By Paul Homewood

As everybody knows, wildfires are getting worse. After all it’s obvious, innit? Heatwaves, droughts and all that.

Well that’s what we’re told, but what are the facts as far as the UK is concerned?

The Committee on Climate Change included these two graphs in their report on the indicators of climate-related risks two months ago:

It is a bit of a mixed bag, but the second chart appears to back up claims that things are getting much worse. We can see on both graphs that the vast majority of fire acreage is on moorland rather than forestry. This is not surprising as the moorland areas tend to be much greater and have the added factor of peat bogs, which are very difficult to put out.

The CCC also point out that the second set is not as robust as the Forestry Commission data. Also the second chart is for the whole of the UK, whereas the first is just for England.

The overall impression though is that wildfires are a minor issue in the vast majority of years.

If we look at woodlands only, there is no trend at all, merely an outlier in 2010. The data period is unfortunately short because the Forestry Commission previously only collected data for the UK as a whole, and then only for a handful of years.

The problem clearly centres around moorland fires. Here we see the impact of the hot summer of 2018 and the dry spring in the following year. It is easy to see how fire fighters can say they have never seen anything like it, because fire years like those are rare. But are they the result of climate change?

Let’s first look at spring, often a time for wildfires as the vegetation is still dry from winter. Spring 2019 saw the massive fires in Morayshire and Sutherland, but rainfall was actually above average then. More importantly, there is no trend towards drier springs:

In the summer of 2018, we had the Saddleworth Moor fire. But again the summer was far from being the driest on record, and summers also appear to be getting wetter rather than drier.

Every fire needs a spark, and there is abundant evidence that most fires are caused by humans, accidental or otherwise. With the public nowadays having unprecedented access to the moors, we are going to see many more fires like these, climate change or not.


August 17, 2021