chapter  9
15 Pages

Burning issues: The history and ecology of managed fires in the uplands


Fire was undoubtedly the first tool widely used by mankind to alter the natural environment. Its use is still commonplace today, and it is essential for the maintenance of many ecological communities worldwide, primarily to prevent scrub and woodland development in open ecosystems such as grasslands. In the upland regions of England, fire is used to maintain dwarf-shrub habitats primarily for grouse-shooting interests and to a lesser extent to improve grazing. The rich biodiversity of the resultant heaths is due to the mosaic of different-aged stands of heather they contain. However, excessive and inappropriate burning is now cited as the second most important reason for the poor condition of nature conservation sites in these areas (English Nature, 2003). In this chapter we review the history of managed burning in the British uplands and draw on both recent studies and our own research to raise concerns over current burn practices, particularly as these relate to burning on upland bog. We argue that the long-term ecological integrity of the uplands may be dependent on reconsidering some widespread and firmly held, but historically short-term, views on appropriate management strategies for these areas.