Fuel Reduction Burning

To: "'John McAllister'" <>, "'Colin Driscoll'" <>, "'BIRDING-AUS'" <>
Subject: Fuel Reduction Burning
From: "Giles Mulholland" <>
Date: Wed, 6 Apr 2005 18:48:26 +0200

I stand corrected - in general at least.  However, the protea grasslands
on the farm are being slowly compressed in size due to the expanding

Others have suggested this means that then this bush would be the proper
climax vegetation. However, the extensive pine forestry all around the
area has meant that regular lightning or early human burns no longer
occur, and the previously extant grazers are almost all eradicated.  So
this means that under current environmental practices, the protea
grassland will soon vanish from the farm.  I am determined that this
shouldn't happen, and if I am going to be fighting modern thinking and
even "nature" - so be it.  I am determined to keep the protea


Giles Mulholland
Phone: +27 (13) 733-3177
Fax: +27 (13) 733-3177
Cell: +27 (83) 411-2424
Postal: P.O. Box 162 Schagen, 1207, South Africa

-----Original Message-----
From: John McAllister  
Sent: Tuesday 05 April 2005 09:27
To: Colin Driscoll; 'Giles Mulholland'; BIRDING-AUS
Subject: Fuel Reduction Burning

MessageHi Colin and others

Giles is actually quoting outdated Eurocentric theories.  Our grasslands
in fact primary grasslands maintained by climatic factors including 
lightning ignited fires.  These grasslands are all in areas with a high 
density of lightning strikes to ground and trees and shrubs will only
them if fire is ARTIFICIALLY excluded from the area by means of
overgrazing (i.e. the grass is too short to burn), etc.  They once
covered as much as 60% of Africa, but are now virtually restricted to 
southern Africa.  Other climatic factors include warm wet summers
by cold dry winters with heavy frosts and sometimes snow..  This results
a high preproduction of dry, highly flammable aerial parts of the plants

(the nutrients having been withdrawn into the plant root systems) which 
would have been set alight by dry electrical storms experienced in these

areas in our spring around September/October.

Unfortunately I have been out of Grassland ecology for quite a few years
so can no longer quote any references, but there are many articles and 
papers on the subject.  This theory is also supported by the presence of
many endemic species in our grassland biome (12 bird species alone -
which I 
know is not great by Aus standards but it is the highest of any South
Biome).  These species could surely not have evolved over the last 400 
years - the time period that anthropogenic fires have been a major
factor in 
our grasslands.  Another indication is that the vast majority of
famous antelope species are grazers, not browsers indicating that they 
evolved when grasses not trees or shrubs were the dominant vegetation.
grasslands are under tremendous threat in South Africa and around 80% of

then have been irreversibly transformed by agriculture, livestock
tree plantations, urban sprawl, mining, etc.

Fire is thus an indispensable part of our grassland ecology.  The 
"wildfires" of the past are no longer a major feature, but this is due
human factors such as fire control, overgrazing, planting to alien
such as eucalypts, wattles, pines, etc.  Fires are now indeed mostly 
anthropogenic, but that is due to human needs or interference in curbing


I hope that you'll excuse my rambling, but it is a subject close to my
and is closely related to birds - the majority of our threatened species
grassland endemics or dependant on grasslands to a large extent for
survival.  If anyone is interested in reading further on the subject the

South African National Botanical Institute in Tshwane (Pretoria) has
of literature on the subject and I would imagine that a Google search
turn up their contact details.


John McAllister
Wakkerstroom (in one of the last remaining "near pristine" grassland
of South Africa)
South Africa

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