Read our Blog
ARON HYMAN and BOBBY JORDAN
A BUTTERFLY that was found exclusively on a few hectares of and on the western bank of the Knysna Heads has had its habi- tat wiped out by the fire But the Brenton Blue itself may yet rise from the ashes like a phoenix", said Dr Dave Edge the custodian of the butterfly The insect has a rare ecology that makes it able to weather fire: ants take its larvae and pupae up to 30cm deep into the roots of a type of fynbos that thrives on fire
"The Brenton Butterfly Reserve, the last outpost has now been burnt, but nature has amazing ways to recover," said Edge.
"We believe there is a very good chance it will come back. Edge said humans had all but topped the natural eyele of fire that had shaped the critically endangered butterfly and its ecosystem because they wanted to protect their property, in frastructure and especially their commercial plantations. "The vegetation lim Brenton on-Sea, the seaside settlement where the butterfly lives hasn't burnt for a hell of a long time, maybe a century or more certainly not in living memory," said Edge. The unique insect's home will not be the only casualty as human activity makes infernos increasingly likely Dr Tineke Kraaij, a lecturer at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, said climate change and the spread of alien vegetation would make future fires worse.
The Garden Route fire was preceded by six months of drought, which was so bad that invasive trees, heavily depen dent on water, started to die "The climate has become more fire-prone. The relative humidity is getting lower and the temperatures are rising, said Kraaij, who worked as an ecologist at South African National Parks for 15 years. The natural forest did not burn because it is more moist and uses much less water than the thirsty blue-gum trees and pine forests of the commercial plantations.
Susan Campbell, who lost a luxury bush camp nestled in coastal forest, said an unnatural build-up of fynbos "fuel load" had contributed to the intensity the The fynbos hasn't been al lowed to burn. As a result the fuel load is se much more dan she said. The entire stretch of coastal forest between Buffalo Bay and
Brenton-on-Sea had been wiped out, she said: "On my property We believe that there is a very good chance that it will come back there are not even stumps left. There were milkwood trees in there that must have been 200 years old.
People need to understand the big influence of alien plant growth, that it has a massive negative impact, and it causes fires to become totally uncontrollable. You can't control a fire in an alien jungle The fire will help alien species spread, she pointed out. The experts are hopeful, how- ever, that the fire will have some positive impact on an environ ment that has been severely damaged by human activity over the past two centuries. "The botanists are going to be very delighted to probably find plants here that are very rare," said Edge A lot of fynbos plants, particularly the rarer ones, require fire to regenerate."
Kraai said an intense fre had been needed to burn the thick scrub that had taken over the landscape from the much more biodiverse fynbos As homes are being rebuilt and people pick up the pieces, Edge and his team will be watching the ashes for Brenton Blues. In November we're going to be sitting there waiting, and if it comes out we're going to help it," he said.
Thank you to Guy Preston for this amazing information!
Dr Guy Preston, PhD (Environmental Science) Deputy Director-General: Environmental Programmes, Department of Environmental Affairs.
Fynbos burning over Lake Pleasent
June 2017 will be remembered by South Africans for decades to come. A historical moment when Mother Nature showed her true power and the only option was to get out of her path and watch in awe.
For a week preceding the fire, extreme weather warnings had been issued with predictions of flooding in drought stricken Cape Town and surrounds and rain and strong winds in the Garden Route. Waking up on the 7th June, little did anyone know that within 72 hours 10,000 hectares and in excess of 500 structures in the Garden Route would be burnt, some houses simply reduced to a heap of rubble and vast swathes of pine plantations burnt.
While fires aren’t uncommon in the Garden Route, this fire had all the conditions to make the ‘Perfect Fire’, something that thankfully occurs only every 100 years. With hindsight being a perfect science, understanding the fire has produced insight into the elements that created this inferno.
There were five core conditions that made this fire so unique, namely :
1. The regional drought conditions,
2. The fuel load in the environment and suburbs,
3. Topography of the area,
4. Hot ambient air conditions,
5. The speed of the wind.
Each of these conditions would contribute to a fire, indeed the combination of two or three conditions would generate a formidable fire, but the combination of all five factors produced a historical fire.
