And so we are rapidly coming to the end of a catastrophic Covid-year in which human resilience has been tested to the extreme. While it is the end of a year, it is also the beginning of the fire season in the Western Cape.
It is fire season once more
It is a scant two years since the 2018/19 fire season that was one of the most overwhelming in the history of the Overberg. While more than 30 wildfires burned during the season, 20 of these were very damaging and very costly.
We know that wildfires are necessary for the fynbos biome to function healthily – that includes both the smaller annual fires and the major wildfires that occur every decade or so. The fires are part of the natural fire regime of fynbos vegetation, which has been growing here for millions of years. Fynbos is not just adapted to fire, but also dependent on it. Fire returns nutrients to the soil in the form of ash, thus promoting regeneration of fynbos biodiversity.
How do we manage the inevitability of fynbos fires and at the same time prevent catastrophic loss in terms of human settlements? The answer is ‘controlled ecological burns’. The implementation of an integrated, long-term burn strategy can help maintain a patchwork of vegetation at various stages of growth that will break up the spread of large-scale fires.
This variation in age can help to prevent large swathes of the established, dense, and more fire-prone bush from going up in flames. The Overstrand Municipality’s fire department and environmental services section are presently working on such a strategy for municipal land.
But when the fires start, what happens to the wildlife living in those areas? Much fynbos-adapted wildlife can move away or find shelter under rocks or underground. But some species need to be able to find somewhere safe that is not burning as well. A neighbouring patch of fynbos that is not part of the burn plan will provide safety.
However, some creatures simply cannot move fast enough. I’m talking about tortoises and chameleons.
Join the chameleon rescue
Whale Coast Conservation (WCC) is particularly concerned about chameleons. We need to know how many chameleons will be affected by burns planned for the near future. WCC is working closely with the municipal environmental services so that we can be warned of impending burns. Then we can move chameleons to safety just before the burn.
Fellow chameleon enthusiasts can join our chameleon survey team to estimate numbers in areas that we know will be affected by burns this season. This information is vital to being able to mobilise enough volunteers when the wind and weather are just right for a prescribed burn, and we need to move as many chameleons as possible. Since chameleon spotting is best done after dark, it will be a race against time to get them to safety.
Join WCC one evening this month to ‘hunt’ for chameleons. Adults pay R120 and children (6 years and older) pay R60. Booking is essential: email firstname.lastname@example.org. Dates are weather-dependent.
Learn about nature
Fire rejuvenates fynbos. It triggers a rebirth of many species we would not otherwise see. Many of us walk through our incredible floral diversity and never really notice all that’s there. Fynbos tends to be like that – we are so overwhelmed by the big picture that we often miss the detail.
Our inspirational Zoom chat in December is with Jenny Parsons. Jenny lives in Pringle Bay and tramps many hours through the splendid landscape. Her philosophy is ‘The more you look, the more you learn’. Armed with her camera, she records images of many fantastic sights.
Jenny explains: “I would like to take the listeners on my journey of discovery – finding the fynbos treasure trove of flowers, the miracle that happens after a fire and how an appreciation of nature makes one more aware of our wonderful natural heritage. My natural curiosity has led to a passionate hobby of flower identification and appreciation of all things big or small.”
Jenny is an ardent naturalist, birder and nature photographer. Most of her flower photographs are taken on her mobile phone. She is a member of the Botanical Society of South Africa and the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) program.
She majored in Botany and Geography in the 1980s at Rhodes University and completed her postgraduate BSc Honours in Geography, specialising in soils and hydrology. Jenny is currently researching her MSc (Investigation into the movement of the Pringle Bay Chacma Baboon troop with regard to environmental factors using GS). She is self-employed and works with her husband Roger, a geo-hydrologist, for Parsons & Associates Specialist Groundwater consultants. She enjoys walking with her dogs in the natural fynbos in and around Pringle Bay.
Jenny will share her adventures in nature with us via Zoom on Thursday 10 December at 18:00. Everyone is welcome to join the chat by registering at
You can also watch the talk live on the WCC Facebook feed.
About the Author
Whale Coast Conservation passionately lives by its slogan “Caring for your environment”.
Its small staff and volunteers are dedicated to
- raising community and visitor awareness of the unique, biodiverse natural resources of the Cape Whale Coast region and
- to projects that convert awareness into practical actions that lead towards living sustainably.
WCC ensures expert representation in public participation processes that contribute to environmental and developmental policies and legislation. We monitor regional development; and ensure compliance with legislation and guidelines.
WCC increases general public awareness of sustainability through environmental education, citizen-science research projects, community projects and campaigns.
WCC communicates with its audience through exhibitions, signage, technology demonstrations, workshops, talks, film shows, newsletters and articles.
WCC places emphasis on educating future generations through its Youth Environment Programme (YEP). YEP is offered to 24 schools in its target area with a total of over 10,000 learners.
WCC facilitates schools’ participation in special events such as Earth Day, Walking for Water, Arbor Day and Coastal Clean-ups.
WCC facilitates educator development programmes to improve the capacity of educators to offer informed environmental content in their lessons across all learning streams.