although we were unable to establish what the amount is – “it depends” was all we could ascertain from Parks Department.
It would seem that there are two options – either you can get the Parks Department to remove the trees or you can hire your own tree fellers. If you want the Parks Department to do it, it’s generally not quick, as they are facing the usual logistical challenges of being understaffed and their lack of transport. It seems they normally sub-contract the work to their preferred tree cutting company, who then cart away the timber to be sold as firewood. This SHOULD be sold through the Parks Department at a cost of $15 per cord.
Whether the home owner needs to pay for this service is unclear, it “depends on the agreement”. If however you decide to hire your own company to cut down the trees the timber then belongs to you.
As the cleanliness and the maintenance of public spaces and public amenities continues to deteriorate alarmingly quickly, will the money generated from tree cutting and timber sales be used to help regenerate and restore our city? It would appear that this is not the case. Harare News has been unable to identify anywhere in the Northern suburbs, which appears to be the most badly affected area, where the Council is engaged in tree planting or maintenance. Often when the trees are cut down the stumps are left behind which is not only unsightly it also means nothing else can be planted there.
If you decide that the trees outside your property are becoming a problem consider pruning them rather than cutting them out completely. If you do decide, as a last resort, to cut them down completely, then remove the stumps and plant indigenous trees as replacements. Fast growing indigenous trees can be bought from most good garden nurseries, or contact Pure Earth Trees ([email protected]) who have a great variety of local trees available from small seedlings to large established trees in 50kg bags.
We’ll be investigating this further. Tell us what you think: [email protected]