Revitalising ecological health through cultural burning
Australia's woodlands are a rich ecological and cultural treasure trove. And for millennia, Indigenous peoples have practiced cultural burning to nurture them. Revival of cultural burning in the southeast is now shedding light on its role in revitalising ecological health. Right now I'm burning at Wombat Ridge Nature Reserve which protects a mix of Scribbly gum and Stringy bark woodland. I'm enjoy observing and being part of its benefits.
Cultural burning is rooted in the understanding that application of gentle cool fires is an integral part of ecosystem dynamics for the Australian Bush. Indigenous knowledge of the land, its vegetation, and the intricate ecological processes that govern it, informs deliberate and burning. These burns are conducted at specific conditions, times, locations, and intensities to achieve the right outcomes.
One of the primary regenerative benefits of cultural burning lies in its capacity to rejuvenate biodiversity. Many native plants have co-evolved with the right type of fire and rely on it for their survival. Cultural burns create a mosaic of different-aged vegetation patches, providing diverse habitats that support a plethora of plants and animals. This diversity can aid in recovery and proliferation of species that have suffered due to land clearing, over grazing, invasive species, the absence of fire, or indeed extreme wildfires. As an example, at Wombat Ridge, I'm noticing healthy recovery of Xanthorrhoeas as a result of our burns.
Mitigating Wildfire Risks and Natural Assets
Cultural burning plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of devastating wildfires. By proactively conducting controlled burns during cooler months, at Wombat Ridge we effectively manage build-up of dry vegetation and leaf litter, which are highly flammable. Careful and targeted application of fire removes excess fuel, thereby decreasing the risk, intensity and extent of wildfires during hotter and drier periods. Cultural burning acts as a preventive measure, safeguarding neighbouring farms and human settlements as well as the ecosystem. Targeted burning at the base of old-growth trees and around termite mounds and other natural assets also protects them and the animals that nest in them.
Soil Health and Nutrient Cycling
The regenerative benefits of cultural burning extend below the surface, influencing the health of the soil and nutrient cycles. Controlled fires help with the rebalancing and activation of micro-nutrients and minerals trapped in vegetation. They also promote fungi and soil microbes and stimulate germination of dormant seeds. This helps kickstart the regeneration process. Ash produced during cultural burns acts as a gentle and natural fertiliser, enriching the soil and providing a basis for growth of the right plants. Revitalised nutrient cycling supports the overall health and resilience of the ecology. A good cultural burn leaves black (not white) ash and unburned leaves and wood. Native plants sprout and regenerate quickly though this layer.
Combating Invasive Species
Invasive species pose a significant threat across Australia and cultural burning offers an effective strategy for combating these intruders. While some invasive species like feral cats have adapted to fire and can thrive after large wildfires, cultural burns selectively target and suppress invasive plants and help to promote habitat complexity that reduces the predator efficiency of invasive mammals like feral cats and foxes. By improving their competitive advantage, cultural burning facilitates recovery and re-establishment of native wildlife and vegetation. It tips the playing field back in favour of species that belong, thus promoting ecological balance. At Wombat Ridge we've noticed cultural burning has reduced the incidence of hares as the revitalised native habitat becomes less conducive for their nests and breeding.
Preserving Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Identity
Beyond its ecological benefits, cultural burning holds significant cultural and spiritual significance for Indigenous Australia. It serves as a vital conduit for preserving our knowledge, traditions, and cultural identity. Actively engaging in cultural burning, allows me as an Indigenous Australian to connect to country at a deep level. This fosters my resilience and well-being.
To conclude, cultural burning is uniquely placed to rekindle the synergy between humans and Australia's natural world. By embracing this ancient land-management practice, Australia can unlock the power to nurture its biodiversity, revitalise depleted and degraded habitats, mitigate wildfire risks, enrich soil health, combat invasive species, and honour Indigenous knowledge and traditions.