Restoring endangered fynbos

Dr Charmaine Oxtoby with the Friends of Meadowridge Common Committee: Nicholas Walker, Roger Graham, Neville Postings, Fiona Watson, Esme Morris and Caroline Votet.

An ecological burn to restore the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos on a section of Meadowridge Common will take place in March.

The last burn on the common was in December 2003 and fynbos is supposed to burn every 10 to 12 years.

The area of proposed ecological burn is 1.23 hectares.

Dr Charmaine Oxtoby, a biophysical specialist for the City of Cape Town, addressed community members at the Friends of Meadowridge Common annual general meeting this week.

Ms Oxtoby spoke about what is planned and why fynbos has to burn.

The residents were also given precautions for the day of the burn and information on what will happen afterwards.

Dr Oxtoby said the City had offered to pay for a biodiversity excursion away for pupils at Constantiaberg Pre-Primary School, which is 150 meters away from the common, on the day of the fire. The school has also communicated to parents that they may choose to not bring their children to school on the day.

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.

Dr Oxtoby said Cape Sands Fynbos is critically endangered, with only approximately 10% of it left and only about 2% of it being secured and managed for conservation.

The Cape Flats Sand Fynbos only grows in Cape Town and it is the reason why the Meadowridge Common is a conservation area.

Cape Flats Sand Fynbos is also present in Lower Tokai, Rondebosch Common,KenilworthRacecourse, Milnerton Racecourse, Blaauwberg Nature Reserve and Bothasig Fynbos Nature Reserve.

The Meadowridge Common is about 5.39 hectares and there are a least 137 identified plant species on it.

Over the years, there have been a very few fires due to the pines that have been planted there. In the months preceding the fire, 30 pine trees have been felled at the Meadowridge Common.

The objective of the fire is to stimulate the fynbos seed bank because the seeds need the smoke from the fire and the fire itself to germinate.

“You lose species if they do not burn and the planting of pines over the years has lead to the native seed bank losing their viability,” said Dr Oxtoby.

The City followed a public participation process where they did a letter drop to the surrounding residents containing the intention to burn and the deadline for objections and comments was December 10 2019.

It was concluded from the comments and objections that that the burn can go ahead. Another letter drop will be done containing the notice date of the fire.

Dr Oxtoby explained that some of the concerns raised by people were about the animals on the common and what will happen to them during the fire.

She said that animals that belong in fynbos have evolved and adapted to survive the veld burning.

“The most indigenous animals in fynbos breed in the rainy season, so that fire has minimal impact on their breeding.” she said.

“A very few birds have active nests in late summer and tortoises lay eggs underground in summer, so their eggs survive.”

Most animals escape or find shelter from fire.

“Birds fly away and return when the smoke has subsided. It’s actually very interesting, raptors hunt during the burn,” she said.

She also said that small animals often run away or use underground burrows.

“Invertebratesmovetofire refugia and quickly recolonise,” said Dr Oxtoby.

Despite all this, a check would be done before the fire on the day to move animals away.

Dr Oxtoby assured the residents that after the fire, no tall proteas or other tall-growing shrubs would be planted or sown. She said that the City would continue maintenance of tall shrubs such as Bietou and Taaibos.

“The Meadowridge Common won’t look like Lower Tokai, it is a drier site,” she said.

She said that the burn would not be planned for a Friday, weekend or public holiday so that there was enough staff available.

She also said that the date of the fire would be communicated to affected parties seven days in advance, and then be confirmed the day before, once ideal weather conditions have been confirmed.

This is what residents can do on the day of the fire:

* Keep pets and children indoors

* Close all windows and doors – Embers can set curtains, etc. alight – Smoke may smell bad or be toxic (oils)

* Don’t hang washing outdoors

* Store flammable materials indoors

* Don’t use water unnecessarily

* Let the firefighters do their job

* Don’t block road access

Post-burn

* Mop-up immediately after the burn

* Burn area will be closed for a few days

* Keep out of the area until further notice – for your own safety – and to help restoration. Keep dogs out too.

Dr Oxtoby said that after the fire, seeds stored at Kirstenbosch and Westlake will be sown in late-autumn post-fire to introduce the key missing species.

There are also cuttings to be taken for propagation at the Westlake Restoration Facility such as the Diastella proteoides , Serruria glomerata , Leucadendron salignum, Cliffortia polygonifolia , Cliffortia falcata and Salvia chamelaeagnea. They will be planted in winter post-fire.

She said that sometimes one could plant restoration with 48 hours after the burn.

Those involved in the burn are the City of
Cape Town, Recreation and Parks Department,
City of Cape Town, Biodiversity Management Branch, South African National Biodiversity Institute and City Fire and Rescue Services.

The City is also planning to do other ecological burns in various City nature reserves in order to preserve natural heritage and reduce 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.

The other planned ecoloogical burns will occur on sections at the following nature reserves: Blaauwberg Nature Reserve, Table Bay Nature Reserve, Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area, Helderberg Nature Reserve, Tygerberg Nature Reserve, Durbanville Nature Reserve, Zonnestraal Conservation Area and