Season of burning in the Sydney region: The historical records compared with recent prescribed burning

Lynette C. McLoughlin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Prescribed burning is regularly carried out by land management agencies controlling bushland estate in the Sydney region. Despite the volume of research into the interrelationships between fire and Australian ecosystems, season of burning has received comparatively little attention and is poorly understood. This paper considers three aspects of season of burning in the Sydney region, which is located on the boundary of the spring and spring-summer fire season zones, identified by Luke and McArthur (1978). First the paper reviews research on the responses of biota to fire season to establish what is known of the ecological importance of fire season. The historical records of fires in the early period of Sydney's settlement (1788-1845) are then used to determine the seasonal pattern of fire in that period, and the extent to which these records reflect Aboriginal practices which contributed to the historic fire regime. Recent prescribed burning is sampled through the practices of two major land management authorities in northern Sydney (New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and Hornsby Shire Council) to compare current practices with the early records and the ecological evidence. The results of the very limited ecological research on season is far from conclusive. Positive and negative effects have been shown for both autumn and spring with autumn-winter perhaps showing the greater degree of negative impacts, although it is often difficult to separate the effects of season from intensity. The historic records show a pattern of fires, including those lit by Aborigines, largely confined to the fire season of spring-early summer (August to January). By contrast 60% of prescribed burning in northern Sydney by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and Hornsby Council from 1980 to 1995 was conducted in autumn-winter (April to July). Prescribed burning in summer cannot be considered for practical reasons but timing of prescribed burning at other seasons is also largely dictated by pragmatic factors such as suitable weather and availability of personnel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-404
Number of pages12
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Aboriginal practices
  • Autumn-winter burning
  • Fire season
  • Historic records
  • Hornsby shire
  • National parks
  • Spring-summer burning


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