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Prescribed Fire & Its Impacts on Ecosystem Services in the UK

January 25, 2018 |

This paper was originally published in Science of The Total Environment


  • Prescribed fire is a controversial and highly debated topic in UK land management.
  • Water supply catchments are at risk from water quality impacts of fire.
  • Irresponsible burning in the UK uplands threatens to reduce vital carbon storage.
  • Prescribed burning over inappropriate time-scales reduces faunal and floral diversity.
  • More research is needed to reliably inform management practices in the UK.

Abstract: The impacts of vegetation fires on ecosystems are complex and varied affecting a range of important ecosystem services. Fire has the potential to affect the physicochemical and ecological status of water systems, alter several aspects of the carbon cycle (e.g. above- and below-ground carbon storage) and trigger changes in vegetation type and structure.

Globally, fire is an essential part of land management in fire-prone regions in, e.g. Australia, the USA and some Mediterranean countries to mitigate the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires and sustain healthy ecosystems. In the less-fire prone UK, fire has a long history of usage in management for enhancing the productivity of heather, red grouse and sheep. This distinctly different socioeconomic tradition of burning underlies some of the controversy in recent decades in the UK around the use of fire.

Negative public opinion and opposition from popular media have highlighted concerns around the detrimental impacts burning can have on the health and diversity of upland habitats. It is evident there are many gaps in the current knowledge around the environmental impacts of prescribed burning in less fire-prone regions (e.g. UK). Land owners and managers require a greater level of certainty on the advantages and disadvantages of prescribed burning in comparison to other techniques to better inform management practices.

This paper addresses this gap by providing a critical review of published work and future research directions related to the impacts of prescribed fire on three key aspects of ecosystem services: (i) water quality, (ii) carbon dynamics and (iii) habitat composition and structure (biodiversity). Its overall aims are to provide guidance based on the current state-of-the-art for researchers, land owners, managers and policy makers on the potential effects of the use of burning and to inform the wider debate about the place of fire in modern conservation and land management in humid temperate ecosystems…”

Read on and access the full paper at: Science of The Total Environment.

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