The future of fire management in the British uplands

G. Matt Davies*, Alan Grey, Alistair Hamilton, Colin Legg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Prescribed and wild fires play a significant role in the ecology of upland areas; changes in the frequency and intensity of both can have significant effects on biodiversity and ecosystem function. Whilst the way we manage fire in the future will depend on desired outcomes, the risk of wildfires and the suitability of conditions for prescribed burning will depend on climate, land-use and environmental change. Changes in relative fire risk and hazard therefore need to be carefully considered when setting management policy. Fire has long been used as a management tool in the uplands of the UK but there has been little formal support or training, and emphasis has been placed on traditional knowledge. While there is pressure in some quarters for a reduction in the use of fire, prescribed burning can be used to protect biodiversity assets and reach a range of management objectives. Large areas of old heather excluded from rotational burning pose a significant fire hazard. Wildfires in such areas will be more intense and severe, and more likely to ignite peat, causing considerable environmental damage and releasing large quantities of carbon. We argue for an ecological basis for the use of fire and seek to open a debate by briefly reviewing the main controls on fire risk in upland areas and discussing existing management and its challenges with regards to three case studies: traditionally managed moorland, forestry and peatland soils. We make recommendations for future management and suggest significant challenges exist for managers and researchers that need to be dealt with urgently.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-147
JournalInternational Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystems Services and Management
Publication statusPrint publication - Sept 2008


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