The prevalence of established historic trees surrounding any building, in my view, can contribute to the cultural significance. This can be motivated in part, that the tree either has some special significance associated with the property and those who lived there, or it can be motivated that it provides the historic house and property with an architectural significance in the form of an aesthetic contribution to the character of the site.
To my knowledge, the City of Tshwane has a list of Pretoria buildings older than 60 years old. This is a list, but it is not a heritage register. A register singles out and groups various buildings of cultural significance and they are afforded a type of special protection, that should then, acc to the NHR Act, be protected and heritage-managed by City Tshwane. At the moment, apart from Cape Town, municipalities in South Africa have not got such registers in place. So, if the building is not recorded on a heritage register, held by City (and it is probably not), under any category of specific cultural significance or heritage grading (Gr.s I to iii), then the only way in which it is protected, is through Section 34 (60 year rule) of the NHR Act. Section 34 requires the owner to make an application to the PHRA-G if he wants to alter the ‘structure’ in any way. But it does not use the word ‘site’, it uses ‘structure’ (See Section 34 (1)). This may imply that Section 34 has less protection covering the overall site and its rather, more about the building. Nevertheless, the heritage fraternity and the heritage authority, will acknowledge that site features, such as additional structures, or planting and trees, even on undeclared properties, do contribute to the overall significance of a heritage building (structure).
So as far is the law is concerned, trees are not as protected as buildings, unless declared on registers through the City or are part of a declared, Provincial or National heritage site.
Further comment on this question is encouraged.
Adrian de Villiers | Heritage Advisory Services Department of Public Works.