in our nature

Burning to Plan

Anna Povey | 2 August 2018

For many landholders, the question of how to burn their property for risk reduction and biodiversity conservation can be a paralysing one. There are so many things to consider, including how best to protect a house, whether parts of vegetation would be damaged by a fire or a fire would stimulate regeneration, and then there’s the safety and practicality of planned burning. It could go so very wrong for those with no experience. Fortunately for 21 curious landowners, a Burning to Plan workshop was held from 20-21 July 2018 to help develop fire management plans for their properties.

The event - organised by Tamar NRM’s Gill Basnett, with Tasmania Fire Service’s David Cleaver and Stephen Bresnehan, and myself from Tasmanian Land Conservancy - saw landholders from around the state make the trip to Launceston to participate. They came from properties large and small, some with burning experience and some without, some experienced rural landholders and some new to the bush.

“This is vitally important information and indescribably empowering for an urban person recently relocated to the bush,”

— Burning to Plan participant Rachel Berger.

Information covered at the event included fire and ecological health, risk reduction in the landscape, property protection, legal requirements, and things to think about before lighting up - with bonus outcomes arising from discussions between landholders about all sorts of topics, including numerous ways of controlling bracken. The presence of different experts from the different organisations meant that landholders’ various needs and concerns could be adequately addressed, as participant Rachel Berger shared:

“I arrived feeling a little stupid and frankly slightly skeptical of how a group of professionals, each with their unique expertise and with many years of experience, could possibly help me (the idiot with a fear of fire and lack of knowledge) make decisions and offer additional perspectives to help me expand my options with regard to planned burning or my safety in the case of wild fire. This is vitally important information and indescribably empowering for an urban person recently relocated to the bush…for the short time I was there I felt truly looked after, you should be thrilled, your team are all fantastic and immeasurably patient. Each question was generously answered albeit in my case often repeatedly. I can’t thank you enough.”

Conservation covenant landowners and TLC supporters Robin Garnett and Phil Collier with the TLC’s Anna Povey. Photo: supplied

For property owners with conservation covenants, authorisation from the Private Land Conservation Program at DPIPWE (the fabulous Helen Crawford and co.) is required before a burn. Although the wording of covenants typically appears to prohibit lighting of fires except for the purposes of fire hazard reduction or management of the Natural Values as authorised in writing by the Minister, I was able to explain to landowners that authorisation to burn is often happily and swiftly provided once evidence of a sensible plan is given. Fortunately for Burning to Plan participants, the fire management plan produced during the workshop will adequately meet the needs of the Private Land Conservation Program by protecting any special values that should not be burnt (such as rainforests or other fire-sensitive areas), and setting a fire regime that would accommodate or even benefit biodiversity (for example mosaic burn patches in dry forests).

With the expert advice of David and Stephen from the Tasmania Fire Service, some landholders decided that they could address their safety needs simply by preparing the house and near surroundings, and that they wouldn’t need to burn their bush yet. Others planned burns to reduce fuel in nearby forest, or to rescue native grasslands from shrub invasion or to encourage seedling regeneration. The ecological knowledge of organisers and presenters meant that the complexities of each properties’ needs could be addressed flexibly, with the aim of maintaining thriving natural ecosystems. From one tussock at a time to burns of hectares, landholders gained confidence that they could burn according to their plan.

Banner image: Heath Holden

Author Profile

Anna Povey

Land for Wildlife Coordinator (North)

Anna is an ecologist with broad, practical experience over 30 years, including growing native plants, controlling weeds and revegetating, flora surveys, a consulting business, environmental education and small mammal research. She enjoys working with conservation-minded private landholders, and learns something from every landholder.