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Protecting nature on the fire line

In the grasslands, which are home to abundant fauna and flora and so critical to our water security, fire poses a very big risk. But WWF works with local heroes (rural communities and farmers) in these areas to ensure that this biodiversity-rich land is well-managed and has empowered them with new tools.

An ant-eating chat sits perched in a well-managed landscape within the grasslands.
© Angus Burns
Vast open grasslands can appear deserted, yet they are havens for many indigenous plants, animals, insects and birds.

Every year, following the cold winter when grass turns brown and dry, runaway wild fires are a scary reality in these flammable tinder-like landscapes. Fires are often started in nearby towns, from within community households or by the careless disposal of cigarettes. These fires can be hugely destructive in the grasslands

In the Mgundeni community in northern KwaZulu-Natal there have also been fires caused by thunderstorms. A recent one killed over 50 cows and severely threatened the community, affecting their safety and livelihoods.  I was incredibly saddened by this, as I know how greatly such a loss would impact the community. We needed to work together to prevent this from happening again.

Two cows graze in the landscape.
© Angus Burns
Mgundeni relies on cattle farming for their main source of income.

With funding from Heineken and collaboration from a wide range of stakeholders – including the Mgundeni Traditional Council, Ezemvelo KZN Wildilfe, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and KZN Economic Development and Tourism – WWF has helped the community by providing equipment and fire training. Securing funds for this kind of training makes everyone sleep with peace in the advisory forum as we all want to see the Mgundeni community ever doing well in natural resource management and to know the veld and homesteads will be safe guarded.

Community members show how to use a fire beater.
© Angus Burns
iNkosi Mabaso (middle) took part in the fire training, learning how to use a fire beater effectively.
Woman displays fire equipment donated to community.
© Angus Burns
A member of the Mgundeni community displays the fire equipment provided by Heineken towards the end of 2018.

I take great pride in knowing that we’re supporting the custodians of our water and biodiversity-rich landscapes with keeping safe during fire season. The fire training and the tools we’ve provided will help prepare them to face the negative impacts of uncontrolled fire.

Man and woman demonstrate use of knapsack sprayer.
© Angus Burns
Members of the community learn how to use a knapsack sprayer for targeting small flames and flare ups.
A team of people shows how to use fire beaters to kill smouldering embers.
© Angus Burns
These fire beaters are designed to be used in a co-ordinated manner so as to kill smouldering embers that could flare up.
Man holds up training certificate.
© Angus Burns
A member of the Mgundeni community shows off his fire training certificate.

Mgundeni’s traditional leader, iNkosi Mabaso has been working with WWF on various initiatives over the years. He is particularly proud of the community’s association with WWF and always eager to support our work. The community was the first to sign a biodiversity stewardship agreement a decade ago. INkosi Mabaso is very enthusiastic about how the partnership between the community and different stakeholders has grown and yielded the results. This community is just one of a few biodiversity stewardship and land reform communities who WWF works with that have recognised the vital link between their livelihoods and protection of the land on which they rely.

It gives me great satisfaction to play a part in changing people’s lives. We learn from every rural community we work with, and in turn they learn from us. That’s the most fascinating part of this work.

Ayanda Cele Photo
Ayanda Cele, Biodiversity Stewardship Manager

Ayanda has a deep connection with rural communities and the associations which represent them.

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