And We’re Gonna Let it Burn Burn Burn

By: Annalie Mallon

Happy Friday Nature Lovers!

Sorry for our lack of posts lately, we here at the nature center have been busy beavers getting ready for our spring school programs to begin. Believe it or not we are also already preparing for summer camp! (I’m so excited for summer camp I can hardly contain myself).

Before this random snow storm showed up today, something super cool happened at Coverdale Farm Preserve that I wanted to share with you all! A lot of you have visited Coverdale Farm Preserve and seen the big barn, gardens, animals, and crop plots. What few people know though, is that behind all of that we have about 300 more acres of woods, meadows, and wetlands where many wild animals and plants make their homes (pictured below). Our conservation and land management team takes special care of this land by removing icky invasive plants, creating habitats for native animals, and keeping the trails in shape.

DNS staff hiking a trail at Coverdale Farm Preserve

Yesterday, our land management team along with a crew of people from the Delaware Forest Service, Mt. Cuba Center, Longwood Gardens, and Flint Woods Preserve did what is known as a “prescribed burn” on one of the big meadows at Coverdale Farm Preserve. If you have never heard of a prescribed burn, what they do is literally SET THE MEADOW ON FIRE AND LET IT BURN DOWN 😱😱.

Delaware Forest Service crew lighting and controlling the flames.

And let me tell you, it was HOT 🔥.

Controlled or prescribed field burning is a tool used in land management to help maintain grasslands. Every three to five years a meadow is burned or mowed to stop it from overgrowing into a big crazy jungle of weeds and trees (think of it as a haircut for the meadow). The fire burns up dead plant material leftover from previous years of mowing, it destroys the bad weeds and invasive plants that we do not want in the meadows, and it also kills small woody plants (like baby trees). This leaves plenty of room for native wildflowers, and grasses to re-grow!

Some people may be wondering why we don’t want our meadows to naturally grow into forests. After all, trees are super great and helpful for the environment, right?! Well, yes, but one of our major missions here at Delaware Nature Society is to care for all native habitats. This includes big open spaces like meadows. Meadows provide a wonderful home for a wide variety of animals, insects, and birds. By caring for and protecting these beautiful open spaces, the wildlife that live in them remain happy and healthy! Look how beautiful this Coverdale meadow is in the summer!

Coverdale Meadow photo taken by Joe Sebastiani

Controlled fire burning in a huge meadow sounds super cool, but there are a lot of safety precautions that must be taken to ensure that everything goes according to plan. (Aka do not do this unless you are a trained professional).

First they make sure there is a wide area of very short grass that runs around the perimeter of the meadow that will be burned. This grass provides a barrier called a fire break that will not easily burn if the fire touches it. It also separates the meadow from other areas of vegetation. The team of burners starts the fire in the corner of the meadow that is most down wind. This means the wind is blowing against the direction that the fire will be traveling in so the fire does not take off and spread like crazy! As the fire starts to slowly burn this back section of the meadow, it creates a big burnt black patch called a back burn. Once this back burn is created, the burners use fuel to carefully light more fires around the edges of the meadow. As the fire burns, it quickly eats up the dried grasses and weeds around the meadow until it reaches the already burnt patches and dies out. To make sure the flames don’t get out of control, trained burners walk around the outside of the burning section with water tanks to put out any flames that may be in the wrong spots. Once the burn is finished, they make sure everything is completely extinguished.

Burning around the meadow edge

Making sure there are no flames around the edges

Tada! No more meadow!

Just a leftover patch of fried grass (Joe is very happy he doesn’t have to mow it)

In just a few short weeks new grasses will grow and this entire area will be green! When spring starts it will once again be a beautiful meadow for animals like this butterfly (below) to enjoy.

Meadow Fritillary photo taken by Lori Athey

Check out this cool slow-mo video I took of the fire!

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