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Wildfire risks to UK landscapes

This POSTnote summarises wildfire threats and management in the UK, and outlines options for increasing the resilience of UK landscapes and habitats to wildfire.

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The 2022 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and 2023 National Adaptation Programme identified wildfire as an increasing climate change risk. Climate scientists predict changing weather patterns will increase the frequency and severity of wildfires in the UK, which will pose a growing threat to achieving the UK’s biodiversity and net-zero commitments.

Wildfire risks vary across the UK’s landscapes and habitats, posing distinct threats in agricultural landscapes, woodlands, and open habitats including heathlands and peatlands. Wildfires at the rural-urban interface also directly threaten human health and infrastructure. The impacts of wildfire could be mitigated by improved public communication to reduce ignitions, strengthened Fire and Rescue Service response and altered land management. Stakeholders debate the effects of land management including rotational burning, tree planting, rewilding and peatland rewetting on wildfire resilience.

Reducing the vulnerability of landscapes and habitats to wildfire would deliver environmental benefits including protection of biodiversity and carbon stores, whilst preserving productive rural landscapes and preventing damage to at-risk infrastructure and communities.

Key points

  • Climate change and land use changes are altering the frequency and severity of wildfires globally. In the UK, weather conducive to wildfires is projected to occur more frequently due to climate change.  
  • More frequent and severe wildfires could hinder progress towards the UK’s climate and biodiversity goals. There is a risk of major wildfires affecting urban communities and infrastructure in the UK. 
  • Almost all UK wildfires are started by humans. There is poor public awareness of wildfire risks. Improved risk communication and community engagement may reduce wildfires.  
  • Wildfires can present distinct challenges for Fire and Rescue Services, which are typically focused on responding to building fires. Wildfire response is managed and resourced variably between services.  
  • The likelihood and impact of wildfires vary greatly across landscapes, and between habitat types.  
  • Stakeholders agree that wildfire risk should be incorporated into land management planning but disagree about the merits and drawbacks of different approaches, such as managing vegetation and rewilding.  
  • The Home Office are committed to scoping a Wildfire Action Plan by mid-2024. Challenges include fire hazard assessment, Fire and Rescue Service response, and managing land to mitigate wildfire risks. 

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

Members of the POST Board*

Henrietta Appleton, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust*

David Bowman, University of Tasmania*

Gareth Clay, University of Manchester

Alistair Crowle, Natural England*

Scott Davidson, University of Plymouth

Teresa Dent, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust*

Kim Dowsett, Climate Change Committee

Andy Elliott, Wildfire Training and Consultancy Ltd*

Bruce Farquharson, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service*

Sophie Fraenkel, Defra*

Rob Gazzard, Forestry Commission*

Steven Gibson, Incendium Wildfire Solutions

David Glaves, Natural England*

Nick Hawkes, Wildlife and Countryside Link

Andreas Heinemeyer, University of York*

Rowena Hill, Nottingham Trent University*

Emma Hinchliffe, IUCN UK Peatland Programme*

Andrew Kibble, UK Health Security Agency

Richard Lindsay, University of East London*

James Morison, Forest Research*

Alex Nott, NFU Mutual*

Mark Owen, Natural England*

Adam Pellegrini, University of Cambridge

Matt Perry, Met Office*

Jess Rawlings, Defra*

Guillermo Rein, Imperial College London

Karen Rentoul, NatureScot*

Francesco Restuccia, King’s College London

Isabel Robinson, Home Office*

Adam Rodgers, Natural England*

Nix Rust, Climate Change Committee

Kate Schofield, Ricardo

Andrew C. Scott, Royal Holloway University of London*

Rob Stacey, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service

Patrick Thompson, RSPB*

Jessica Williams, IUCN UK Peatland Programme*

Matt Wilson, NFU Mutual*

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing

Documents to download

 

Channel website: https://www.parliament.uk/post

Original article link: https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-0717/?_gl=1*1yd6vo5*_up*MQ..*_ga*MTc3MjY3MTYxNy4xNzEzMTgxNDQ0*_ga_R1S57P8GYR*MTcxMzE4MTQ1Ny4xLjAuMTcxMzE4MTQ1Ny4wLjAuMA..

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