You might be wondering how burning protected land in Zambia’s Simalaha Community Conservancy is contributing to conservation, but this is a necessary task carried out by management teams on an annual basis. With the support of Peace Parks Foundation and partners, burning firebreaks along Simalaha’s fence line is a necessary means of mitigating fire risk during the drier months when communities burn grasses which allow for newer, fresher vegetation to grow.

The reason why communities do this is to try and remove as much moribund grass material as possible, a concept where grasses ‘grow themselves to death’. The build-up of moribund material occurs when grasses have reached their maturity and start to die off. As the dead grasses begin to accumulate, it inhibits the growth of any new vegetation below by restricting sunlight and nutrients.

In the absence of naturally occurring wildfires, it is not uncommon for protected areas across the world to engage in controlled burns every few years to stimulate new grass growth. This process often only burns the top layer of dead material, keeping the root systems and its food reserves intact. As nutrients can now be recycled back into the soil, rich grass growth is often experienced after a burn – much to the delight of the communities’ livestock.

Although the communities in Simalaha Community Conservancy have been doing this for years, mitigating any risk of these fires running into the conservancy and threatening its wildlife is of utmost importance. Therefore, creating these firebreaks will decrease the combustible fuel load of the vegetation, which will help to slow down any fire in the area.

It is with thanks to the dedicated efforts of the management teams that help the local communities to continue with their annual burns in safety, ensuring that their livestock has fresh grasses to feed on.