Fires form part of a natural grassland ecosystem and in areas which are protected such as the Beaconhurst School NR controlled burns are necessary to allow the rejuvenation of the grasses and the biome in general.
Museum scientist Kevin Cole has been an honorary custodian of the reserve for the past decade and working with the principal of the school Mr Aubrey Norman it was agreed that a controlled burn should be undertaken. There was a lot of moribund grass and the combustibility of the veld in general was very high due to a persistent drought in recent months.
The Beaconhurst School NR is an important, near pristine natural habitat in the suburb of Beacon Bay with a number of habitat types such as acacia (thorn tree) thickets, a small wetland, riparian forest (a valley of bush which joins up with the Qinira River) and the various grass types.
Considerations for a burn which took place today included the wind speed and direction (westerly wind at 5 knots gusting to 7 knots), the anticipation of rain later in the day, preparations of fire breaks and staff to control any fire flares (in the fire breaks which may run away into areas not included in the proposed burn footprint) and consultations with the BCMM Fire Department and the SA Police Service.
Before the fire was started Kevin spent 1.5 hours moving in transects above the riparian forest to encourage any animal specimens off the ear-marked burn footprint into the forest below. Blue duiker and bushbuck which live in the reserve were not seen in the area to be burnt. A look-out was kept for snake species and other reptiles and any such creatures were relocated to safe areas. The most difficult species to locate in thick grass are molluscs (snails) and smaller rodents.
An initial fire was started adjacent to a fire break with the wind from behind – as this flared up and raced in the intended direction Kevin moved around and started a back-burn. The process was repeated successfully until the area was burnt. There was a small break away fire which jumped the fire-break and happily the BCMM fire truck arrived timeously with enthusiastic staff to settle matters with a good dose of water.
The reserve is now ready to receive some good rains a present a flush of green in the coming months!
Beaconhurst School Chief Groundsman Stan and his staff are wholeheartedly thanked along with the principal Mr Norman for successfully contributing to biodiversity conservation in the area.