Wildfire risk and climate change in the Peak District National Park

Julia Mcmorrow, Sarah Lindley, Jonathan Aylen, K. Albertson, Gina Cavan

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Wildfires are uncontrolled vegetation fires occurring accidentally or due to arson. Although they rarely cause loss of human life in the UK, they are a significant economic and environmental problem in moorlands. Vegetation fires in remote areas are costly to fight and detract fire-fighting resources from urban areas. They threaten peatland ecosystem services, for instance by ignition of carbon store in combustion and by initiating peat erosion. The latter requires costly restoration of the fires scars. Wildfires are not a new phenomenon, but results from the recent Climate Change and the Visitor Economy (CCVE) project suggest that climate change is likely to increase the probability of wildfire outbreak by lowering environmental capacity (vulnerability of vegetation) and increasing visitor numbers (risk of ignition). Fires like the one on Easter Bank Holiday weekend 2003, which burned 844 ha of peat moorland on Bleaklow in the Peak District National Park (PDNP), are likely to become more common. The poster reports on work on wildfires in the PDNP conducted for CCVE and subsequently for Moors for the Future and the PDNP Fire Operations Group. The Park could be regarded as a good analogue; it is Britain???s most visited National Park and marginal climatically for many moorland species ??? conditions which would be likely to affect to currently wetter, more northerly and westerly moorlands under climate change scenarios. Temporal modelling predicted when wildfire risk is likely to be highest using the PDNP rangers??? 28-year fire log of over 350 wildfires and daily weather records with non-linear probit modelling. Results suggest that more frequent hot, dry spells during future UK summers will create extreme conditions with a disproportionately large effect on the probability of wildfire. The model assessed the chance of fires at different times of the year, days of the week and under various preceding weather conditions. The risk of an outbreak increases with temperature, reflecting the interplay between biophysical hazard and human use. The probability of fire on a Spring Bank Holiday Monday rose from 8% at the current average temperature of 15??C, to 26% at 25??C, and 50% at 30??C. It complements the Met Office Fire Severity index by forecasting risk ??? the combined effect of weather on biophysical hazard with indirect effects on increased visitor numbers.Spatial modelling used multi-criteria evaluation and stakeholder input to identify where wildfire risk has historically been highest. Habitat type was used as a proxy for vulnerability to ignition (hazard), and human access factors for availability of ignition sources (risk). Frequency of wildfires increased with proximity to popular footpaths and on Access Land, with implications for increased fire risk since the extension of access land under CroW. Bare peat and eroding moor were the most vulnerable habitat types, so restoration to favourable condition should reduce fire risk, provided that fuel load is managed. The map has helped to position fire watches and new fire ponds. The combination of climate modelling, temporal and spatial analysis is a powerful tool for predicting and managing future fire risk. There is much potential to produce a decision-making tool able to identify areas and times of highest risk and to model the potential impact of fire risk management strategies under climate change scenarios.


ConferenceFIRES2, The impact of wildfire on ecosystem services: relationships between wildfire, climate change and people,
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  • Wildfires
  • vegetation fires
  • National Park
  • climate change


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