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Are wildfires on the increase in Britain and Europe?

This year Britain has suffered some very large wildfires, including those on Saddleworth Moor in the Peak District National Park and Winter Hill in Lancashire. Elsewhere in Europe, wildfires have been responsible for considerable damage, including loss of life, and there is now a growing awareness that more must be done to prevent wildfires occurring – fire-fighting resources are being increasingly stretched and the army was called in to support Fire & Rescue Services in the UK this year. The experience in 2018 appears similar to that in 2017. The EU have just published an annual summary of forest fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa in that year. Wildfires
burnt over 1.2 million ha in the EU and killed 127 people including both fire fighters and civilians. The position in the UK is somewhat unclear because wildfire data are not available. However, Andy Moffat’s contribution to this review suggests that serious wildfires in Britain have become more common in recent years although it remains unclear if a trend of increasing wildfire will continue into the future. Further work will examine to what extent current fire policy is adequate to ensure prevention activities become effective in reducing wildfire risk.

Community i-Tree project wins CPRE award

The Petersfield Society i-Tree Eco Survey Project was announced the winner of the prestigious Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Hampshire 2018 Countryside Award in the Community & Voluntary category at an uplifting ceremony in Winchester on 18 September. Andy Moffat, the Project Manager, and Robin Hart, the Petersfield Tree Warden, were presented with the winner’s plaque by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson Esq.

Jessica Hughes, one of the judges, introduced the award, saying “The Petersfield Society Tree Survey, driven solely by volunteers, has touched the whole community and provided a robust and comprehensive view of the environmental, social and economic value the trees of Petersfield contribute to their community. This citizen science initiative has attracted the interest of Westminster and will play an important role in influencing green infrastructure planning within the local council and South Downs National Park. The initiative also provides a valuable blueprint for other communities looking to protect and understand the value of their green assets’.

The i-Tree Eco survey is currently being used as a platform from which to develop a Tree Strategy and Action Plan for the town. Andy Moffat is again Project Manager for this initiative. It is hoped that the Tree Strategy will be published in 2019.

Soils training for foresters

Following the in the footsteps of the successful ‘Soils for arboriculture’ workshop developed and delivered for the Arboricultural Association since 2016, Andy Moffat has been asked to deliver a similar course for foresters. This time the Royal Forestry Society is interested in giving foresters first-hand training in soil type recognition in order to help in decision-making which depends on or affects the soil, such as tree species choice or harvesting. Training will also be given in how to use soil information to input into the Forestry Commission Ecological Site Classification system. The one day workshop was held at the Forest Research Alice Holt Research Station in Surrey on 28th June 2018. Feedback from course participants was excellent (see below) and there are already plans to hold another course in 2019.

A good example of community science

Yesterday, over 100 people attended the launch of a report ‘Petersfield’s Trees – their importance and value. Results of the i-Tree Eco survey’. The report is the result of a project to characterise and value Petersfield’s trees, as reported in News in March 2016 (http://www.ajmoffat.co.uk/an-i-tree-survey-for-petersfield/). The survey was undertaken by 43 volunteers, who after appropriate training, surveyed over 200 plots across the parish. The report describes the tree species identified, tree size and condition, and then evaluates a number of important ecosystem goods and services that they provide to the community. i-tree and CAVAT methodologies allow monetary valuation of storm water attenuation, carbon sequestration, air pollution absorption and amenity value. The report discusses these in the context of town development, climate change and the threat of tree pests and diseases. It can be downloaded HERE.

Following publication of the report, future activities will focus on continuing and developing community engagement with Petersfield’s green infrastructure and the construction of a Tree Strategy for the town.

The value of recognising ‘extreme events’ in environmental management

‘Natural disasters’, of which flooding, wildfire and volcanic eruption are often quoted causes, is a concept surely well past its ‘sell-by’ date. We increasingly understand that there is a strong human dimension to all these extreme events, inasmuch as man’s interaction with the environment through urbanisation, agriculture and global warming can often exacerbate their magnitude and frequency. But through the use of science we can seek to predict their occurrence, and reduce their impact to the communities involved through better communication and preventative management. The UN has been developing and implementing an ‘International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’ since 1999. Its Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is the main vehicle for executing the strategy and last month promoted a major international conference in Cancun, Mexico. Many publications were launched at the conference including a comprehensive assessment of the place of science in disaster risk management, from a European perspective. It was collated, edited and published under the direction of the European Commission Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre. The full report can be accessed HERE. It is divided into three parts: understanding disaster risk, communicating disaster risk and managing disaster risk, forming a “bridge concept” for the report. Andy Moffat was pleased to be asked to contribute to the chapter on wildfire risk.

The importance of urban tree strategies in protecting tree resources

Travel broadens the mind, and nearly two months studying the place of trees in Australian and New Zealand urban landscapes has been invaluable in developing understanding on this subject. ‘Down under’, the need for a strategic approach to tree management in the face of climate change, an aging tree population and urban heating appears to be well embedded into town/city policies. As a result, there are several functioning strategies in place and even a strategy for producing an urban forest strategy – download HERE. Christchurch, now showing good progress in emerging from the devastating 2012 earthquake, remains wedded to its description as a ‘garden city’, which apparently predates its use in Letchworth and Welwyn. And Melbourne is convincing as a beacon of ambition for the maintenance and increase of the city tree canopy: a “city within a forest rather than a forest within a city”. Other NZ cities show how it IS possible to marry a significant tree density with the usual constraints posed by engineering and transportation, even encouraging personal street tree planting by residents.

Britain’s urban forestry movement is currently undergoing something of a crisis of confidence with some towns and cities seemingly intent on relegating the role of trees whilst others are positively embracing the goods and services they offer. Experience in the southern hemisphere would seem invaluable for those seeking to influence decision makers in British local authorities. Andy Moffat will continue to work in both hemispheres and will be promoting cross-fertilisation of ideas as an active campaign.