iSimangaliso’s fire season

iSimangaliso’s fire season

8 Jul 2019

As winter deepens, rainfall eases off and the grass turns yellow and dry, conservation managers turn their attention to an integral element for the management of protected natural areas – fire. Controlled burns are an essential management tool for maintaining the optimal ecological functioning of fire-prone natural systems, allowing old, dead vegetation to burn off and new palatable grass to grow back in its place.

According to iSimangaliso’s Executive Manager Biodiversity and Conservation, Sizo Sibiya, “A burning regime is vital for stimulating grass regeneration, destruction of alien plants and in many examples of flora, the germination of seeds. It also creates better grazing for antelope and other herbivores as it stimulates grass growth, plant vigour and species diversity.”

Grass at uMkhuze
In April this year, the grass at uMkhuze was thicker than it has been for years.

This year, following good summer rains, the uMkhuze section of the World Heritage Site in particular is covered in a thick pelt of long golden grass – in ecological terms, a high fuel load that poses a risk in the case of runaway bush fires. For this reason, a burning programme will begin around mid-July and the end of the school holiday period. Already the uMkhuze section has begun to experience encroaching fires started either accidentally or deliberately in areas adjacent to the Park. Fortunately these have been controlled to prevent threats to infrastructure or wildlife.

eMshophi
eMshophi area, uMkhuze – July 2019: Fires spread easily on hot winter days when the bush is tinder dry.

Nyala
Animals, like this female nyala at uMkhuze, are attracted to the ash deposits and the new green flush that quickly follows.

In the coastal grasslands of iSimangaliso’s Eastern and Western Shores, as well as the Ozabeni and Coastal Forest sections, fire has been used by generations of land users to improve grazing. Without this, many areas of the park would be vulnerable to encroachment by woody plants leading to a loss of valuable coastal grasslands. Regular burning is therefore an important part of iSimangaliso and its conservation agent, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s management strategy to maintain ecosystem functioning and biodiversity and retain these habitats for grazing game species.

Fire

Fire
Guests visiting the Park in winter may be disappointed if their visit coincides with one of the burning days and parts of the veld look like the apocalypse – but rest assured, it is for the overall health and benefit of the Park and its protected species, whether flora or fauna. And smoke-filled skies do make excellent sunset shots – in fact it can be a very rewarding time for photographers seeking dramatic images!

Media enquiries should be directed to Debbie Cooper at debbie@isimangaliso.com.

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