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Wildfire as a cross-cutting issue

More ignition sources or more fuel increases the likelihood of a wildfire occurring. The impact of any fire increases if there are people, infrastructure or other valuable resources in its path. Some ecosystems are more resilient than others and recover quickly. In the UK, loss of life and buildings is rare. But wildfires have other economic, social and environmental impacts - disrupting water supplies, for instance. These effects spread across a range of supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural ecosystem services.

Direct economic costs obviously include suppression by Fire services. There is also loss of provisioning services such as timber, crops and game. Indirect socio-economic costs include road and airport closures due smoke, disruption to communities, loss of livelihoods, and opportunity costs to the emergency services and businesses. Environmental costs include restoration of biodiversity and other supporting ecosystem services, regulating services such as carbon and water, and cultural services such as landscape quality.

Likelihood and impact together produce risk, although the specific meaning of the term ‘fire risk’ differs between disciplines.  Many sectors may contribute to wildfire risk and are affected by it. They include agriculture, biodiversity, forestry water, health, transport, the built environment and business.  Wildfire is therefore a truly cross-cutting issue, requiring an inter-agency response and partnership working. 

Cross-sector; government and private sector

Fire and Rescue Service response to wildfire incidents in England is in the remit of Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG. But wildfire is not just a fire service problem; management of wildfire falls across the remit of other government departments at different stages of the hazard chain, and prevention is a people and land management issue for wider society.

In England, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) contribute to prevention through habitat management and closure of Access Land at times of high fire risk, and to recovery through ecological restoration.  Others like the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Department of Health can be involved in other aspects.

Non-governmental organisations, charities, the business sector (such as water companies, insurers and land owners) and the public can increase and help to manage wildfire risk.  Regional fire operations groups have emerged as a local partnership response to managing wildfire risk.


Fire requires fuel, heat and oxygen.  Fuel management is achieved by managing vegetation cover, which reduces the likelihood of a fire burning intensely and spreading.  Heat and oxygen are largely weather-related, typically through drought and wind, so require an understanding of fire behaviour, atmospheric science and also climate change.  Social science contributes because people accidentally or maliciously provide the additional heat sources which start most fires.

Wildfire therefore cuts across the environmental, physical and social sciences.  KfWf draws mainly on research in the environmental sciences, for instance in ecology, hydrology, geomorphology, soil science, remote sensing, atmospheric science and climate change.  We hope to engage too with physical and social scientists.

Sectors and disciplines

KfWf is working across sectors and disciplines to join up emerging interests in UK wildfire.  We work closely with the England and Wales Wildfire Forum (EWWF), a partnership of public, private and third sector organisations concerned with wildfire and its management in England and Wales.

Stakeholder groups

EWWF fire sector includes:

  • Chief Fire Officers’ Association
  • Fire Brigades Union
  • Regional Fire and Rescue Services
  • etc.

EWWF Government agencies include:

  • Cabinet Office
  • Met Office
  • Natural England
  • Environment Agency
  • Forestry Commission and Forestry Commission Wales
  • Highways Agency
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Countryside Council for Wales
  • Police, Wildlife Crime Unit
  • etc.

EWWF land management and business sectors include:

  • The Heather Trust
  • Moorland Association
  • Country Landowners Association
  • National Gamekeepers Association
  • English National Park Authorities Association
  • National Association of Areas of Outstanding National Beauty
  • Network Rail
  • Confederation of Forest Industries (CONFOR)
  • Local fire operations groups
  • etc.