How land managers can work to reduce the chances of an accidental fire being started by visitors
By Adam Farrow, Watch Manager Prevention
Uncontrolled and unwanted vegetation fires are becoming more common year on year. In 2019 there were 137 fires in the United Kingdom which were larger than 25 hectares, a 42% increase from 2018.
This increase is likely to continue due to climate change, potential changes in legislation and increased population numbers. This year with the restrictions on foreign travel there are likely to be increased visitor numbers to local beauty spots and people visiting who are unfamiliar with the countryside.
A summer well remembered
The summer of 2018 is a particularly well remembered one when it comes to wildfires, large fires such as Winter Hill and Saddleworth caught the attention of the nation due to the large number of resources required to bring them under control, their impact on the surrounding area and the duration in which they both burnt. The cause of the Winter Hill fire is believed to be a barbeque.
Reducing the fuel
The most common way of controlling fuel is prescribed or controlled burning but other methods such as cutting or creating fire breaks can be used as an alternative on smaller estates, parks or reserves.
Concentrate on reducing the fuel and keeping vegetation low areas that are hotspots or have high footfall, especially near picnic areas, rights of way and places where people tend to congregate and park. These are high risk areas for accidental fires started from BBQs, cigarettes, discarded bottles and campfires. Consider whether certain places can be designated as safe picnic or BBQ areas with stands, water, signage, etc.
Prescribed burning must be done during the burning season and follow legal guidelines. For a full list of rules and guidance visit the government website to ensure you are managing your burns safely and legally. Before you carry out any burn you should ensure that you have a burning plan which should include informing your local fire service.
For a draft burning plan please visit the DEFRA Burning plan and for more information on best practice visit the DEFRA best practice guide.
Working with the fire service
Some fire and rescue services offer training and fire prevention seminars and may have posters, leaflets and other resources that you can use. They will also be aware of any multi-agency wildfire prevention groups in your area. This can be a good way to work together to prevent fires, share resources and coordinate safety messages in the press and across social media.
Your local fire service will have a wildfire strategy that includes prevention work. Consider joint press releases and media events or working together on education or awareness.
Joint training and preparation
Should the worst happen, good preparation can prevent a fire spreading and causing damage to the environment. Ensure you have a wildfire plan and have shared this with your local fire service. It should include information on contact numbers, water sources, access and any SSSI sites.
It is good practice to work with local fire crew, so consider inviting them to controlled burns for training, familiarisation and to trial new equipment. It is also an opportunity to check access and communications blackspots and discuss wildfire plans.
Pre-planning and familiarisation will mean a more efficient response, limiting the damage a fire can do.
If you identify certain areas as higher risk due to scorching, discarded disposable barbecues, campfire sights, illegal camping or reports of anti-social behaviour then discuss these with your local fire service or local policing team to try and prevent future issues.
By working together and including local groups and agencies you can assist with crime and fire prevention on your land and elsewhere. It’s important to document every case so that trends such as locations, times and causes can be identified.
Signage such as in the photo are a great way of getting information out there to visitors.
It’s good practice to update and refresh signs so they stay current. Change their locations and get them displayed in local shops, pubs, visitor centres and anywhere else that will have them, especially places that sell barbeques.
The use of social media is a good way of getting more targeted and time specific messages out there, remember, user figures on all social media platforms peak around midday on weekdays. To assist the National Fire Chiefs Council have prepared some resources which are free to use here and your local fire service may have some more which you can use that are more localised and specific to your area.
Consistent and joined up communications are needed to ensure people understand the fire risk that barbeques, vehicles, glass bottles and smoking can have.
To find out more about what your local fire service offers then please visit their website, if you are not sure which service covers your area visit the National fire chief’s council website here. Every fire service wants to reduce the number of wildfires in the UK but we know that it can’t be done by one person or one organisation alone, partnership working is the only way to extinguish the risk.