A farmer’s tale

Apr 15, 2021 | General News

‘Fire’ is a word any landowner in the Southern Cape of South Africa knows and respects! In many cases fire management is a controversial topic amongst the diverse range of landowners and managers in the Gouritz Ecological Corridors Project area. The reality is that most of the vegetation in the project area is fire driven, which means fire is essential to maintain the health of these ecosystems. Landowners and managers must use fire intelligently to manage fire risk and veld health.

We are now at a point in time where temperature has risen 1.2°C since the 1900’s making it the warmest period for the last 10 000 years. The warmer atmosphere and oceans cascade to change local climate. Changes in the local climate is projected to have a drying effect (decreased rainfall) as well as an increase in temperature, which increases the fire weather risk into the future.

If the natural fire regime is altered, with fires occurring too frequently, or with too long an interval, or in the wrong season, they could have disastrous impacts on plant and animal species. Sound fire management is vital to keep your land in a healthy condition (Esler et al 2014).

Farmers Dawie, Hennie and Jimmy van der Merwe from the farm Kana in the Haelkraal area realised that practicing sound fire management improves grazing, ensures maximum rainwater infiltration, reduces the risk and scale of wildfires and can help to eradicate the invasive hakea, black wattle and pine trees from the mountains and foothills on their farm.

When the Gouritz Ecological Corridors Project team visited Kana in February 2021, they were astonished to see fynbos veld in an intensive agricultural system in such a good condition. Dawie told us that they do regular controlled burns on their farm. The mountain and foothills on the farm have been divided up into large ‘burn-blocks’, which each in their turn get burned between 5-7 years depending on a range of factors.

When asked about the administrative process of applying for a burning permit, Hennie said that it is a legal requirement and after a few seasons the process is not all that onerous. They (Dawie, his brother Hennie, and father Jimmy) have built up a good relationship with the Mosselbay Fire Brigade, who does the pre-burn inspections and issues the burning permit. Dawie said that the relationship they have built with the Mosselbay Fire Brigade is very valuable to them and with the frequent site visits they have gained knowledge and skills aiding the maintenance of the network of firebreaks on the property.

They are also members of the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association, which all landowners are advised to join in terms of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act (101 of 1998). Although this is voluntary, it is recommended for insurance purposes and because it takes away the presumption of guilt through negligence as defined in the Act. It is clear that Dawie, Hennie and Jimmy manage their farm with pride and in a way that supports the economy, the environment and the community!

How to tell the age of Fynbos veld after fire

Proteaceae (proteas) are non-sprouting after fire and can be used to determine their – and thus the veld’s – age. Simply count the branch nodes from the base of the plant until you reach the tip of the plant. Each branch node represents 1 year of growth. Add 2 years to the total (young plants often don’t branch) and you will know the age of the veld. This is a 90% accurate method, but not in very old (>25 years) veld.

Compiled by Halcyone Muller, Herbertsdale Corridor Co-ordinator and member of the Gouritz Ecological Corridors Project team

Photos courtesy of Halcyone Muller

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