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Aurecon engages with communities to adopt Champion Trees

René O’Connell, Aurecon QES Manager

René O’Connell, Aurecon Quality, Environment and Sustainability Manager

14 February 2017 - Champion Trees have been identified among South Africa’s 1 700 indigenous species of trees and shrubs, and even non-indigenous varieties, to be of national importance due to their remarkable size, age, or aesthetic, cultural, historic and tourism value.

Some of them are majestic landmarks that have lived for hundreds of years. Global engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon has adopted all South Africa’s Champion Trees, currently about 100, in a partnership agreement with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

The partnership with DAFF is an example of Aurecon’s broader sustainable development initiatives. Its Champion Trees mandate embraces engaging with local communities to create an awareness of the value of trees in general and, in particular, the importance of caring for the magnificent Champion Trees. DAFF’s biggest constraint in managing the campaign is funding and Aurecon has taken up the responsibility for raising the necessary finance to promote, protect and arrange any necessary preservation treatment for the trees.

Care for a tree and it will care for you

Aurecon is helping the Nellie Swart Primary School in Queenswood, Pretoria, to have a large Eucalyptus tree in the school grounds listed as a Champion Tree. Once listed, the school’s tree will be fully protected under the National Forests Act of 1998. In a well-received knowledge transfer exercise, knowledge was shared with 400 learners on the Champion Trees of South Africa.

Dan Abrahams, a Civil Engineer from the company’s Eastern Cape office, and his team conducted a similar exercise at the Nangamso Primary School in Stutterheim.

Integral part of our cultural heritage

Aurecon adopts all Champion Trees in South Africa (Photo courtesy:

At a recent official ceremony, DAFF’s Fairview Training Centre at the Isidenge State Forest in Stutterheim, Eastern Cape, Aurecon officially adopted an iconic and rare champion tree, the Monterey Pine. It is one of the oldest of its kind in South Africa, located in a surviving old pine ‘compartment’ (section) of the State Forest. Planted in 1890, this magnificent specimen is believed to be the tallest pine in the province. Adding to the special significance of the tree and the ceremony is its close proximity to another landmark: the grave of Sandile, who was a renowned Chief of the local Ngqika community.

Among the 45 guests at the ceremony was Princess Ntombekhaya Sandile, the matriarch of the Ngqika who narrated the rich history of the area and emphasised the importance of celebrating heritage.

At the foot of the imposing tree, an attractive and durable permanent signboard was unveiled giving information on the history of the tree. It also carries Aurecon’s branding together with that of local businesses and local government, which partnered in the adoption of the tree.

Thanking Aurecon for leading the refurbishment of the area around the Monterey Pine Tree, the Deputy Director of Indigenous Forest Management (DAFF), Mr Wiseman Yako, said, “The work Aurecon has done with the Champion Tree here in Stutterheim is remarkable. They make it look so effortless and we look forward to working closer with them on future Champion Trees projects”

Driving the awareness campaign

As a pioneering initiative for Aurecon’s Champion Trees awareness campaign, the company has partnered with South Africa’s major toll road concessionaires to hand out well over 150 000 flyers at their toll plazas, promoting the protection of Aurecon’s adopted Champion Trees. Longer term partnering projects for the protection of these trees of national historic and biological value along our national roads and concessions are being discussed, creating client goodwill and promoting a fantastic environmental cause.

Branching out

“What began as an initiative to play a significant role in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ “Champion Trees of South Africa” campaign to ensure trees of national importance receive the necessary care is already branching out into other fruitful partnerships for sustainable development,” comments René O’Connell – Quality, Environment and Sustainability Manager, Aurecon. “To care for one is to care for all – is perhaps the lesson these majestic Champions are teaching us.”

For more information on Aurecon’s Champion Trees Initiative please contact either René O’Connell – Quality, Environment and Sustainability Manager, Aurecon on +27 12 427 2776 or or Sonja de Klerk – Head of Quality, Environment and Sustainability, Aurecon on +27 12 427 2548 or

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