Severe wildfires are an intermittent problem in England. The paper presents the
first analysis of wildfire policy, showing its halting evolution over two decades.
First efforts to coordinate wildfire management came from local fire operation
groups, where stakeholders such as fire services, land owners and amenity
groups shared knowledge and equipment to tackle the problem. A variety of
structures and informal management solutions emerged in response to local
needs. Knowledge of wildfire accumulated within regional and national wildfire
forums and academic networks. Only later did the need for central
emergency planning and the response to climate change produce a national
policy response. Fire statistics have allowed wildfires to be spatially evidenced
on a national scale only since 2009. National awareness of wildfire was spurred
by the 2011 fire season, and the high-impact Swinley Forest fire, which threatened critical infrastructure and communities within 50 miles of London.
Severe wildfire was included in the National Risk Register for the first time in
2013. Cross-sector approaches to wildfire proved difficult as government
responsibility is fragmented along the hazard chain. Stakeholders such as the
Forestry Commission pioneered good practice in adaptive land management
to build fire resilience into UK forests. The grass-roots evolution of participatory
solutions has also been a key enabling process. A coordinated policy is now
needed to identify best practice and to promote understanding of the role of
fire in the ecosystem.
This article is part of a themed issue ‘The interaction of fire and mankind’.