Safety Fire

GMFRS highlights devastating environmental impact of wildfires

AS World Environment Day approaches on Saturday 5 June, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) is raising awareness of the devastating environmental impacts of wildfires – including those affecting moorland.

Working with local partners, GMFRS continues to remind people of the importance of preventing these kinds of incidents and avoiding the devastation and disruption that wildfires bring with them.

A typical wildfire in the UK can be disastrous for the environment. Fires can displace or even destroy wildlife and habitats, damage peatland – vital to storing carbon – for decades, and cause countless other environmental hazards, including risks to human health.

GMFRS recently launched its first ever Fire Plan (opens link in new tab), outlining work which the organisation will undertake to help make Greater Manchester safer. The plan includes six priorities and a series of commitments to residents, businesses, and partners across Greater Manchester.

The work undertaken by GMFRS to prevent and mitigate the damage caused by wildfires supports Greater Manchester’s Five-Year Environment Plan (opens link in new tab), which sets out a vision for protecting and enhancing our natural assets and the multiple benefits that they provide to local communities and the economy.

GMFRS Station Manager Dave Swallow, who is also the deputy wildfire lead with the National Fire Chiefs’ Council, said: “GMFRS is committed to supporting Greater Manchester’s Five-Year-Environment Plan, and as outlined in its new Fire Plan will be refreshing its Sustainability Strategy to ensure the Service is resilient to potential impacts of the climate emergency.

“Wildfires can have a hugely negative impact on the environment, and the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere is also a contributing factor to climate change. This is why we continue to urge people to take care when visiting the countryside and never be tempted to light barbecues or campfires on the moors.

“We are now approaching the third anniversary of the 2018 moorland fires, which remain fresh in the minds of everyone involved - from our firefighters who worked incredibly hard to put the fires out, to the residents who were forced from their homes. There is no better time to remind people that the smallest action can have catastrophic consequences, putting people’s safety – and our natural environment – at risk.”

Peatlands, which are often damaged by wildfires – such as those which tore through parts of Greater Manchester and neighbouring areas in the summer of 2018 – can play a vital role in the fight against climate change, capturing carbon form the atmosphere, reducing flood risk, and supporting biodiversity. With hotter summers and wetter winters now becoming the norm, the risk from the effects of climate change is greater than ever before.

The Greater Manchester Peat Pilot (opens link in new tab), in partnership with Natural England, recently carried out key research into the huge potential of peat in helping Greater Manchester to become carbon neutral by 2038.

Those involved in the project mapped the size and condition of peatlands across the city-region, including the Winter Hill area of Bolton. The fire which took hold on the moors there in June 2018 caused an estimated 25,556 tonnes of carbon to be released into the atmosphere, and negated significant conservation work carried out by the Woodland Trust and United Utilities in the area.

Greater Manchester’s Green City-Region Lead, Cllr Neil Emmott, said: “Greater Manchester’s peatlands are of great importance to our communities and our wildlife, but wildfires pose a grave danger to these vital natural resources.

“In the most recent wildfires in Greater Manchester and the surrounding areas, thousands of tonnes of carbon have been released into our atmosphere. Wildfires not only mean poorer air quality for residents across our city-region, they also result in the kinds of harmful emissions that we have to cut if we want to meet our target of becoming carbon neutral by 2038.

“We know that people here really value our spectacular natural surroundings and want to see our wildlife thrive. Over the past year, conservation teams have worked hard to bring the Manchester argus butterfly back to our city-region’s peat bogs, a large heathland butterfly that had not been seen here in 150 years. With wildfire incidents increasing in both frequency and scale, if things continue at this rate our endangered wildlife will have no where left to go, and may disappear completely.”

DEFRA – the Department for environment, Food and Rural Affairs – highlights several environmental risks which can occur as a result of wildfires. These include inputs of harmful chemicals into water bodies and habitat loss. Wildfires can destroy the habitats of mammals, reptiles and ground nesting birds.

Another risk associated with wildfires is emissions of miniscule particulate matter from smoke into the atmosphere. Inhaling particles that are less then 2.5 microns in diameter has been shown to be damaging to human health.

GMFRS works closely with a number of partners, locally and across the UK, on its work to prevent and further understand wildfires, and is currently leading on a survey on behalf of UK fire and rescue services to gather public views about wildfires. The survey closes on August 31, with results to be used to shape future work around wildfires. The survey should take around 10 minutes to complete and can be found on GMConsult.

To find out more about staying safe when visiting the countryside please visit GMFRS’ website.

03/06/2021 15:20 PM