The city of Cape Town is planning a controlled "ecological" burn of a 50 hectare area on the north-western Plattekloof slopes of Tygerberg Nature Reserve in March.

The reserve is home to one of the world's largest remaining areas of the critically-endangered Swartland shale renosterveld, a type of vegetation unique to South Africa. Carefully-managed fire patterns are crucial for the renosterveld's life cycle and preservation, and generally take place between every five to ten years. The fires eradicate the dense swathes of mature vegetation, allowing sunlight to assist seed germination. The controlled burn also reduces the risk of unscheduled wild fires.

The dates in March are subject to change, depending on the weather, but authorities plan to close the reserve to the public on 1, 2, 7, 8, 14 and 15 March 2011. Although the emergency services will be on hand to monitor and manage the situation, residents are asked to remove flammable items such as gas cylinders from their gardens and, where possible, it is advised to use sprinklers to dampen around houses.

Authorities at the 309 hectare reserve say that encroaching urban development is the biggest threat to renosterveld, leading to its depletion and fragmentation. There are 562 recorded plant species at the reserve, with 23 species threatened with extinction.

For more information see www.capetown.gov.za/naturereserves

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