Compared to areas with warmer and drier climates such as Mediterranean countries, the UK suffers relatively little damage from forest fires. Nevertheless, they do occur, especially in areas where grassland or heathland occur close to woodlands, or where rides and other open areas provide inflammable vegetation at certain times of the year.
Data from the Fire and Rescue Services analysed by the Forestry Commission show that between 2009-10 and 2015-16 there were between approx. 2,500 and 9,000 reported woodland fires each year in GB. However, these woodland fires were mostly small size, compared to grassland fires, which are also more frequent. The area of woodland fires varied between a low of approx. 400 ha in 2012 to about 8,700 ha in 2011.
As these annual statistics illustrate, there is considerable year-to-year variation with years where there was high wildfire damage occurring in 1995, 2003, 2011 and 2019, associated with particularly dry and warm weather. There is a pronounced seasonality to wildfires, with an early spring peak when there is dry, dead ground vegetation from the previous season, and a later summer peak associated with hot and prolonged dry periods.
The changing climate with warmer, drier conditions is likely to increase the risk, timing and severity of forest fires. Fire is almost certain to become an increasing factor affecting the condition and longevity of some woods and forests in sensitive areas.
Forest Research is working with other wildfire researchers to assess the risk of forest fires, looking at forest vegetation and the fuel that it represents, examining how the changing climate is changing risk, and working with the Forestry Commission to develop and promote adaptation measures to reduce the risks for forest managers, as part of wider climate change adaptation measures.