Looking at each factor and how it contributed to the perfect conditions will assist in understanding the mechanisms and how to plan to mitigate escalated damage in the future.
Drought Conditions :
The Garden Route, along with the rest of the Western Cape has been in the grips of a severe drought for 12 months. While Cape Town exhibits an established winter rainfall, the Garden Route between Mossel Bay and Storms River don’t. Contrary to popular belief, the Garden Route doesn’t have a rainfall season.
The impact of the current drought on vegetation and the resultant increase of fuel for a fire has been substantial. One drought survival mechanism of plants is to reduce the surface area of trans- evaporation, or simply put, to defoliate and drop leaves. The defoliation can represent up to 40% of the trees leaf mass.
With the accumulation of extra leaf mass, the usual systems of decomposition by both chemical (fungal) and mechanical (earthworms, crickets, Pill Millipedes etc) means is retarded and thicker layers build up. This build up in areas can result in the formation of natural compost heaps. Normal composting is an exothermic process reaching internal temperatures between 45 and 77°C. Under certain conditions a compost heap can spontaneously combust.
Alone, the additional leaf litter and potential compost heaps has a potential for starting a small fire, or series of fires.
Accumulation of Fuel :
It is important to understand the different vegetation types in the Garden Route to appreciate the contribution to the build-up of flammable material for fires.
Everyone speaks of the Knysna Forest and the Fynbos in the Garden Route. However, we also have pine plantations, alien stands, coastal thicket and Milkwood Forest. In addition we have agricultural practices which comprise crop production, orchards and pastures for dairy and livestock production.
The importance to distinguish each of these vegetation types is that each has a different contribution to the progression of a fire, some retarding fire and others fuelling fire.
The Afro-montane forest, as a natural stand is fire retardant with the border species preventing the spread of fire to the interior of the forest. This has evolved as a means of protection against the fire climax vegetation of Fynbos.
Milkwood forest is also fire retardant which can be clearly evidenced on the eastern end of Lake Pleasant where the fire was stopped dead in a straight line by this vegetation type.
Coastal Thicket is in some part fire retardant, but the leaf litter, when dry, and dead branches burn and smoulder. While not completely stopping a fire, is can slow the progress of the fire down. The biggest danger of this vegetation type is the potential of flare up after the main fire has stopped.
Then there is Fynbos. Every South African knows the fires of Fynbos. Fast, furious, extensive and most times unstoppable. Fynbos, is a fire climax vegetation and needs fire. There is no exact frequency period of a burn, but it does need to burn. Not burning it has two results. Firstly the build-up of flammable material and secondly the intrusion of either coastal thicket or forest species.
The Goukamma Nature Reserve east of Sedgefield hasn’t had a burn in 30 years except for a small portion near the Goukamma River which was burnt in 2006. It was primed with fuel for a fire and was completely burnt during this recent fire.
Pine and Eucalypt plantations are also prone to burning. Depending on the age and maintenance of the plantations the leaf litter layer can build up and add to the fuel base for a fire. Representing the largest surface area burnt in this fire, the contribution as fuel of the mosaic of plantations has to be addressed.
Finally, the gradual intrusion of alien vegetation, which burns readily, in the form of extensive stands of Black Wattle has also contributed vastly to the provision of fuel to the recent fire.
The collection of fuel biomass from pine plantations, alien stand and a fynbos without partitioning corridors of fire retarding forest was a major contributing factor in the rapid spread of the fires.
Regional Topography :
Ask any old farmer or fire fighter where to run to when a fire gets out of hand and they will all direct you to the kloofs. This isn’t random advice, but the wisdom of experience. Fire likes to race up slopes and along ridge lines, bypassing gorges.
The Elandskraal fire did exactly that, twice splitting along ridge lines and then joining up again. A good indication of the traditional fire paths, because the vegetation has been controlled by fire for millennia, is to check the vegetation that prevails. Again, if Afro-montane Forest occurs naturally in an area, then the chances are that fire hasn’t traveled that way in the past and is unlikely to do so in the future.
