I attended a Wildfire Research Meeting in London yesterday that had been organised on behalf of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum (EWWF) by Rob Gazzard (Forestry Commission England) and Julia McMorrow from the University of Manchester.
The aim of the workshop was to define projects that would provide ‘quick wins’ for the development of a more appropriate approach to developing a Fire Danger Rating System in the UK as well as coordinating social, economic and environmental research.
A range of researchers of all ages and experience attended, but this was balanced in part by my presence, as Chairman of the EWWF, with support from Andy Thomas, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for South Wales Fire & Rescue Service and the Vice-Chairman of the EWWF, and Michael Bruce, Vice Chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum (SWF).
The EWWF had asked the members from the research community to draw up a research programme that the EWWF could endorse. I am keen to encourage a UK approach to wildfire research, and I hope that my membership of the SWF Executive Committee will help to achieve this. I am very aware that there is no pot of money available for wildfire research, but I hope that endorsement by the wildfire community, as end-users of the research, will support applications from research organisations for funding. Also, having a credible programme of research will make it possible to identify research priorities so that we can use the funding that is available to best effect.
As with the development of all programmes of work, it is very easy to get carried away with listing all the issues that could be addressed should time and money be unlimited. There is a danger of becoming paralysed by opportunity and achieving nothing as a result.
A draft research programme had been produced at the first meeting of the research group in July, last year. When the EWWF reviewed this, members were struck by the scale and complexity of the task being presented. There was a real difficulty in knowing where to start.
In discussion, there was agreement that the most important issue for the wildfire community is the development of a Fire Danger Rating System. Amongst other benefits, such a system will provide a quantified warning to the fire & rescue services of periods of high wildfire risk and to practitioners of conditions when they will be able to burn, or when they should not be burning. An effective system has the potential to assist the planning for both wildfire and prescribed burning.
The development of a FDRS was agreed to be a priority for the research community to address through the wildfire research programme. There are no guarantees of any additional funding being available, but a plan that sets out the options, and the associated costs, would allow pitches to be made for financial support.
This is a complicated area where there may be few quick wins, but I hope that focussing attention on a priority topic will allow the wildfire community to make progress with an issue that will have cross-sector benefits.