The Royal Burn Back

Every year, in the late summer or autumn, when the winds fall still, The Royal Melbourne ground staff swap their mowers for blowtorches. With careful planning, incredible precision and years of experience, the heathland areas at Royal Melbourne receive a much needed burn, providing long awaited growth opportunities for some of the rarest and most delicate fauna found anywhere in Australia.
Photographed, filmed & edited by William Watt

Richard Forsyth – Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Director of Courses

“The indigenous heathland has always been part of the character of the courses here. We can see some history in the club records in the 50s, where they used burning as a management tool. So it has a long history. But in the last 15 or 20 years we have been using it more systematically each year, doing cyclical burns on specific areas on about a seven to eight year cycle.

It’s very important in terms of keeping that balance between playability and keeping the vegetation there. We find its very important tool to keep those areas in the best condition possible.”

Video – The Royal Burn Back

Stuart Moodie – Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Horticulture Foreman

“The site is typically prepared a month beforehand. So that gives an opportunity for the fuel that we use, which is just purely our own cuttings from other areas, to dry out. This helps us to get a good hot fire, because we want more heat rather than smoke in our burns. If it’s wet or it’s a more green material, you don’t get the heat that you’re after in the fire. Then it’s always about tracking the weather leading up into that period where we’re allowed to burn – we look for fairly close to still wind conditions.

We start by lighting a little small patch to see how the fire behaves. Even though you might think the wind is still, there might just be enough of a breeze to really kick it along. So just light a little bit first to see how the fire’s reacting and then we can say, well nice and slow and we can light a few other areas up to get the fire moving and through the process. So once one area is burnt through, we don’t let it just keep lingering on – we put it out straight away. We get the guys on the hoses to start watering behind the fire after it’s been burning for five to 10 minutes and then keep moving along. That way we’re limiting the impact on the environment around us as well and trying to limit the smoke as best we can.

What we’re doing with the burn by pretty much burning everything back down to ground level, it’s giving an opportunity for all the plants that are existing in that area to have their moment in the sun. Over a sustained period of years of just manually cutting back, the vegetation can become quite woody, especially at the base. That also then smothers sunlight to the lower growing plants underneath. So by removing those thicker bushy plants, it gives those undergrowth plants the chance to have their moment in the sun before it gets all dense and bushy again.”


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