Hot ambient Air Conditions : Berg Wind
Dendrochronological studies from trees in the Afro-montane forest lack any clear seasonal growth patterns in their growth rings which indicates a lack of a clear and defined rainfall in the region over a time frame that extends back at least 650 years.
The relevance of this distinction in rainfall patterns is important when weather predictions indicate heavy rain and flooding in Cape Town. When a winter storm is predicted for Cape Town, the anticyclonic weather mechanisms of the southern hemisphere will result in the pressure system veering north east from Cape Town and passing slightly north of the Garden Route.
This deflection north of the Garden Route creates a north westerly wind into the region which results in hot dry air known as a Berg Wind. Depending on the state and strength of El Nino and La Nina conditions, the degree of deflection of the pressure systems varies and can create a period of winter Berg Winds in the Garden Route. A previously notable period of prevailing Berg Winds in the Garden Route was from May 1995 for six weeks.
The mechanics of a Berg Wind are simple. As air descends from altitude, in this case over the Outeniqua Mountain Range, it heats up to approximately 32°C, but can be as high as 38°C. In addition to being hot, the air is extremely dry.
These hot dry conditions played a major role as a predisposition for the fires of 7th June. In the preceding week there were two days of Berg Winds which dried and wilted vegetation in the area. This, added to the extra layer of defoliated material as a result of the drought, prepared ample fuel that required a simple spark to ignite it.
Wind Speed :
Something beyond all human control is the speed of the wind. When a barometric chart indicates a large pressure differential, then expect strong wind. On the 6th June, the barometer started dropping from 1024mb at 00h00 to approximately 997mb by 15h00.
Accounts of how fast the wind was traveling on the 7th June vary, but it was recorded at between 90km/h and 100km/h with gusts exceeding 110km/h, strong enough to divert one aircraft from landing at George Airport and to close the airport till the late afternoon.
Like a bellows, winds of this speed can fan a fire and superheat it in excess of 2000°C which is exactly what occurred on the 7th June 2017.
Thermal Wave :
Add all the above conditions in with the strong wind blowing from the north west and you have the makings of the perfect fire and the creation of a phenomena known as a Thermal Wave. Referenced in literature and rarely seen, a thermal wave is a sine wave flow of super-heated air associated with a fire.
Heat from the fire rises, while the wind blows it horizontally before it touches down and ignites a new fire and then again bounces off downwind. The wave length of this thermal wave can vary between 300m and 1000m allowing it to jump over valleys and rivers and resulting in the seemingly random effect of single houses exploding into flames while those around them are left unscathed.
The mechanics of the thermal wave are interesting. The superheated air rises from the flames and moves laterally driven by the wind. As the air descends into the trough of the wave (of the sine wave form) the high temperature heats everything before it, be it trees or a structure, which then erupts into flame spontaneously before any flame reaches the area. When this wave descends on a structure like a house, it forces the roof down with immense pressure while the extreme heat melts glass and disintegrates bricks. The result is a collapsed pile of rubble.
Eye witness accounts of this leading edge of the thermal wave describe it as a rolling ‘tumbleweed’ flying through the air at between 100km/h and 110km/h. One account even related how the fire overtook their car at 110km/h. The area beneath the peak of the thermal wave has been described by Knysna Fire Chief Clinton Manual as being beneath the ‘dome’, a smokeless zone of earie silence and no wind.
In the Garden Route, during a few days starting on the 7th June, we lived through a historical event, another which has only ever been recorded in1869. Nothing could have prepared us for this fire and nothing could have combatted it. It was the perfect fire, a combination of factors which fuelled the inferno.
Fortunately we have learnt from this event and can formulate plans to never again allow Mother Nature to play a Royal Flush of all five contributing factors to produce a thermal wave through the Garden Route. We can’t prevent droughts or stop the Berg Wind or retard the wind speed, but we can manage the fuel load of the region and establish corridors of fire retardant vegetation and plan a mosaic of safe zones.
