Aborigines improve biodiversity by starting fires

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Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Sep 15, 2005
Today on ScienceBlogs: Aborigines improve biodiversity by starting fires:

Imagine that you have been given responsibility over a tract of land. Your goal is to maintain its precious biodiversity (increasing it if at all possible), prevent the local habitats from becoming degraded and among all that, find a way to eke out a way of life. Of the many possible ways of doing this, regularly and deliberately setting fire to the local plants might be low on the list. But that's exactly what Aborigine populations in Australia have been doing for centuries and a new study shows that this counter-intuitive strategy does indeed work.

robin wood

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Oct 29, 2007
Not counter intuitive at all in my book. Burn or cut a patch every now and then and you get a range of habitats instead of all the same age. Moorland managers do it with very controlled heather burns to create a range of heights and ages of heather just like miniature copice woodland. The native farmers of Exmoor have been known to do it in a less controlled manner but equally effective by lobbing a match on the way home from the pub when they just knew the wind was in the right direction to give just the right patch of burn.

The National Parks in the US used to hae a "let it burn" policy for forest fires that they thought started naturally since burns increased diversity. When a journalist asked Ronald Reagan what he thought about the policy with the usual degree of thought and consideration he said "let it burn policy? not while I am president" throwing the whole management plan to pot. At least that's the story I was told at the time.

Ah just googled and looks like policy is up and running again


Feb 15, 2005
Silkstone, Blighty!
If it didn't work, the Aborigines would have packed it in long ago! People seem to think they are stupid, when unfortunately they don't realise they are the stupid ones. I'd like to see the doubters find their way about in some of the areas the aborigines do. Forty thousand years living in what most think of as a barren wilderness proves they have their skill sets sorted out to a fine art.


Apr 20, 2007
Abingdon, Oxon
Remeber doing about this at school, long time ago
Taken from Wikipedia on the practice of slash and burn
Burning removes the vegetation and may release a pulse of nutrients to fertilize the soil. Ash also increases the pH of the soil, a process which makes certain nutrients (especially phosphorus) more available in the short term. Burning also temporarily drives off soil microorganisms, pests, and established plants long enough for crops to be planted in their ashes. Before artificial fertilizers were available, fire was one of the most widespread methods of fertilization


Feb 14, 2008
Warwickshire, UK
Plenty of plants actually require fire before their seeds will germinate.

A quick brush fire will scorch the plants, but leave the roots relatively untouched, and will provide fertiliser for the new seeds to sprout.


New Member
Jun 12, 2005
Hertfordshire (UK)
Burning can be beneficial in some habitats. Different habitats have different requirements though and in some cases burning can be detrimental. Although controlled burning in patches of heathland can sometimes be beneficial in some areas it is detrimental to blanket bogs for example. There are other downsides to burning heath, but I won't bore you with the details unless you really want them. :)

So before you start burning stuff down you might want to try a small patch to see if it has the desired long-term effects you hope to achieve first. :D


Mar 6, 2007
between the trees
This 'let it burn' policy is something that has been forgotten with the advent of people moving closer and closer towwards public lands. The division of forestry and parks and recreation have their hands tied when it comes to letting a fire roll out of control... The mountains have constant wind, plenty of dry timber, and low moisture.. all grounds for a 'natural disaster' as it has been coined.

Fires, floods, earthquakes will all happen (and disappoint many people) regardless of our so called stewardship of the land. People still build houses in louisiana and florida USA.. and look at the chance of getting hit by a tropical depression or hurricane!!!! 100% every year, for the last 1000 years!!!!

This upcoming year, colorado is expected to have a long, cold and dry winter followed by a short dry summer... sounds like the forest division is going to have its hands full in 2009!

let's re-introduce aboriginal peoples back into our public lands to keep everything under control :)