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27 October 2023

Prescribed burns at Tsitsikamma Section of Garden Route National Park

South African National Parks (SANParks) conducted a prescribed burn in the Tsitsikamma Section of Garden Route National Park, near Nature’s Valley on Thursday, 26 October 2023. The prescribed burn was a joint operation between SANParks and MTO Group with assistance from the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association, Working on Fire and Bitou Local Municipality. The burnt block is situated south of the N2, west of Nature’s Valley Rest Camp (De Vasselot) and comprises about 148 ha.

Weather conditions were suitable, with warm temperatures and a gentle breeze on the day, resulting in a successful exercise.

Fire is the most important disturbance agent in fynbos vegetation, and essential in maintaining biodiversity and natural ecological processes. It is not only a management tool but prescribed burns also prevent the build-up of fuel loads and thereby reduce the risks that wildfires pose to human lives, infrastructure and property.

The ideal fire regime for the maintenance of fynbos diversity is one exhibiting a natural range of variability with respect to fire frequency, fire intensity and fire season. A general guide for fire frequency in Tsitsikamma fynbos is 15 years. The fynbos in this area was almost 25 years old.

Prescribed ecological burns are planned for the summer and autumn months which are beneficial for most fynbos species in terms of post-fire regeneration. If fynbos does not burn often enough, proteas and other species get too old and their reproductive ability declines substantially, but if fynbos burns too often, reseeding shrubs can be lost and resprouting species and alien species can take over. Following a fire, reseeding fynbos species release their seeds, and seeds from ericas, restios, proteas and other fynbos species are more likely to germinate after they have been exposed to smoke.

The actual dates of burns cannot be predicted in advance as they are only conducted when temperature, wind and humidity conditions are suitable for fire control. The relevant stakeholders and role-players are communicated with before each burn is imminent.