A Beautiful Outlook on the Fires in Port Elizabeth Area by Emma Hay whose property was personally affected. INSPIRED!
Written by Emma Hay:
"We live in a fire belt - we live in a fire-dependent fynbos biome. It is an ecological need of the fynbos biome to burn every 5-20 years if it is to survive. We knew this. However, having planted just over 50 trees over the past 3 weeks after months of planning (mainly wild olive, coastal oak, wild plum, camphor tree, stinkwood, cheesewood, kooboo berry, white ironwood, yellow wood, cape ash, cape beech as indigenous canopy) and a bunch of orchard fruiting trees and avo's, we have lost most of them, and most of the windbreak and shade that we had too. We have also lost the compost, manure, mulch and digging hours in rocky soil and we ARE SO GRATEFUL!!!
Planning for fire is a serious business that we neglected and we intend to learn from this. Conventional permie techniques we always use as standard (organic mulch, wood chip, multiple vertical layers/understory planting etc.) are no longer viable here at VS without careful amendment - they are in fact dangerous for us and for our neighbours. Our fires started from embers from the gorge and not from direct flame contact. The dried fynbos was left as mulch and micro-climate and created an inferno - the understory plants created a ladder effect into the larger trees. The small wattle forest we had yet to replace with indigenous trees did not burn because there was no life beneath it to feed the fire. We arrived with minutes to spare before our off-grid cabin went up. We will now observe, adapt and creatively use and respond to this change; using small, slow solutions we will apply self-regulation and accept this very valuable but frightening feedback. We are far luckier than most and my heart goes out to all those folks who have to start again. We will not give up, we will respond and hopefully will have a few years at least before the next burn.
Watch this space...
As were many, I was truly devastated to witness the fires that have wreaked havoc on huge areas of the Garden Route, and particularly Knysna. The loss of life, property and habitat is tragic, even while trying to see it in a bigger light and perspective of the ecosystem at whole. I am compelled to share the views of the Endangered Wildlife Trust on the view of Alien Vegetation in this area and the role it played in the fires and now following.
EWT is making an urgent plea for local government, the private sector, members of the public and communities to join hands and ensure that the restoration of the indigenous ground cover, removal of alien vegetation and improved management of the catchment in the Garden Route is urgently prioritised over the short and long term in order to secure the socio-economic development and sustainability of this region and to make sure that this never happens again.
This is an extract from their recent review:
“The extreme nature of these fires and the extent of the damage was in no small way exacerbated by the extensive and uncontrolled spread of alien plant species such as pine and wattle trees. The threat posed by alien invasive plants in the area was identified many years ago. An article written by Richard Cowling, Brian van Wilgen, Tineke Kraaij, and Jonathan Britton, titled How no-man’s-land is now everyone’s problem, and published in the September 2009 edition of Veld&Flora, was almost prophetic in the concerns it raised regarding the potential for abnormally intense fires to ravage the area, due to the replacement of indigenous fynbos with alien plant species such as pine trees. The authors developed various scenarios for the Garden Route and, based on the existence of uncontrolled alien spread, and periods of lower rainfall, they predicted that “… fires would rage with abnormal intensity, seriously threatening homes, crops, plantations and people. The high-intensity fires would damage the soil, resulting in erosion and silting up of dams, further exacerbating water problems.”
The intense fires fuelled by alien vegetation also have a far more damaging impact on the soil than typical fynbos fires would have, resulting in extreme erosion. This eroded soil and other debris now threatens to end up in the area’s water sources, with a potentially devastating effect on water quality and the ecosystems in those rivers and estuaries. This brings home the importance of investment in ecosystem services, alien vegetation removal and catchment rehabilitation. The National Department of Environmental Affairs Natural Resource Management Programme, as well as provincial agencies, such as CapeNature, need to continue and ramp up the valuable work they do on this front to get a handle on the invasions that threaten, not just our water resources but lives and habitats too. Civil society needs to get behind these agencies and work together to make sure this scale of disaster does not happen again.
