RESIDENTS and moorland managers in the north Pennines have welcomed the launch of a new initiative to help combat wildfires as the globe experiences a surge of large wildfires and prolonged fire seasons.

In the UK, 2018 and 2019 together saw more damage caused by wildfires than the entirety of the previous decade with nearly 50,000 hectares destroyed in over 200 wildfires.

Firewise Communities is an international programme based on research by the world’s leading fire experts on ignition of homes from wildfire. The programme encourages communities to work together to reduce the risk to homes from wildfire by taking practical steps in the area around the home and garden.

Kerry Woodhouse, co-ordinator of the Northern Pennines Moorland Association, said: “Uncontrolled wildfires in sensitive upland areas like the North Pennines cause long – lasting damage to the precious local wildlife and the fragile ecosystems which maintain them.

"While Firewise Communities is primarily aimed at homeowners living near heaths at increasing risk of wildfire, it contains many common messages and lessons which equally apply to our precious upland heather moorlands. It is vital that moorland managers, homeowners and visitors do all they can to reduce the risk of wildfires, which not only cause a vast amount of damage to the local wildlife but also release significant amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association also praised the initiative: “We need to do all we can to reduce the risk of wildfire on our moorland. Moorland managers are already helping to reduce fuel loads through the “cool burning” of heather, when conditions allow in winter, making our moorlands less susceptible to wildfires, whilst preserving the vulnerable carbon-rich peat soils beneath.

“If all the carbon stored in English peatlands were lost to the atmosphere as a result of wildfires it would release the equivalent of five years of England’s annual CO2 emissions, so it is in all of our interests to reduce the scale and intensity of wildfires.”

Guidance from the Firewise Communities initiative includes:

• Recognising that every year wildfires burn in the UK and more people are living in areas where wildfires are a risk

• Through working together, we can make neighbourhoods safer from the risk of wildfires

• Making homes and neighbourhoods more resilient to wildfires

• Ensuring communities learn more about wildfires and are proactive in reducing the risk from wildfires

• Recognising a lot of wildfires are caused by people, mostly by careless behaviour

• Acknowledging fuel loads as a key influence of wildfires and managing these can greatly influence their scale and intensity – particularly clearing out dry or dead vegetation.

• Stressing that homeowners can and must take primary responsibility for fire safety action around the home – or indeed on the moorland they manage.