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Wildfire damages cost €2 billion last year, says EU Commissioner

Wildfires can be catastrophic, particularly in the uplands. Just ask the National Trust, who have experienced multiple wildfires in recent years on their Marsden Moor reserve in the Peak District and yet continue a policy of no controlled burning.

After the 2018 Saddleworth Moor fire, Rob Marrs, professor of applied biology at Liverpool University, said: ‘Leaving the land alone causes much more damage than controlled burning, because there’s more heather to burn so it gets hotter and spreads to the peat, which in turn spreads the fire. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when, and that when is now.’

As the impact of climate change continues to lead to hotter summers wildfires are expected to get more common, both in the UK and Europe.

That is why this week the European Union were warned they need to urgently boost investments in wildfire prevention as the 'fire season' becomes longer and more geographically spread.

"According to a World Bank study that was done in conjunction with the European Commission, €1 invested in wildfire prevention saves €10 in damage," the European Commissioner for Crisis Management told reporters on Tuesday.

He added that the damage inflicted by wildfires in 2022 is estimated to be "at least €2 billion".

The fires were fuelled by longer, more repeated heatwaves and a severe drought impacting most of the continent — phenomena blamed on climate change.

Speaking from the annual "lessons learnt" workshop, held this year in Lisbon, where ministers from the 27 member states gather to discuss the previous fire season and how to boost resilience, Lenarčič said that "even the best equipped, the best-prepared member states asked for assistance" in 2022.

He added that this is due in part to the forest fire now starting earlier and ending later as well as wildfires now impacting more and more countries, even those that, unlike Mediterranean countries, were not traditionally affected.

The Commission has already announced new measures, including a doubling of the rescEU capacity as soon as 2023. It has also put forward a Wildfire Prevention Action Plan that aims for increased financing for wildfire prevention actions.

Controlled burning is universally accepted as a vital tool in preventing wildfire, with National Geographic recently saying: "A prescribed burn can help prevent a destructive wildfire. In addition, fire can be rejuvenating. It returns nutrients to the soil in the ashes of vegetation that could otherwise take years to decompose. And after a fire, the additional sunlight and open space in a forest can help young trees and other plants start to grow."


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