A workable alternative to patchwork/mosaic burning

By Pieter Nel

The last fifteen years has seen an increase in popularity of patchwork, or mosaic, burning in preference to the traditional block burning.  The main argument in favour of mosaic burns is that cool fires are less destructive, and a more diverse landscape is created with the resulting animal diversity cited as being a major upside. All of this true.

However, fire is still fire which leaves bare ground and releases toxic gasses as a side effect. The debate on whether or not fire is as crucial a role-player in savannahs and grassland as originally thought is also growing stronger. The theory that large herds of herbivores moving on the landscape have a more crucial role on the health of the grassland and savannah biomes is gaining more support. This got me thinking; can one create the same effect as patch burning with planned grazing?

Early observations suggest yes. Grazing can be controlled to achieve any desired impact, with any range of vegetation height. The obvious benefits are less bare ground in comparison to fire, and capped soils broken up and bare patches being decreased in size as opposed to bare patches and capped soil increasing within a fire regime.

Early days yet, but the concept has been proven. Grazing can also be used at landscape scale. The only limiting factor is water for the herd.

Herding and electric fence manipulation (strip grazing) can be used to create desired outcomes. Grass was grazed more severely on one side of the fence. Edge effect is created, but plants recover quicker than fire exposed ones.

Manipulation of time, impact and area is possible with grazing. Grazing can also be used to make firebreaks.