Ecological burn to restore critically endangered Knysna sand fynbos

A team of stakeholders has set a date of the week of the 06th March 2017 as a possible date for an ecological burn.

The planned burn which was postponed last year is now back on the cards of a steering committee concerned about the ecological wellbeing of the area.  The burn will include some 71 hectares on the Southern slopes along the Brenton-on-sea Road which includes Portions 39 and 40 of the Uitzigt Farm.

‘It is a collective effort from all stakeholders because 85% of the fynbos scheduled to burn has not burnt in the last 30 years’ according to Environmental Planner for the Garden Route National Park, Maretha Alant. Partners include Southern Cape Fire Protection Association (FPA), SANParks, Knysna Municipal Fire Services, Eden District Fire Services – Deputy CFO, PG Bison, CapeNature, Knysna Municipality Traffic Control and the landowners.’

All are adamant to restore Knysna Sand Fynbos and to provide habitat for species dependent on this ecosystem over the medium to long term. Portions 39 and 40 of Farm Uitzigt 216 are ideally located spatially and are relatively free from alien vegetation thus providing an excellent opportunity to benefit conservation for such a critically endangered ecosystem.

Johan Baard of Scientific Services in the Garden Route National Park adds that ‘many fynbos species only recruit after a fire as fire stimulates seed release and germination. In a landscape where fire is kept indefinitely, fynbos often reverts to thicket vegetation or forest. Without fire, fynbos will lose its true character and species.’

The remaining natural Knysna Sand Fynbos is approximately 1 478 ha (9.6% of the original extent) and falls short of the conservation target of 3 531 hectares.

The actual exercise will be implemented by the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association (FPA). It will be done in phases due to the large hectares of land up for burning. The FPA also indicated a burn will only take place if there is predicted follow-up rain.  Alant points out that ‘fire close to an urban area is risky business however there are trade-offs that have to happen to preserve a system that has not had fire for so long.’

Baard adds that Fynbos is a vegetation type which is adapted to fire and more so, dependent on fire.  Many species only recruit after a fire as fire stimulates seed release and germination. In landscapes where fire is kept out indefinitely, fynbos usually reverts to thicket vegetation or forest. Without fire, there would be no fynbos. In addition Fynbos fires should occur at intervals of 10 to 30 years.  Natural fires typically occur during warm and dry weather conditions which result in high intensity fires, which is desirable from an ecological point of view.

Area Manager for Knysna, Johan de Klerk says ‘we are losing species and vegetation types by not burning.’ Controlled burns such as the planned one, will help minimize the risk of uncontrolled, accidental wildfires.

The Lower fuel load after the burn is said to result in lower fire risk for a few years.

Pictures of a previous burn supplied by Johan Baard

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