Fire Risk regulation
Wildfires (accidental or malicious vegetation fires) are a significant semi-natural hazard on UK Moorlands (with 71,700 recorded between 1974-2005).
Severe wildfires cause considerable environmental damage to fragile moorland ecosystems and their ability to deliver valuable services including biodiversity protection, carbon storage and water regulation. Fighting moorland fires once they've broken out is both dangerous and expensive (costing between £8,500 for a small fire to around £132,000 for a fire on a remote moor. This excludes costs to environmental assets and indirect costs of social disruption (FiRES)) so understanding what causes them, where they are most likely to occur (mapping) and what impacts they will have (costing), is an important step to reducing outbreaks.
Risk of wildfire outbreaks depends on physical factors (i.e. how vulnerable or flammable an area is - which in turn is determined by the condition of peat, vegetation and wetness) as well as human elements (a source of ignition). Due to its high number of visitors and vulnerability of its moorlands (many of which are being actively restored), uplands of the Peak District National Park are extremely susceptible to wildlifes, especially in the summer months.
With the aim of identifying areas at risk of wildfire outbreak the Peak District Fire Operations Group (FOG) and Moors for the Future worked with geography researchers at the University of Manchester to create a stakeholder informed map of wildfire risk across the moorlands of the PDNP (see below right).
Recording where and when fire incidents occur and investigating spatial relationships between factors such as habitat vulnerability, proximity to settlements, and footpath / minor road access, enabled a map of wildfire risk to be developed for the Peak District (right).
As well as informing strategic planning responses, such as planning fire-fighting rendezvous points and access routes to ‘at risk’ areas it can also be used to inform management planning responses e.g. identifying areas at high fire risk not adequately covered by existing fire fighting water sources. and help integrate wildfire risk reduction into land management plans.
In order to open communications on the effects of moorland and heathland wildfires on ecosystem services a series of seminars were held during 2008—2009. The resulting messages, policy recommendations and knowledge gaps were presented in a policy brief. The series was funded jointly by ESRC and NERC.
The key messages reported in the policy brief highlighted:
- A need for evidence based data on evolving UK fire regimes (date, intensity, duration, size, location and type of vegetation fires) along with specialist tools, training, models and forecasting tools.
- Managed fires were recognised for their potential to reduce fuel loads but pose a threat of becoming wildfires when out of control.
- Severe wildfires were identified as having a negative impact on peatland ecosystem services, with the need to evaluate the cost of extinguishing and opportunity losses as a result of damage to other ecosystem services weighed against the cost of suppressing wildfires.
- Land management, management of recreation and climate change were identified as the three main challenges facing future wildfire risk management.
- Research and knowledge exchange between partners was highlighted as an effective and efficient approach to addressing the problem of wildfires.
Wildfire risk and climate change in the Peak District National Park (University of Manchester: Julia McMorrow, Sarah Lindley, Jonathan Aylen, Kevin Albertson, Gina Cavan)
Albertson, K., Aylen, J., Cavan, G., McMorrow, J. (2010) Climate change and the future occurrence of moorland wildfires in the Peak District of the UK. Climate Research 45, no. CR Special 24(2010) : 105-118. eScholarID:92770 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3354/cr00926
Albertson, K., Aylen, J., Cavan, G., McMorrow, J. (2009) Forecasting the Outbreak of Moorland Wild Fires in the English Peak District. Journal of Environmental Management 90, no. 8(2009) : 2642-2651. eScholarID:1b5399 | DOI:10.1016/j.jenvman.2009.02.011