The role of fire in UK peatland and moorland management: the need for informed, unbiased debate

G Matt Davies, Nicholas Kettridge, Cathelijne R Stoof, Alan Gray, Davide Ascoli, Paulo M Fernandes, Rob Marrs, Katherine A Allen, Stefan H Doerr, Gareth D Clay, Julia McMorrow, Vigdis Vandvik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)
236 Downloads (Pure)


Fire has been used for centuries to generate and manage some of the UK's cultural landscapes. Despite its complex role in the ecology of UK peatlands and moorlands, there has been a trend of simplifying the narrative around burning to present it as an only ecologically damaging practice. That fire modifies peatland characteristics at a range of scales is clearly understood. Whether these changes are perceived as positive or negative depends upon how trade-offs are made between ecosystem services and the spatial and temporal scales of concern. Here we explore the complex interactions and trade-offs in peatland fire management, evaluating the benefits and costs of managed fire as they are currently understood. We highlight the need for (i) distinguishing between the impacts of fires occurring with differing severity and frequency, and (ii) improved characterization of ecosystem health that incorporates the response and recovery of peatlands to fire. We also explore how recent research has been contextualized within both scientific publications and the wider media and how this can influence non-specialist perceptions. We emphasize the need for an informed, unbiased debate on fire as an ecological management tool that is separated from other aspects of moorland management and from political and economic opinions.This article is part of the themed issue 'The interaction of fire and mankind'.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1696
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2016


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