The EWT has previously been involved with developing the Knysna estuary management plan some ten years ago and had started discussions with the members of the Knysna Basin Project and the Estuary Management Forum in May this year around re-engaging to provide implementation support for aspects of the estuary management plan. In a few short weeks, everything has now changed and we are re-assessing how we can work with the Forum and the local communities to support both short-term protection of the estuary from siltation and runoff as well as long-term catchment management through restoration and re-indigenisation.
We are working with various partners to document the extent of the damage to the natural environment, particularly as a result of sediment and debris that may now end up in the estuary, and the potential impact on key habitats, such as the Eelgrass, and species, such as the Knysna Seahorse. Our aim is to have a team in the field in the coming week to start supporting local authorities to alleviate some of these impacts through debris clearing and silt trap ecosystem restoration work around the estuary.
The EWT is making an urgent plea for local government, the private sector, members of the public and communities to join hands and ensure that the restoration of the indigenous ground cover, removal of alien vegetation and improved management of the catchment in the Garden Route is urgently prioritised over the short and long term in order to secure the socio-economic development and sustainability of this region and to make sure that this never happens again.”
To Contact them:
Source to Sea Programme Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
I was just reading a great little booklet that African Centre for Biodiversity is circulating. Its called:
The Bayer-Monsanto merger: Implications for South Africa's agricultural future and its smallholder farmers.
I mean certainly I have been along side Rushka Johnson, our PE Anti-GMO activist and now Seeds are Fertile fights, and I have been most aware of what is brewing on the horizon of these monstrous endeavours... but this little booklet taught me a whole bunch more!
Did you know that the proposed Bayer-Monsanto merger will give control of almost 30% of the world's commercial seed market and 25% of the world's commercial pesticide and herbicide markets to one company, effectively making it the world's largerst supplier of seeds and agrochemicals.
In South Africa the merged company would control more than 30% of the value of the commercial seed and agrochemical markets based on current market share.
If this merger and those of DuPont-Dow and ChemChina-Syngenta are allowed, just three companies will own and sell about 60% of the world's patented seeds and pesticides/herbicides.
This merger will have significant negative impacts on the seed and pesticide sector, as well as for farmers and food consumers in South Africa!
I really really want to encourage ALL people of ALL walks of life, to PLEASE PLEASE be aware of what is happening with our seed banks!We worry about which car to buy next, or what politician is doing what... lets pay careful attention to what is happening to our precious resources of food and water, which are sadly becoming less of free services from nature, and more commodities for governments and corporations to control.
For information and reference to this booklet see www.acbio.org.za
Thank you to this amazing organisation for putting this information out there!
We are very happy to announce that you can now complete our Modules as stand alone 3 month courses:
3 Month Correspondence Courses NOW available!!
Choose any of Our Modules to Complete as Stand Alone Correspondence Courses.
Students can start anytime of the year. Once you have provided your sign up details and paid the relevant fees, we send you the module. Complete the Assignments in your own time, along with the guidance of your facilitator, and submit your completed work via email or post as it suits you.
There are no Time Deadlines only Time Guidelines, so you may complete the module in the time best suited to you and your lifestyle.
3 Month Correspondence Courses Available :
(1) Ecological Intelligence. Global Environmental Issues & Effects. Environmental Mitigation & Conservation. R4500
(2) Ecosystems of South Africa. R2000
(3) Veld Succession and Reclamation R4000
(4) Biodiversity for Development R2500
(9) Alien Vegetation in South Africa R4500
see our website for details and bookings www.san-ecosystems.co.za
...as of 2014 NEMBA Regulations state that Property Owners need to remove Nemba 1a and 1b category Alien Plants on their property.
Despite Laws and Regulations, its good to do the right thing anyway and help conservationists to save our indigenous flora (and water) by removing invasive plants on your property.
If You Need Help to Identify and Manage Alien Vegetation in your Garden or Estate then call Nicola Schwim
Nicola resides in George and frequents Port Elizabeth area.
Arrange a Consultation with Nicola Schwim to advice you on what plants are a BIG BAD for South African ecosystems.
