Experts warn there is major risk of ‘catastrophic’ wildfire engulfing swathes of the Peak District

The Peak District is at major risk of being hit by a wildfire of ‘catastrophic’ proportions according to a new report.

Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 8:50 am

The report was published on Tuesday, May 17, authored by experts from organisations involved in the management of the Peak District. They state that wildfire poses a significant threat to the national park, which attracts 13 million visitors a year and is part of the largest carbon store in the UK.

It says that wildfire in the area could be so severe that it would be beyond the capability of the fire and rescue service to control.

Wildfires are becoming increasingly common across the UK – from January to April this year there were 243 wildfires nationwide, compared to 237 for the whole of last year, according to the National Fire Chiefs’ Council.

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This photo shows firefighters as they battle a Peak District wildfire in April 2021.

The report found that global warming is driving more frequent periods of fire supportive weather, and that changes in grazing regimes and limitations on vegetation management mean that combustible vegetation is accumulating.

Successful wildfire intervention depends on a timely, well‐resourced and hard‐hitting initial response. Fire and rescue services in the Peak District face a number of challenges when attending wildfire incidents, with a lack of aerial support and limited opportunities to access some of the park’s most vulnerable areas.

The authors recommend the creation of a comprehensive strategic wildfire management plan for the Peak District moorlands. This would include measures such as monitoring areas where fires are most likely to start, facilitating access to strategic fire control points, and planning for additional support to combat blazes, such as helicopters carrying water or fire retardant.

Anthony Barber-Lomax, one of the report’s authors, said: “This report provides the first complete picture for people who manage this land. There is a significant risk of a wildfire which would be beyond the scope of the fire and rescue service to control.

“This is particularly worrying as the moorlands of the Peak District are home to some of our rarest species such as Curlew, Short-eared Owl, Mountain Hare and Merlin. As a society we must act now to address some of these risks, to protect people, property, precious habitats and the vast carbon reserves stored in peatland. There is an urgent need for mitigation strategies to be deployed without delay.”

Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, said: ”When we set out on this pioneering journey I was at the National Park Authority (NPA). It is all credit to the diverse leadership, knowledge and experience of moorland owners, gamekeepers, land managers, the fire and rescue service and the NPA, who picked up my call to action for a collaborative and strategic approach to reducing devastating wildfire.

“Their hard work has delivered a report that has the potential to be a real game changer in how we think about and mitigate fire risk on our upland moors, using data to strategically assess fire behaviour, pathways and risk.”

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