Ecological burn scheduled for nature reserve

Ronelle van Loggerenberg, from Somerset West, took this picture and asked: How blessed we are to live here in the Helderberg basin, with the always smiling Helderberg Nature Reserve on the one side, and the beautiful ocean with Hangklip in the distance on the Western side. The reserve is forever treating us with fortunate discoveries made by accident, like the most intricate spiders web decorated with crystal pearls, left, to the interesting sticky drop flycatcher... also called a carnivorous plant, right.

In order to preserve our natural heritage and reduce the risk of wild fires, the City of Cape Town will conduct prescribed ecological burns in various City nature reserves over the next few months.

Carefully managed burns of old vegetation are necessary to maintain species diversity, and to reduce fuel loads, which in turn reduces the risk of wild fires. 

“The actual dates are dependent on ideal weather conditions. We will, however, ensure that the surrounding residents are provided with further details of each planned ecological burn once the dates are confirmed so that they can be prepared,” said the City’s mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt.

An ecological burn encompassing 20ha is planned at the Helderberg Nature Reserve during March and April.

“Our staff from the environmental management department will work with the City’s Fire and Rescue Service and partners to ensure that the procedure for all of these planned burns is conducted efficiently and safely on the day,” said Ms Nieuwoudt. 

The fire and rescue service will also conduct the required pre-inspection of the areas; fire-breaks will be maintained and widened where necessary; and firefighting equipment and fire hydrants will be tested to ensure seamless operations on the day. 

For safety reasons, the Helderberg Nature Reserve, or portions thereof, will be closed to the public on the day of the burning and for a few a days after until the area is deemed safe. 

The required burning permits will be obtained from the City’s air pollution and fire and rescue service departments.

Prescribed ecological burns are crucial for the management of the City’s conservation areas as fire plays a fundamental role in these ecosystems. Where Fynbos and Renosterveld vegetation becomes too old the vegetation can become thick, shading out many species, and shrubs start to die. The rejuvenating fire removes all the dead material, and stimulates seeds to germinate, and annuals and bulbs to flower. 

Fires occurring too frequently can lead to a decline in slow-growing species and reduced seed production. However, too infrequent fires can lead to bush encroachment and extinction of local species, as well as dangerous wild fires.