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Forest fires United Kingdom


Between 2009 and 2017 there were over 258 thousand wildfires in England, burning nearly 37 thousand hectares (6). The 2018 wildfire season in the UK was similar to or slightly worse than that of 2003 but possibly not as severe as the years 1995 and 1976. It is difficult to compare wildfire outbreaks in the past and draw conclusions about their relative severity due to differences in the way fires have been reported over the years (4).

Most of the land area burnt by wildfires across the UK is arable, grassland, or mountain and heath open habitats (7). Between 2009 and 2017 woodland and forest fires accounted for less than 5% of the land area burnt in England (6).

Moorland fires

Kersey et al. (1) reported on the risk of moorland fires in the East Midlands. An increased risk of moorland fires arising from climate change is a major issue for the Peak District. Such fires could lead to the replacement of heather moorland by grass, with serious implications for soil erosion and grouse-shooting. There have been 30 to 40 fires on the National Trust estate in the High Peak in the past decade – about a dozen of which have been classified as ‘major’ fires. Approximately one third of fires are caused by visitors’ cigarettes, whilst another third are heather management fires that have gone out of control (1).

Fires have a direct impact upon plant communities. An even greater problem is when fires get down into the peat causing large areas of erosion which are very difficult to re-vegetate, and which add to water colouration and associated treatment problems (1).

The Peak District National Park Authority has done much work on educating visitors about the risks and hazards of fire. Work is also proceeding on how to respond more effectively to fires when they do occur. Schemes are also being undertaken in the Peak on how to restore vegetation after fires. The problem of re-vegetation was described by the National Trust, however, as ‘quite immense’ (1).

The impact of climate change on the number of wildfires in the Peak District uplands has been investigated (3). Future climate projections suggest an overall increase in occurrence of summer wildfires in the Peak District uplands. The likelihood of spring wildfires is not reduced by wetter winter conditions. Temperature rise has a non-linear impact, with the risk of wildfire occurrence rising disproportionately with temperature. Recreation use is a major source of ignition. Little change in wildfire incidence is projected in the near future, but as climate change intensifies, the danger of summer wildfires is projected to increase from 2070 (3).

Forest fires

In the UK, between now and 2100, the conditions will change towards a higher risk of forest fires (2). The absolute danger now and into the future is greatest in the south and east of England, but danger increases too further north (5).

Adaptation strategies

Adaptation options to forest fire risk should aim to decrease the vulnerability, where a change in tree species from conifers to broadleaves had most effect (2).

Moorlands may have to be managed to reduce the chance of summer wildfires becoming catastrophic, with consequent damage to ecosystem services such as water supplies and peat carbon storage. Management measures may include controlled burning, grazing or mowing to remove fuel (3).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for the United Kingdom.

  1. Kersey et al. (2000)
  2. Schelhaas et al. (2010)
  3. Albertson et al. (2010)
  4. Sibley (2019)
  5. Arnell et al. (2021)
  6. Forestry Commission (2019), in: Arnell et al. (2021)
  7. de Jong et al. (2016); Gazzard et al. (2016); Forestry Commission (2019), all in: Arnell et al. (2021)