Fire on the Common

The proposed burn area on the left of the path.

Why is Meadowridge Common important?
Cape Flats Sand Fynbos is a critically endangered veld type – only 11% remains in a natural state and only 1% is formally conserved. There are some patches where the natural Cape Flats Sand Fynbos still occurs in a degraded state, but with the potential to be restored. As our national conservation target is to have 30% of each veld type conserved, every bit counts. One such valuable patch is Meadowridge Common. In the heart of suburbia, it is a small natural remnant of what was Bergvliet Farm where William Purcell amassed his impressive collection of plants and animals that forms the basis of our knowledge of what used to occur in Cape Flats Sand Fynbos before urbanization destroyed most of it.

How can fynbos be restored on the Common?
Fynbos evolved to take advantage of fire and is now dependant on fairly frequent fires to trigger growth mechanisms and recycle nutrients in order for it to thrive. But fires don’t happen often in suburbia, and fynbos expert, Tony Rebelo, described Meadowridge Common as “the living dead” because without fire to stimulate new growth, it was slowly dying. The huge variety of species that have been growing there for decades, surprising visitors and scientists alike, will gradually die and disappear under introduced trees, invasive weeds and rank grass. A chance fire on the Common a few years ago caused by vagrants and quickly extinguished, revealed that there was still life in the soil. In the years that followed, bulbs appeared and bushes re-sprouted, seedlings took off and there was a burst of life in the burned area, spurring the Friends of Meadowridge Common to request that the City of Cape Town Biodiversity Management Branch undertake a controlled ecological burn of the Common.

The City of Cape Town accepts the challenge.
The City of Cape Town is committed to restoring as much Cape Flats Sand Fynbos as possible in order to reach the conservation target of 30% and Dr Charmaine Oxtoby who heads up the Biodiversity Management Branch is leading a team of restoration exports to prepare for an ecological burn of a small area of the Common. This is an exciting venture and the Friends of Meadowridge Common and the City of Cape Town are keen to involve the community in the process. An initial talk on the proposed burn by the City of Cape Town was held in the library, which although not very well attended, laid out the plan for the restoration of the portion of the Common between Faraday and Schoolside Roads, the cinder road to the football and running club building and a footpath across the common from Schoolside Road to the club house. A letter drop giving notice of the burn has been done in the streets possibly affected and a notice has been published in community newspapers.

Preparing for the ecological burn
The City of Cape Town’s Parks and Recreation Branch have begun to fell the old pine trees in the proposed area so as to lessen the fire danger and allow for a more effective restoration of indigenous fynbos. One tree has been left standing as it contains a wild honeybee nest, which was abandoned for a few years, but just before the clearing operation, a swarm moved back in. This nest is clearly visible as it is now inhabited by a great mass of bees. On advice from experts, it has been decided to leave the tree as long as the nest is inhabited, and on the day of the burn, to dampen it with water and clear all the undergrowth for several metres around the trunk so that the pine cannot catch fire. There is another honeybee nest in an old Searsia bush in the proposed burn area which has also been re-inhabited in the last few weeks, and will have to be safeguarded during the fire as wild bees are protected by law in a Biodiversity Agreement Stewardship Site managed by the City of Cape Town’s Parks and Recreation Branch such as Meadowridge Common. The pine tree where the Black Sparrowhawks nest will not be affected by the fire as it does not grow in the proposed area.

The mass of honeybees clinging to the old Stone Pine which will be retained.