GEORGE NEWS - A coordinated effort is necessary to address the challenge of the PSHB (Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer) and its fungus that is causing havoc among trees, says Hilton Fryer, a data scientist from Gauteng.
He believes there is a desperate need for leadership at national level, and that this might come from the National Disaster Management Centre, as he has been told that Dr Mmaphaka Tau is monitoring the crisis closely.
Fryer recently visited George where he held a PSHB workshop at the George Museum, which was followed by a tree walk at the Garden Route Botanical Garden. The tree walk provided opportunity to show residents the practical signs of the beetle infestation in the trees on the streets.
The shot hole borer has affected many trees in George and the Garden Route.
Fryer told the George Herald after his visit that, after he became aware of the problem in Craighall in Johannesburg, he started to create a knowledge base to inform people about the problem. Thereafter he partnered with the technology company Solution House to create the TreeSurvey mobile app, which is now used to report shot hole borer activity around the country, and to generate national distribution reports of the beetle's spread in South Africa.
One major gap was the lack of knowledge among arborists and landscapers on how to control the beetle and to treat trees, so he started conducting workshops around the country. "It is important to have more than just public events. One of the aims of the workshops is to get interest groups involved and to equip them with the key information," said Fryer.
"It was great to have the George Municipality and SANParks attend the workshop, and I was impressed with the proactive measures that SANParks has been taking to control the beetle and also to raise public awareness."
At the workshops people are told about different options that can be utilised within a comprehensive treatment protocol. "I don't prescribe a specific solution, there is no silver bullet cure. Damage that has been done to a tree cannot be undone. It is better to protect your tree before it becomes heavily infested."
According to him it is a major, countrywide problem and eight of the nine provinces have been affected. "Unless there is committed, centralised leadership we won't be able to contain the problem."
While some of the challenges include limited budgets within municipalities, this only relates to our urban trees. The aggressive infestation that has occurred in KwaZulu-Natal hints at the terrible effect that this beetle will have within our indigenous forests, according to Fryer.
His impressions after visiting George is that it is a serious matter in the area and residents need to initiate their own local action to protect their private trees and their street trees. "You cannot fight PSHB in isolation. If you want to protect the trees in your garden, you need to look over the wall and make sure that your neighbours' trees have not become a breeding ground for literally hundreds of thousands of tiny flying beetles."
Braam du Preez, a forestry consultant from George, said he couldn't attend the workshop because of other commitments. He welcomes any effort to address the challenge. He agrees that a coordinated effort is necessary. "The challenge is not becoming smaller. There are still a lot of unanswered questions."
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