Baviaanskloof Ablaze!

Promoting “citizen science”
13th October 2016
Leopard Trail & Impact of the Fires
5th January 2017

T he fires started on 3rd December and after a week had burned more than 800 square kilometres of the Baviaanskloof (see map above), an area twice the size of the Isle of Wight! Hundreds of firefighters on the ground as well as aerial resources, including water bombers and helicopters, have been battling against the veld fires.

Today the fires reached neighbours just 6km to the East of our nature reserve, where the Leopard Trail starts. As they put it: “Today has been a day from hell. For three days now the farm has been burning and today it hit the valley floor putting guests and staff in danger. It's been hard. I have been alone. I've been very scared. I ask for thoughts and prayers and rain.”

I also heard from friends in the middle of the Baviaanskloof who have been fighting the fires day and night. They have led the way in the sustainable harvesting of wild honeybush so it is awful to hear that they lost at least 16 tons of honeybush. Their farm is surrounded by state land and landowners who are not farming and did not have fire breaks or fire protection policies in place. The veld there is old – very bushy with a lot of dry material on the ground – resulting in flames metres in height.

Whilst one can’t help but think of the fate of hundreds of poor tortoises, these fires are natural and do bring benefits to this fynbos ecosystem (unless they occur too often). Fynbos plants usually grow in nutrient-poor soils and many species are dependent on fire to stimulate their reproduction and propagation. For example, potassium-rich ash after a fire creates a favourable environment for the germination of protea seeds. Of course, if fires occur too frequently this can produce long term damage and reduce biodiversity as young plants die before they have had a chance to produce seeds.

Oudeberg, our nature reserve, experienced a veld fire last year, albeit on a much smaller scale (about 200 acres) and now the area is covered by sweet grasses enjoyed by grazers. Before too long, though, the bushy renosterbos (“rhino bush”) will dominate again.


Veld fire near the Baviaanskloof We took this photo earlier this year after a veld fire near the Baviaanskloof