FIRES – Interdisciplinary Research on Ecosystem Services: Fire and Climate Change in UK Moorlands and Heaths

FIRES – Interdisciplinary Research on Ecosystem Services: Fire and Climate Change in UK Moorlands and Heaths

Seminar series in March and June 2008

31 March – 1 April 2008, Edinburgh, UK, and 24 June 2008, Manchester, UK


Moorland and heathland ecosystems in the UK both sustain human use and are sustained by it. Fire plays a key but equivocal role, raising many controversies for management and policy making, especially under the threat of climate change. The diverse environmental, social and cultural ecosystem services provided by moorlands and heathlands include carbon storage, biodiversity, water provision, flood protection, aesthetic/recreational value, and economic value from tourism, sporting enterprisesand grazing. Managed fire has traditionally played an important role in maintaining the landscape and biodiversity. For instance, rotational burning is used to maintain heather moors for grouse and grazing animals and contributes to floristic diversity. In contrast, accidental or malicious wildfires increasingly threaten moorland and heathland ecosystem services and are likely to become more frequent and severe with climate change. Managed fires and wildfires are linked. Managed fires can reduce wildfire risk by reducing fuel load and creating firebreaks, but, if poorly controlled, can result in wildfires themselves. Research on wildfires in UK moorlands and heathlands is in its infancy and lacks co-ordination. This seminar series seeks to contribute to effective management of wildfire risk by identifying policy implications and developing a joined-up research agenda for the UK.

Aims of the four workshops in the seminar series

  1. to build capacity for inter-disciplinary research on fire and its impacts on ecosystem services of UK heaths and moorlands;
  2. to establish a cross-cutting interdisciplinary research agenda on the relationships between ecosystem services, managed fire and wildfire in UK heaths and moorlands, especially implications of increased wildfire risk under climate change scenarios;
  3. to incorporate the needs of policy makers, moorland managers and other stakeholders, facilitate knowledge transfer to policy makers and contribute to adaptive management response.

Objectives of the seminar series

  • to facilitate dialogue between participants on three levels: socio-economic, environmental and physical scientists; researchers, international and UK academics and postgraduate students; and, especially, researchers, stakeholders and policy-makers;
  • to identify the ecosystem services of UK heaths and moorlands, assess the role of managed fire in maintaining them and the costs and benefits of reductions in prescribed burning;
  • to assess the threats to these ecosystem services posed by wildfire, including the future threat from climate change;
  • to evaluate the suitability for the UK of three modelling tools designed to minimise damage to the ecosystem: forecasting the timing and severity of wildfire risk; modelling the behaviour of active fires; and spatially modelling their cause and distribution (including evaluating alternative conceptual and methodological approaches, identifying data needs and implications for policy);
  • to identify alternative strategies for managing wildfire risk (now and in the future from climate change), discuss their relative costs and benefits for ecosystem services, and identify the political and institutional policy drivers;
  • to disseminate findings and define an agenda for further cross-disciplinary research.

The four FIRES seminars and workshops on the effects of moorland and heathland wildfires and managed fires on ecosystem services will be held during 2008-2009. The first seminar will be held in Edinburgh 31 March – 1 April 2008, with the second in Manchester on 24 June 2008. Seminars three and four will be held in Manchester and in the Peak District, respectively, during 2009.

Evening lecture
‘Wildfires: An American perspective on a global issue’, Jim Smalley, National Fire Protection Association, USA, Tuesday 24 June 2008, 5.10pm, University of Manchester.


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