Some ecosystems, such as fynbos and grassland, need periodic fire to rejuvenate the veld and maintain biodiversity. However, human activities often mean that fires are too frequent, or not frequent enough. Fires at the wrong frequency can cause a loss of biodiversity, because many plants aren’t able to set seed before the next fire, and certain animal populations cannot build up their numbers through breeding or migration. On the other hand, fire-adapted plant species may be unable to seed, or their seeds may not germinate, in the absence of fire.
Follow these management steps:
- Join your local fire protection association (FPA), or form one for assistance in complying with regulations.
- Prepare firebreaks so as to cause the least disturbance to soil and biodiversity.
- Where possible, transplant threatened plant species, or site firebreaks to avoid them.
- Never burn without being fully aware of the ecological consequences. If in any doubt, obtain credible scientific advice beforehand. The local agricultural extension officer would be a good person to start with. Ensure that fire-fighting equipment is in good working order before the start of the fire season.
- Keep accurate records of fire. Record areas, dates, weather conditions and other information or observations.
- Watch an extinguished fire for at least two days after a burn.
- Don’t allow livestock to graze burnt areas during the first growing season after a fire. This will give bulbs and annuals a chance to flower and set seed and perennial grass species time to build up reserves.
Members of FPAs can pool resources and receive help to combat fire on their land. A big advantage for members is that presumption of negligence in civil proceedings resulting from fire damage cannot be used against FPA members who comply with regulations, even if the fire started on their land. Good fire management helps ensure vigorous and healthy veld which in turn ensures clean water in watercourses and dams. Measures to prevent uncontrolled fires help prevent tragic accidents and loss of life and property.
Source: Harrison, J & Young, D; 2010. Farming for the Future: Farming Sustainably with Nature. Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town
Detailed advice about fire management programmes can be obtained from the Working for Water programme (www.dwaf.gov.za/wfw/).