The role of fire in U.K. peatland and moorland management; the need for informed, unbiased debate

G. Matt Davies, Nicholas Kettridge, Cathelijne Stoof, Alan Gray, Davide Ascoli, Paolo Fernandes, Robert Marrs, Katherine Allen, Stefan Doerr, Gareth Clay, Julia Mcmorrow, Vigdis Vandvik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fire has been used for centuries to generate and manage some of the UK's cultural landscapes. Despite its complex role in the ecology of UK peatlands and moorlands, there has been a trend of simplifying the narrative around burning to present it as an only ecologically damaging practice. That fire modifies peatland characteristics at a range of scales is clearly understood. Whether these changes are perceived as positive or negative depends upon how trade-offs are made between ecosystem services and the spatial and temporal scales of concern. Here we explore the complex interactions and trade-offs in peatland fire management, evaluating the benefits and costs of managed fire as they are currently understood. We highlight the need for (i) distinguishing between the impacts of fires occurring with differing severity and frequency, and (ii) improved characterization of ecosystem health that incorporates the response and recovery of peatlands to fire. We also explore how recent research has been contextualized within both scientific publications and the wider media and how this can influence non-specialist perceptions. We emphasize the need for an informed, unbiased debate on fire as an ecological management tool that is separated from other aspects of moorland management and from political and economic opinions.

This article is part of the themed issue ‘The interaction of fire and mankind’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20150342
Number of pages17
JournalPhilosophical Transactions Royal Society B
Issue number1696
Early online date23 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventThe Interaction of Fire and Mankind - Royal Society of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Sept 201515 Sept 2015


  • moorland
  • management burning
  • prescribed burning
  • peat
  • UK
  • Calluna vulgaris
  • wildfire


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