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Climate change and UK wildfire

In 2007, whilst working for Forest Research, Andy Moffat gave a presentation at the ‘Wildfire 2007’ conference with Karl Kitchen from the Met Office entitled “Climate change and forest fires in the UK – possible impacts”. Of course this wasn’t the first time that a linkage between these two phenomena had been asserted, but it was one of the earliest to formalise the link for UK forest land management. Yesterday, the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology published a concise and convincing update of the subject as a POSTnote entitled “Climate Change and UK Wildfire”. This has been compiled by Lauren Shotter and Jonathan Wentworth from evidence provided by a range of stakeholders. Andy Moffat was delighted to be asked to be involved in this process and also to act as an External Reviewer of the Note.

The POSTnote can be downloaded HERE. Its main findings are that wildfires are becoming a significant hazard in the UK, almost certainly because climate change is increasing their frequency. It identifies that the responsibility for managing wildfire risk is shared between a number of government departments and other stakeholders, most importantly the land owners themselves. It concludes that better wildfire prevention could be achieved through landscape management.

How to manage veteran beech trees under a changing climate – a study in Burnham Beeches

In December 2018, A J Moffat & Associates were asked to review the evidence for current management of veteran beech trees at Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, from an environmental perspective. The City of London Corporation, which sponsored the work, were particularly interested in how management operations such as ‘halo clearance’ might impact on soil and water relationships. The review also examined likely effects of atmospheric pollution and increasing drought risk on the veteran trees. The report, which can be downloaded HERE, concluded that halo clearance was compatible with enhancing moisture supply to the trees, but that wholesale clearance was likely to be detrimental to tree condition. It makes several recommendations to optimize veteran tree retention as the climate becomes warmer and drier in this part of Britain.

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 ( 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.