Comprising approximately 3 500 hectares outside the towns of Knysna and Sedgefield in the Southern Cape, the Geo Parkes & Sons forests are possibly the largest tracts of natural forests in private hands.
Main Forest, the largest section, forms part of the lush indigenous forest that has made the Knysna area famous. It covers 2 800 hectares of natural forest, as well as 600 hectares of pine and gum. Main Forest is situated just north of Knysna, adjacent to thousands of hectares of nationally protected conservation areas. The Hoogekraal estate north of Sedgefield comprises 1 850 hectares of mainly pine, along with some natural forest.
These estates are some of the few natural forests in South Africa where strictly monitored harvesting of indigenous hardwoods is permitted. The forests are legally protected for conservation purposes and harvesting takes place under special licence from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), using senility criteria developed by their conservation planning section. This means that only trees that are already dying may be harvested, and only low-impact felling and log extraction methods may be used to do so.
Staff identify candidate trees for potential felling, topping or removal. These trees are then individually checked by forest scientists appointed by DEFF. Strict tree harvest selection criteria must be adhered to and trees are identified for topping or felling based on various observations such as crown dieback, loss of the main shoot, basal or stem rot and natural factors such as windfall. An individual permit is issued for each tree that is to be harvested.
Trees of high quality timber are harvested for sale, while trees with a lesser quality of timber are left in the forest to act out their role in the intricate eco-system.