March to May is considered ‘burn season’ for the City’s nature reserves, i.e. the optimum time for using fire to stimulate growth of Cape Town’s unique vegetation.

The City of Cape Town would like to alert residents that various ecological burns will be carried out at its nature reserves between March and May 2013. The burns have to take place when weather conditions are most favourable, so it is often difficult to determine exact dates.

The single biggest threat to Cape Town’s unique and irreplaceable biodiversity is the rapid encroachment of development which has led to its depletion and fragmentation. To conserve what is left, it is necessary to simulate a natural fire pattern.

Ecological burns are crucial for the management of the veld types found in Cape Town. Fire plays a fundamental role in plant species lifecycle. By removing the canopy created by mature vegetation, sunlight is allowed to penetrate at ground level, which helps with seed germination. Smoke also aids in germination of certain seed types.

If fires occur to frequently this can lead to a decline in slow-growing species, whereas fires that are too infrequent lead to the domination of mature plants. Carefully managed burns are therefore necessary to obtain maximum species diversity. Another advantage of burning old vegetation is that it reduces fuel loads, which in turn reduces the risk of future wild fires. Different veld types have different optimal recommended intervals for burning.

The optimal time for conducting ecological burns is during early autumn as the weather conditions are more suitable during this period. Ideal conditions are site-dependent, and factors such as wind, temperature and humidity must all be taken into account.

No further ecological burns are usually conducted after the first good winter rainfall. Rain initiates seed generation, so burning afterward would destroy newly-germinated seeds. However, brush piles can be burnt between April and September.

All ecological burns are conducted in terms of a permit for controlled burning issued by the relevant Subcouncil. The Environmental Resource Management Department’s Biodiversity Management Branch ensures that the procedure is conducted safely and efficiently and that the required burning permits are obtained from the Subcouncil, the City’s Air Quality Management Section, and Fire and Rescue Services(which also conducts a pre-inspection of the area). Professional and competent fire fighters, as well as fire fighting equipment and vehicles are present during these burns.

For more information on the City’s nature reserves, please visit 


NO. 1277 / 2013 
25 MARCH 2013