Tag Archives: fire

To Burn or Not to Burn?

There are lots of different opinions and even different laws governing various activities around fires and veld burning. In an attempt to share as many ideas as possible, Dargle Conservancy hosted a morning of discussion this week in the lovely grassland covered hills above the mist-belt forest.

fire morning 002

Farmers who have been in the area for years and brand new landowners were amongst those who attended. Bobby Hoole of the Lion’s River Fire Protection Agency led the discussions. “I think days like this are important for all landowners to start understanding the use of fire as a management tool. Both big and small landowners need to co-exist within the broader fire management planning for the area.”

fire morning 006

If you are going to burn a firebreak, you need to notify the local Fire Protection Agency (FPA), failure to do so could result in a charge of negligence. Many insurers are insisting that landowners join the local FPA before they will consider coverage. Have you? www.lionsriverfpa.co.za

fire morning 016

The group agreed that the most basic ADVICE when planning to burn anything is:

  • If you are not 100% sure of what is best, ask a couple of ‘old-timers’ for their opinion BEFORE you strike the match.
  • DON’T just ask one person, you may have chosen the local pyromaniac!
  • ALWAYS consult with your neighbours so that when they see a puff of smoke they already know what your intentions are.
  • ALWAYS be 150% prepared with equipment. Overkill on prevention is far better that trying to stop a fire when it is already running.
  • Most people are happy to assist with advice rather than running around trying to mop up a mess later.

fire morning 020

The Midlands Conservancies Forum website has a page dealing with specifically with fire: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/fire.php

A selection of downloadable documents around the issue make interesting reading. Have a look: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/firemore.php

Another interesting document designed to encourage grassland managers to think about and observe the dynamics of their particular management scenario, and to apply biodiversity-friendly principles is: Grazing and Burning Guidelines: Managing Grasslands for Biodiversity and Livestock Production – which you can download here: http://www.grasslands.org.za/document-archive/category/5-agriculture

“Fire has been around for many years as a grass management tool – however with increased population densities and smaller properties, more control and better guidelines need to be put in place to ensure that correct management of our grassland resource is achieved.” concludes Bobby.

fire morning 012

Photos by Nicole Schafer

Is Fire Season Over?

Bobby Hoole of Lion’s River Fire Protection Agency is hopeful that the danger of out of control fires has passed.   He writes:

What a great week – no fires and a fair amount of moisture.  Is fire season over, I certainly hope it is drawing to a speedy close.  If one looks at the weather forecasts, this seems likely. Since Wednesday last week there has been rather sporadic rainfall: Currys Post: 25mm; Karkloof: 25mm; Petrus Stroom; Lions River FPA Base: 22mm (3km from Currys Post) – (38mm for October to date versus 197mm this time last year); Southern side of Midmar: 12mm; Nottingham Road: 12mm.  This week look promising with rainfall up to 30mm expected over a number of days.  One will notice from the forecast table that conditions will remain cool for the entire week.

r rocky grassland burnt grass


  • Refuse pits – NO BURNING until 1 November
  • Garden refuse – NO BURNING until 1 November
  •  Brush / Forestry slash – NO BURNING until 1 November, BUT will be closely monitored iro of fire danger, especially burning off within close proximity to any forestry compartments


Veld Management

Veld management refers to the utilisation and management of forage in veld (grasses and trees) for animal production, through grazing and browsing.

Veld management involves the planned movement of animals and the control of animal numbers to keep the veld in a good condition and to improve veld that is in a poor condition

The ultimate aim of veld management is to protect and even build up topsoil to ensure current and future food production. Grasses are extremely effective in stabilising topsoil and should therefore be well managed in order to maintain a good soil cover.

A lack of proper veld management leads to overgrazing. During continuous long-term overgrazing, grasses die off and lose their hold on the ground and soil washes away. Grasses, and especially good grazing grasses, cannot grow in eroded areas.

grassland spring.res

Controlled Fire

Controlled fire is a major factor in determining the composition of grasslands and a widespread and powerful tool in grassland management. Its effect depends on its intensity, seasonality, frequency and type. The intensity depends on the type, structure and abundance of fuel. Fire is used to remove unpalatable grass and enable re-growth and access to the young herbage by grazing stock. It often stimulates re-growth and supplies a green bite when most needed. Fire is also used to control woody vegetation.

Burning of grassland must be carefully controlled and timed, otherwise it can cause serious damage, however, planning burning and controlling fire are the two key factors that always need to be given serious consideration.  Since fire has so severe an effect, burning must take the whole ecosystem into account, not only the grass and the grazing livestock.

