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Top LSE scientist calls for increased use of controlled burning to prevent wildfires

Seventy-five large fires were recorded last year. This number was exceeded only in 2019, according to analysis of records going back to 2008 by the London School of Economics (LSE).

Although some still refuse to believe the facts, wildfires have become more frequent in Britain because of climate change and fire services must prepare for “more flammable landscapes” similar to Spain and the United States, according to scientists.

This point was reinforced last month when the National Trust's Marsden Moor burnt out nearly 1000 acres of moorland, releasing thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions into the air and sending air pollution as far as Huddersfield.

According to The Times, Dr Tom Smith, assistant professor in environmental geography at LSE, said: “Whereas once there would be a big fire year every few years, now it is becoming annual. We need to be prepared for more flammable landscapes. This preparation has already started with specialist wildfire teams and tactical advisers being appointed in fire and rescue services up and down the country.”

He said that firefighters in Britain were learning from those in Spain, South Africa and the US, which “currently face a fire risk that we might see in the coming decades”.

In addition to climate changes causing increasing dry spells and heatwaves, the problem with increased wildfires also stems from charitable land owners, such as the RSPB and National Trust, failing to carry out traditional controlled burning practices. Indeed, the RSPB have been leading a highly emotive campaign to ‘Ban-the-Burn’.

Yet despite the RSPB’s efforts, Dr Smith said, “Traditional land management practices of using fire or grazing to thin moorland vegetation have been abandoned in many places, leading to more fuel availability on the ground”.

He said that more winter burns of excess vegetation were needed to create firebreaks. The risks of not doing this are only too clear to see after last month’s catastrophe on Marsden Moor.


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