*Control plans and actual removal can be arranged at agreed rate on consultation...but for the most part we will show you/your gardener what to do.
AND PLEASE ONLY SUPPORT INDIGENOUS GARDEN PLANTS NURSERIES!!!!
Ecological Intelligence is not just about information, it is also about knowledge.
We ask one of our Students from SAN Ecosystems, after completing the first module of the 14 month correspondence course, for her opinion on Ecological Intelligence based on what she has learnt.
Student Emma Hay writes:
The definition of ecological intelligence may be construed as a wide one, encompassing many different facets of consideration. On the surface, ecological intelligence is regarded as the ability to respond to one’s environmental niche; to adapt and engage with specific ecosystems through a process of experiential learning. Thus, many would argue that humans harbour such intelligence and are thus ‘top of the food chain’ or the ‘pinnacle of evolution’. Such ideology would be demonstrated through scientific disciplines and specialisms that focus in on very particular details rather than the whole, as well as through direct control or dominion over and interference with the natural world, such as man-made oceanic reefs, fenced and controlled game parks, biological control over invasive species etc. While it sometimes useful and necessary to conceptually sub-divide (eco)systems to make their interactions easier to consider, we must not lose sight of the fact that no part of a system ever exists totally in isolation. Even the smallest elements within systems could also be totally dependent upon it. However, ecological intelligence is not just about information, it is also about knowledge.
Ecological intelligence may, for example, be explored from various angles depending upon the world view or ideology guiding the consideration. A scientist may focus on the specific conditions involved, such as ecological niches, food chains and webs, and the environmental services supporting and linking them. The economist may consider intelligence as an accounting balance sheet, weighing up costs and benefits of our environment and the impacts therein on economic growth. The Buddhist may consider the connectedness of consciousness and the impact we have on each other and our planet as one and the same – a shared inter-dependence of consciousness. At the heart of ecological intelligence would then exist not only information about ecology, but also knowledge about the place of humans within this ecology and a combination of all of the above. It is thus intelligent to be knowledgeable about the bio-centric nature of our living planet. It would be intelligent to recognise our (human) utter interdependence with all ecological systems and how our very existence depends upon the environmental services that create and sustain the conditions for all life on Earth. Ecological intelligence would see and value food webs and vast interconnections of all biotic and abiotic components and in doing so, would not be willing to self-sacrifice though denial of such interdependence.
Some ecological intelligence may be sought in books, on the internet, through research and interest. However, some of the most ecologically intelligent beings have no such access nor need for such intellectual information because knowledge is inherent within their lives and being. Practices and philosophies that make use of herbal medicine, that have intimate knowledge of nature’s cycles and respond to them accordingly, those who protect and respect all sentient beings, seeing their inalienable worth rather than “resources” arguably demonstrate ecological intelligence. The one way ecological information is known, but intelligence is lacking, is whereby the planet’s ecology is damaged, degraded or destroyed through anthropocentric means that benefit only the smallest of minority groups whilst endangering all others in the mane of economic growth. This is the not intelligent, despite the various scientific specialisms and technology applied in the process.
My ecological intelligence is directly linked to my emotional and personal growth. The more time I spend immersed in nature, the more connected I feel to our planet and a sense of ‘cosmic consciousness’ that surpasses the intellectual and often delves into the realm beyond the five senses. Information about ecosystems helps me to understand interconnectedness in a less abstract and more real sense. Observing and really ‘seeing’ nature increases empathy but also makes the awareness of our ecological crisis more burdensome at times. My challenge is to learn as much as I can from observation and analysis (aided greatly thought the use of permaculture principles), but whilst also attempting to develop a more intuitive, non-cognitive and more sensory intimacy with nature. The latter is a life-long process of reconnection and is greatly aided by spending time outdoors, living in close relation to nature’s cycles and loving the planet and all it contains, irrespective of what it ‘does’ for me or how I am impacted personally. I feel that our abundance of information as a species is not translated into intelligence and this is evidenced by the ecological crisis that we now face that is deemed ‘anthropocentric’ by the largest panel ever converged to assess such matters – the United Nations IPCC.