Ill-timed fire can have a devastating effect on wildlife, including nesting and young birds.

r tree fern burnt

Objects of Act

The objectives of the Conservation of Agricultural Resource Act are to provide for the conservation of the natural agricultural resources of the Republic by the maintenance of the production potential of land, by the combating and prevention of erosion and weakening or destruction of the water sources, and by the protection of the vegetation and the combating of weeds and invader plants

In order to achieve the objects of this Act the Minister may prescribe control measures which shall be complied with by land users to whom they apply.  Such control measures may relate to-

  • the utilization and protection of vlei’s, marshes, water sponges, water courses and water sources;
  • the prevention and control of veld fires;
  • the utilization and protection of veld which has burned;
  • the control of weeds and invader plants;

Important and inter-related legislation

  • Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (NEMA)
  • Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act 43 of 1983 (CARA)
  • National Veld and Forest Fire Act 101 of 1998
  • National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004

CARA – What the law says

Intermediate Moist Grassveld: These are areas of relatively high rainfall (738 mm plus), and temperatures   of 15.4o C, on mixed and sourveld. It comprises Bioresource   Groups: Moist and Dry Midlands Mistbelt, Northern Mistbelt and Moist Lowland   Tall Grassveld. 15 July to 30 September
  1. Veld should be burnt        as early as possible within the specific period, but preferably after        a rain. (Comment        – the LRFPA takes the rain in consideration as this impacts how the fuel        load will burn, if there is no rain on the horizon burning will be        permitted on cool and calm days when the fire danger is low – and on the        other hand if there has been a good rain, burning may still not be        permitted due to high fire dangers and fuel load conditions – hence the        balance needs to be found)
  1. Grazing of burnt veld        should only commence once the grass leaves have attained a minimum        length of 50 mm.
Cool Moist Grassveld: These areas have mean annual temperatures varying from 7.5o C to   18.9o C and rainfall from 712 mm to 1 390 mm and include the:   Moist and Dry Highland Sourveld, Montane Veld, Moist Transitional Tall   Grassveld and Moist Tall Grassveld. 1 August to 30 September
  1. (i) Veld should be        burnt as early as possible within the specific period, but preferably        after a rain.
  1. (ii) Grazing of burnt        veld should only commence once the grass leaves have attained a minimum        length of 50 mm.

What the Grass Scientists say  – a recent viewpoint on biodiversity of grasslands – Note: viewpoints are respected

Burn off grass camps in a mosaic pattern, do it in late autumn, not in mid winter and certainly not in early spring.  (Comment – seems to be complete opposite to CARA and burning grass in May!)

By early spring the grass birds have started nesting, the lizards are out and the entire bio-system is waking up and fire destroys it.

One will also deprive the grazers of essential protein over winter, or at least restricted them to the fire breaks only.

Spring is defined as 1st of September but it can be earlier or later depending on the severity of the winter.

The continued cold after a burn favours the desirable grass species like Themeda that can withstand the cold and comes through more slowly but fools the unpalatable species like Ngongoni that comes up within two weeks but then gets either eaten because it is still succulent or frosted off.

Hence, always an interesting topic of discussion.

ursinia in grasslandres

One thing is very clear to me and I will re-iterate what I have said in prior correspondence with regard to how the Lions River FPA manages the matters and the two key factors that are always taken into consideration and which need to be carefully balanced at all times;

  1. The National Veld & Forest Fire Act: The fire danger – is it going to be a safe and cool burning operation to ensure the potential risks associated with spread of fire is low, and
  2. Conservation of Agricultural Resource Act:  Is the FPA and its membership going to fall within the CARA guidelines (per the Act) if burning is permitted

I wish I could say and advise otherwise – BUT, without abiding to the principle of law, where would our society be today?

In reality what does happen:

  • The landowner knows best – burns when they want to anyway.
  • The landowner does not call in to get permission to burn
  • The landowner does call in but does not listen to the fire danger advice and burns anyway
  • The landowner is busy on days when burning could have taken place and leaves grass burning to the very last day of the season, generally when fuel load conditions are not good, there has been no rain etc and then applies a few of the point above –result runaway fires!

One point is certain – by balancing the two Acts and monitoring / managing what does happen, incidents of uncontrolled fires as a result of block burning activities have reduced dramatically and landowners have become more aware of grass management issues.


Notice the two large storage dams – Pongolapoort and Woodstock, (a big drop in volume 165m cubic litres (70% of Midmar) & 37 million cubic litres respectively)  and continued water transfer from Mearns to Midmar.  You will have noticed that farm dam levels have dropped dramatically over the past few weeks as well.




This Week

Last Week

Last Year

Albert Falls Dam Mgeni River





Craigie Burn Dam Mnyamvubu River





Inanda Dam Mgeni River





Mearns Dam Mooi River





Midmar Dam Mgeni River





Nagle Dam Mgeni River





Pongolapoort   Dam Phongolo   River





Wagendrift Dam Boesmans River





Woodstock   Dam Tugela   River





Enjoy the wet weather.  Bobby.

Further information and some interesting articles on “Burning Issues” can be found on the Dargle Conservancy website. look up: http://www.dargleconservancy.org.za/firemore.html

r field of tulbaghia stone wall