TOUGH TO BURN: Dean Turner examines a sandpaper fig - an example of a fire-retardant native plant species that is growing at The Crossing. Picture: Albert McKnight

TOUGH TO BURN: Dean Turner examines a sandpaper fig - an example of a fire-retardant native plant species that is growing at The Crossing. Picture: Albert McKnight

Fire-retardant native plants can be used as 'shelterbelts' in bushfire prevention

Report lists fire-retardant native plants that can be used as 'shelterbelts' in bushfire prevention

Environment
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A new report aims to help prepare properties against the threat of bushfire by providing a list of fire-retardant native plants that can be used to create windbreaks.

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Some might find it surprising to learn there are native, fire-retardant plants that can be used as windbreaks to help protect properties from bushfire, as outlined in a new report.

The report was complied by Dean Turner, who with expert help identified plants with fire-retardant properties best suited to the NSW Far South Coast.

For six weeks he fought last summer's bushfires as they approached Bermagui's The Crossing Land Education Trust, where he is the project director, as well as his nearby home with the fires coming to one kilometre of his house.

"The knee-jerk reaction is 'clear everything', but then you're also exposing yourself to a lot of wind... and a lot of drying," he said.

"Certain plants can really help you, they can be your allies. You've just got to be clever with your design."

Mr Turner, who has a degree in agricultural science, diploma in permaculture and plenty of land care experience, became interested in the subject of wind some time ago.

He said big temperature changes drive wind so, as global temperatures have been increasing, "we are just going to have to deal with more wind".

He obtained long-series wind rose data for the Bega weather station from the Bureau of Meteorology - his research is covered in the report - that he said showed the periods of calm in a day had been decreasing over the last 50 years.

"Winds are increasing," he said.

"They are getting more severe from all directions and the periods of calm have dramatically diminished, in some cases they have halved.

"What that means for the land is if it gets wind blowing across it more, then that dries it out more."

He said wind breaks, or as he prefers "shelterbelts", can be used to stop soil evaporation, disperse wind and provide shelter for assets like homes, livestock and crops.

That is where his list of natives complied with experts like a scientist, nursery owner and vegetation consultant comes in; he said fire-retardant plants can be turned into a shelterbelt and used to slow down an approaching bushfire.

"Everything will ultimately burn. But it's about the slowing, it's about the time to combust and using the radiant heat energy," Mr Turner said.

"They can act as a ember-catcher for a while."

For instance succulents could be placed against a house as they "just won't burn", then there are other fire-retardant native species like the native hemp, figs, kurrajong and some acacias and saltbushes, and many more.

He said common elements were plants with fleshy, rounded leaves, not volatile oils, and while fire-retardant shelterbelts were useful they still had to be cared for.

"I'm not going to claim to be an expert on species, I went to the experts to get their comments," he said.

"I just saw an issue and a problem and thought 'there's got to be some way to cope with it'. I just hope it's helpful to people."

To view the report click here. Those who download the report and have not been directly affected by bushfire are encouraged to donate to the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund.

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