Working on Fire plays major role with Herbivory Project in SANParks
The South African National Parks (SANParks) and Working on Fire has partnered for many years in studying and researching fire behaviour, fire management and restoring biodiversity.
By applying specialised knowledge, Working on Fire assisted SANParks and their selected team with a Herbivory Project to study the effects fire has on the grazing of vegetation in National Parks.
A recent paper by scientists from Wits University in South Africa shows how creative fire management can increase habitat for wildebeest and other grazing animals in national parks. The work, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, shows that small, repeated fires can have a concentrating effect on animals, and create “grazing-lawn ecosystems” where food quality is higher, and herbivores can see predators from further away. SANParks managers within Kruger National Park, which is South Africa’s largest protected area, have been managing fire since as early as 1957, with fires applied to achieve objectives.
Fire experts Bob Connolly, Brick Shield and Chris de Villiers from Working on Fire were part of two teams which were formed to burn various plots that were identified. The Working on Fire teams burnt these plots in the Satara region of the Kruger National Park between the months of April and October.
This area is especially dominated by tall, fire-prone grasses and could pose a risk for runaway veld fires. “Our first burn was in 2013 and we initially started with early and late season fires of three different sizes,” says Connolly, National Project Coordinator for WOF Services. “By 2016 our treatment had been so successful that it was not possible to apply the late season fires at all, and many of the early season fires also did not spread,” Bob explains. “In other words, we had switched fire off on these plots through the combination of small fires and grazing and created short-grass habitats where grazer adapted flora should flourish in an environment which is notorious for tall, fire-prone grasses,” Bob continued.
During the drought of 2016, the team decided not to apply any fires, and published the findings of the results they had achieved thus far. “We would like to partner with Working on Fire again on the possibility of attempting to reburn these plots at some point, to test whether our treatment had persisted through the plots,” says Navashni Govender from SANParks.
The Kruger National Park is exploring the possibility of using this new insight to manage the southern Basalt plains, which are notoriously low in animals despite their high soil fertility.