In the history of land-use in the countries bordering the Baltic Sea fire has been an important element in forestry, agriculture and pastoralism. The use of fire has contributed to shape landscapes of high ecological and cultural diversity. In the Nordic countries, historic natural fires caused by lightning have also significantly influenced ecosystem development.
Today, forest fires in the region of the Baltic Basin are closely linked to modern human activities, e.g. industrialization, socio-economics (land-use change), military installations and activities, problems arising at the forest/residential interface, tourism, etc. The consequences of wildfires are severe because they threaten the limited, but very valuable, forest resources of the region. Some fire events cause new problems, such as fires in industrially polluted terrain or in radioactively contaminated vegetation (e.g. in the region around St.Petersburg [Leningrad Province]).
On the other hand, recognizing the role of historic natural and human-caused fires and other land-use tools in the formation of the cultural landscapes of the Baltic Basin, new concepts are arising to include fire as a management tool in those landscapes, including nature conservation areas, which require periodic disturbances in order to maintain or restore biodiversity (e.g., heathlands, sub-climax forest formations).
The nations bordering the Baltic Basin are now showing increasing interest to promote fire management systems in forests and open landscapes which need to be based on advanced fire science and technology development. The need has been recognized to create a forum in the Central-Northern European region in which the fire problems are entirely different from the Mediterranean region.
At the recent FAO/ECE Seminar “Forests, Fire, and Global Change” (Russia, August 1996) the issue was discussed on how to activate the process of information exchange and international policy development on the forest fire problem in the Baltic region. It was suggested that a forum on the forest fire problem in the Baltic Sea region be organized. At this conference representatives from administrations, research institutes, and other parties involved in forest fire prevention and control from the countries bordering the Baltic Basin will attend.
The first meeting of this forum will be held in Poland in May 1998, entitled “First Baltic Conference on Forest Fire”. The conference will bring together scientists, managers and representatives from administrations of the host country (Poland), the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Russia, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden), and Germany. The aim of the conference will be to
Clarify the natural and cultural history of fire (fire in land-use systems, forest wildfires) in the Baltic Basin;
Present the state of knowledge on the impact of the modern industrial societies on forest fire, present new technologies and methods of forest fire management, and to discuss joint strategies in coping with the problem; and
Activate a process of information exchange and international fire science, management and policy development on the forest fire problem in the Baltic Basin region.
Host of the conference will be the Polish Ministry of Environment Protection, Natural Resources and Forestry, and General Directorate of State Forests. The conference will be organized by the Forest Research Institute, Department of Forest Fire Prevention (Warsaw), in cooperation with the Fire Ecology Research Group of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Biogeochemistry Department.
Co-sponsors of the conference are the United Nations, through the European Forestry Commission, FAO/ECE Team of Specialists on Forest Fire, the Polish General Directorate of State Forests, and the Polish National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.
In preparation of this conference International Forest Fire News has collected and analyzed ed some update information on the state of fire research and management in the Baltic Basin. Contributions in the Special Section of this issue are presented from the host country of the conference and its neighbours Estonia, Finland, Germany, Norway, Russia and Sweden. In the context of the ecology and use of fire in European heathlands I have also added, at the end, a contribution from the United Kingdom.
Fig.1. Site preparation burning in Finland in the mid of the 19th century – a commong practice which was exported by Finnish emigrants to other countries of Skandinavia and the New World. Source: Collection of the Fire Ecology Research Group, Freiburg, Germany.
Fig.2. Slash-and-burn agriculture in Germany ca. 90 years ago. The methods of cutting and broadcast burning were similar throughout Europe. Source: Collection of the Fire Ecology Research Group, Freiburg, Germany.