The UK wildfire research landscape

Julia Mcmorrow, John Dold

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The paper reports on an on-going knowledge exchange project project to collate information on the UK's current research capacity on vegetaion fire, including its strengths and knowledge gaps. An initial email survey of UK research activity on wildfire was conducted by Dold in late 2012, and solicited replies or on behalf of 20 of the 22 researchers from 11 of the 15 universities contacted. Researchers were asked to: (i) provide a brief outline of their research; (ii) suggest ways in which the two wildfire stakeholder forums (England and Wales Wildfire Forum (EWWF), and Scottish Wildfire Forum) might interact with or support their work; and (iii) their potential interest in a proposed laboratory dedicated to wildfire research. Further information on knowledge gaps comes from the FIRES seminar series 2010 online survey, and the authors’ ongoing engagement in the EWWF and other wildfire networks of practitioners, policy-makers and researchers.Results so far include: (1) The initial survey showed expertise on the impacts of prescribed burning of UK heather moorland or lowland heath, including fire ecology, soil hydrophobicity (water repellency); water quality and carbon budgets. This reflects two factors: the long-standing controversy over the ecological impacts of land management burning on blanket bog in the UK, especially on biodiversity and carbon. Secondly, the original contact list was biased to those who took part in field experimental burns on UK moorland and heathland organised by Dold in 2010 and 2011. (2) There was emerging interest in using airborne and field radiometry remote sensing to assess how burn severity (immediate post-fire impacts on soil and biomass assessed by fire behaviour in heather) vary within and between fires. GIS is beginning to be used for wildfire risk management, based on online satellite databases and geo-referenced databases on vegetation fires attended by the Fire Service, national park rangers and water companies. (3) Other groups had lab-based expertise in combustion of organic material, esp ecially peat soils. However, work is lacking on behaviour of high intensity summer fires in UK conditions, since most empirical work draws on prescribed fires conducted in the winter legal burn season, or uses fire behaviour models not adapted to UK conditions. (4) A further research gap is the controversial relationship between prescribed fire and wildfire, i.e. combined wildfire-prescribed regional fire regimes, at landscape scale, and over a longer period. Funding mechanisms dictate that most studies are site-scale, monitor for <3 years and are not flexible enough to include unpredictable wildfires. (5) There was enthusiasm for new partnership research with practitioners such as Fire and Rescue Services, building on the mutually beneficial field burn experiments, and in response to the new research impact criteria in the government’s 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).What should happen next: (1) We would like to extend the survey to other UK environmental and social scientists, including UK-based fire researchers working internationally, especially NERC-funded work on remote sensing of fire at regional and global scales. Vegetation fire is a cross-disciplinary issue, so we also wish to include the currently small number of social science researchers. (2) Emerging keywords will be used to construct a research capability matrix, which will analysed to current identify strengths and knowledge gaps. (3) The research capability matrix would be made availableon the KfWf website as way of encouraging further input from the research community. It will be dynamic, evolving as others provide data. (4) Results will be made available to NERC through the KfWf Fellowship, and to practitioners and policy-makers via EWWF and other national stakeholder groups to which the authors belong.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationhost publication
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013
EventInstitution of Fire Engineers, Fire-related Research, Re13 - Fire Services College, Moreton-in-Marsh
Duration: 14 Nov 201314 Nov 2013


ConferenceInstitution of Fire Engineers, Fire-related Research, Re13
CityFire Services College, Moreton-in-Marsh
Internet address


  • wildfire
  • knowledge exchange
  • research landscape


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