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'It's a city built around a park that needs to burn' - Prof Eugene Moll

20 April 2021 3:30 PM
Tags:
Fynbos
Table Mountain National Park
Table Mountain Fires

UWC Biodiversity and Conservation Professor Moll says Capetonians should be included in the TMNP management programme

As firefighters continue to monitor the slopes of Table Mountain for flare-ups and to fight the pockets of fire that are still actively burning, a lot of questions are being asked about what could and should have been done to prevent the blaze.

While thankfully no lives were lost, and injuries were limited to a handful of firefighters, there has been a catastrophic loss in terms of cultural and academic heritage. Not to mention the massive trauma to students who had to be evacuated and those who had to flee their homes on the fireline yesterday.

Joining me on the line is Professor Eugene Moll who is an extraordinary professor in the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the University of the Western Cape.

Back in those days, Table Mountain was a national park and it was managed by the City of Cape Town Parks and Forest Division.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

Prof Moll says he had many positive conversations about the department's park with Steve Brent at the time and they produced a report about the situation on the mountain.

People were concerned about the conservation status of the mountain back then.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

As the years have passed, Moll says he has watched the fynbos ecology.

I have watched with some concern that the fynbos ecologists that we used to be so proud to have, back in the 70s and 80s, are diminishing. Field botanists are not trained really anywhere that I know of - and I am happy to be proved wrong.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

He says it seems there are many who are working in laboratories rather than in the field.

They are many people who are very lab-based and very intelligent in terms of managing miro data but [less so] the actual management of the fynbos of the mountain.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

The mountain fynbos needs to be burnt every 10 to 15 years, he says.

That is a problem for all of us because it is a mountain in a city.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

He says he is aware that the TMNP fire manager Phillip Prins battles enormously to implement the necessary burns for fire breaks.

He understands the requirements but it seems that higher up the feeding chain these ideas get blocked.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

He says he does have some sympathy with TMNP because people complain about smoke and soot during these controlled burns.

People also complain about the chameleons and tortoises being killed, but what modern people don't understand, is that this vegetation type evolved with fire, and without fire, it will not continue to thrive and survive. And it is unfortunate that a city has been built around a mountain that needs to burn.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

An understanding needs to be reached between the public servants and the citizens, he says.

To me what SANarks have not done well is they have not talked with their neighbours who are us, in fact, we are the owners of the park, the general public.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

SANParks should be talking to residents to forge some kind of understanding, he notes.

They should include us in their management problems, but we tend to be excluded and that is a problem.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

He says if Capetonians want to live in this beautiful place we need to put up with the inconvenience of some controlled burns.

At Rhodes Mem there was a huge build-up of bio-mass that can burn, a lot of pine trees...those pine cones become incendiary bombs, and will burn and blow.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

We have to start removing the aliens.

Professor Eugene Moll - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

Listen to Prof Moll's insightful conversation with Pippa in the audio below:




20 April 2021 3:30 PM
Tags:
Fynbos
Table Mountain National Park
Table Mountain Fires

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