Prescribed ecological burning programme

Prescribed ecological burning programme

Since 2008 the City of Cape Town, in conjunction with the Milnerton Racecourse Environmental Management Committee, have embarked on a rotational prescribed burning programme for the Milnerton Racecourse section of the Table Bay Nature Reserve. Natural vegetation in Cape Town The purpose of the burning programme is to stimulate the germination of the critically endangered Cape Flat Sand Fynbos plants, as many of these plants are almost completely reliant on fire to trigger their germination. The heat produced during the burn ensures that long-dormant seeds in the soil are activated to grow again. An added benefit is that the fresh growth increases the nutritional value of the vegetation for the grysbok population, as well as other animals and birds living in the reserve. Cape Flats Sand Fynbos is considered one of the “most unlucky” vegetation types in South Africa, because there is precious little of if left to conserve. Without the protection of nature reserves on public and private land, this vegetation type would have been extinct. Historical mismanagement of this vegetation included mowing, alien plant invasion, and fire protection*. Milnerton Racecourse has largely been saved from mowing. Recently all alien plants have been removed, and a managed ecological burning regime has been instituted. MRNR-2012burn-01 The map above indicates the extent of natural vegetation remaining in the City of Cape Town. The bright green represents Cape Flats Sand Fynbos. 85% of this Fynbos type has been transformed beyond reclamation by urban development. » Click here to view pictures of the 2008 burn (opens in a separate window)

Why does Milnerton Racecourse need fire?
Cape Flats Sand Fynbos is the dominant vegetation type within the Milnerton Racecourse Nature Reserve. Fynbos is fire adapted and relies heavily on fire to remain healthy and to perpetuate species. Many species of plants require fire stimulation of seeds or seed bearing cones to allow for seed dispersal and germination. Without fire a number of species would not disperse their seeds or seeds would not germinate, over time species would be lost from the area.
Fire is required to remove old and moribund plant material and to stimulate new growth resulting in renewed vigour in vegetation growth. This ensures that the vegetation is kept healthy and productive.
Renewed growth and vigour in the vegetation results in more available and choice food sources for the fauna within the MRNR; this helps keep the fauna healthy and reduces pressures created by limited resources.
By undertaking controlled burns the amount of available fuel for a fire that accumulates over time is limited. Should controlled burns not be carried out, the fuel load continues to increase unchecked with the result that any uncontrolled fire runs the risk of being unmanageable and damaging property.
Fire management
The reserve was divided into three management blocks and these were burnt in 2008, 2010, and 2012 respectively (see diagram below). These blocks were burnt at intervals to ensure that some vegetation cover remains for the antelope, and that sufficient time is given between the burns for the vegetation to return. All three burns were very successful, and monitoring has shown that vegetation regeneration in the first two burn blocks has progressed well.
MRNR-2012burn-02
Scenes from the 7 March 2012 burn.

For the next few years the vegetation will be left to return to seed-producing maturity, after which the burning programme will be resumed from about 6 – 10 years from now to mimic a naturally occurring burning cycle. In keeping with the aim of attempting to recreate natural conditions as far as possible, no deliberate management interventions following the burn will be undertaken. Monitoring of the regrowth and replacing of damaged infrastructure will be undertaken in due course. It is expected that within a few weeks new growth will appear and the positive impact of the burn will soon become evident.
On behalf of the City of Cape Town and the Milnerton Racecourse Environmental Management Committee, we would like to thank all Royal Ascot residents for their patience and support in enduring the smoke and ash during the times when the controlled burning work is undertaken and while the vegetation cover reestablishes.
Where can I get more information?
If you would like further information please feel free to contact:
Koos Retief Area Manager Biodiversity Management Branch
Landi Louw Site Manager: Milnerton Racecourse Section of the Table Bay Nature Reserve
E-mail: tablebay.naturereserve@capetown.gov.za
Tel: 021 444 0315