Nearly a decade ago, a group of scientists led by NMMU botanist Prof. Richard Cowling warned that the uncontrolled spread of alien vegetation posed a fire threat that could devastate the Garden Route.

This was cited in an article contained in the 2009 edition of Veld & Flora magazine where Cowling and his co-authors (Brian van Wilgen, then of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; Tineke Kraaij, then of SANParks but now also of NMMU, and Jonathan Britton of CapeNature) highlighted “a sobering scenario that needs urgent and serious attention”.

“In this possible future, fires would rage with abnormal intensity, seriously threatening homes, crops, plantations and people.”

It was predicted that these high-intensity fires would damage the microbes in the soil, resulting in erosion and silting up of dams, further exacerbating water problems.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has flagged this article, noting that an immediate and coordinated response is required, and that local government, the private sector and communities needed to work together to ensure that the restoration of indigenous ground cover, removal of alien vegetation and improved management of the catchment in the Garden Route were urgently prioritised.

Prof Cowling noted that the uncontrolled stands of exotic pines, wattle and gums were the culprits, as these trees are highly flammable, unlike our indigenous forest, and that while projects targeting alien removal were under way, these needed to be radically fast-tracked.

Original article by Guy Rodgers from the Herald Live