Understanding Drivers of Wildfire

Using remote sensing methods to understand the impact of landscape restoration on wildfire

Context & Opportunity

Climate change is driving increasing concerns over the impacts of wildfire on both natural systems and people. There is potential for landscape restoration to play a significant part either in reducing (if associated with increasing wetness or reduced fuel load) or increasing (if associated with promoting vegetation succession) wildfire risk. The increasing accessibility of remote sensing data provides the potential to detect fire occurrence, whilst also monitoring land cover and climatic changes over large spatial areas. This presents an opportunity to understand how fires are influenced by climate, interact with the landscape and provide evidence for prioritising restoration and protection to reduce the impacts of fires.  

The Polesia ELSP-funded Restoration Landscape area acts as the main case-study for this work, where boreal-wetland loss and drying associated with forestry and large-scale rewilding associated with the Chernobyl exclusion zone interact with the potential for wetland restoration to impact fire risk. We also explored the patterns of wildfire in relation to landcover change and climate in the Greater Côa Valley landscape, specifically investigating the potential impact of natural grazing regimes on wildfire. By quantifying the relationships between landcover, management, climate-change, fire risk, fire type and subsequent impacts on biodiversity, we provide evidence that can help motivate land managers and policy makers to restore degraded wetlands and prevent future drainage.  

Outputs & Achievements 

In this project, the BTO revealed the patterns, environmental and human drivers of fires in ecosystems of Polesia for the first time. They found that, under low moisture conditions, fires disproportionally affected Polesia’s protected, internationally important peatlands and floodplain meadows, with the most extreme fires threatening primeval deciduous forests. This suggests that restoring and maintaining natural hydrological regimes could be an effective solution to increase the resilience of fire-vulnerable ecosystems and support global biodiversity and carbon storage commitments. 

The project also elaborated a reproducible methodology that can be applied to other understudied regions positively impacting landscape restoration and effectiveness of fire protection measures.  

The results of the analysis of wildfire in Polesia have been published in the journal The Science of the Total Environment. 

The code used to conduct the large-scale extraction, manipulation, and analysis of data on wildfires is freely available via the Github repository. 

Project Partners

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)

Outputs

Landscape fires in Polesia: patterns, drivers, solutions

Landscape fires in Polesia: patterns, drivers, solutions

A summary of the importance of understanding the links between fire and ecosystem restoration, both in terms of the susceptibility of ecosystems to fire and its impacts. This is illustrated with a case study looking at the patterns and drivers of fires in the mires and forests of the Polesia landscape.

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Scientific article: Landscape fires disproportionally affect protected peatlands, meadows and forests under low moisture conditions

Scientific article: Landscape fires disproportionally affect protected peatlands, meadows and forests under low moisture conditions

In this paper, produced by an Advancing and Applying project looking at the drivers of wildfire, the BTO examined the patterns, and environmental and human drivers of fires in the Polesia landscape for the first time, and discuss implications for the management and restoration of the ecosystem.

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