Preparing for Wildfire in the UK

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Presentation given at the Wildfire 2011 conference in Buxton on 14 September 2011.

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Preparing for Wildfire in the UK

  1. 1. Preparing for Wildfire in the UK Tarbet, Loch Nevis
  2. 2. Simon Thorp• Qualified Rural Chartered Surveyor• Chartered Environmentalist• Director of The Heather Trust – since May 2002• Vice-Chairman England & Wales Wildfire Forum• Director Scotland’s Moorland Forum• Based in Dumfries – Covers all UK and beyond
  3. 3. The Plan• Introduction• Impressions from International Wildfire Conference• Questions • What is the scale of the UK’s wildfire problem? • What should we be doing about it? • Can we learn lessons from other countries?• Conclusions
  4. 4. Introduction
  5. 5. The Heather Trust• What is The Heather Trust? – A charity – Dedicated to moorland management throughout the UK – A membership organisation• What do we do? – Seek to integrate all management – provide an independent view – work for & with: private landowners, farmers, agencies & NGOs – contribute to committees & consultations
  6. 6. Current areas of activity
  7. 7. Current areas of activity
  8. 8. Current areas of activity
  9. 9. Current areas of activity
  10. 10. Current areas of activity
  11. 11. Wildfire InterestSource: Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS) Project, NASA-GSFC, and ORBIMAGE, 18 April 2003
  12. 12. South Africa 9 - 13 May 2011
  13. 13. Wildfire Conference, South Africa, May 2011• Chance to mix with international wildfire community• Soak up other people’s ideas• Put UK issues in perspective• Bring some ideas back• Interesting timing – Fires burning across UK
  14. 14. Impressions 1• Scale of global wildfire – 350-400m ha p.a. – size of India• Effect of climate change – Increasing temperature ➨ fire activity – Link between temperature and rainfall – +10% precipitation = 1oC• Spanish problem – Current area of wildfire 148,000 ha p.a. – Climate change model – medium scenario – Increasing to 1,526,000 ha by 2050 – Exacerbated by weather events
  15. 15. Impressions 2• South Africa – Expenditure R306m – Forestry losses from wildfire R3.6 bn – Fire suppression target 368,000 ha p.a.• Wildfire risk reduction – Prescribed burning an accepted policy – Fight fire with fire• Flames do not need to be put out• Fire is a natural phenomenon – Not a new problem – Going to see more of it• Poor communities rely on open fires – Cooking, heating - more sources of ignition
  16. 16. Impressions 3• Australia Black Saturday – 7 Feb 2009 – 450,000 ha burnt, 173 deaths, 2029 houses lost, cost $Aus 4Bn• Smoke pollution – Russia – July / August 2010 – 55,800 people premature deaths
  17. 17. Impressions 4• International cooperation – Enormous amount of work in progress – Research – Development of techniques• Better application of science – Fire danger rating systems – Better understanding of science – Modelling – Fire weather index• UK a poor relation – A reluctant player – Great benefit to be had from improving links
  18. 18. Fire Danger Rating Prediction
  19. 19. Fire DangerRating Table
  20. 20. Questions
  21. 21. What is the scale of the UK’s wildfire problem?• Not on a par with other fire countries: – Mediterranean – USA, Canada – Africa – India• But still significant – Not all about remote hillsides – Swinley Forest – Dorset Heaths – South Wales
  22. 22. What should we be doing about it?• More top down support – Wildfire can happen anywhere – Impact on critical infrastructure – Closure of M3 during the Olympics – Meeting with DCLG – Funding needed• Better organisation on the ground – Fire Groups – Peak District Fire Operations Group – Northumberland FRS – Integration of landowners / managers – Decision Support System for Prescribed Burning
  23. 23. Can we learn lessons from other countries?• Yes – wake up UK• Fire modelling and prediction• Fire management ➨ fire suppression – delicate balancing act – protection vs conservation• Heather burning / muirburn / swaling – Risk reduction tool – Apply science• Stop being precious about fire – Fuel load rises – Catastrophic risk increases
  24. 24. Conclusions• Wildfire can strike anywhere• Effect of climate change – May 2011 could become a regular feature• Need to plan and prepare – Wildfire is not an exceptional event – Expect it to happen – When the FRS is called is too late• Improve level of FRS preparedness• Wildfire Forum & Fire Groups• It could happen here – The Australian Black Saturday – Russian Smoke pollution

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