Forest Fires

Quick heads up, everyone.

This time of year, vegetation can get very dry, especially if the sun is shining & a good wind is blowing. Be aware that forest fires are easily started! I just saw this news on a friends' feed about the area of forest which was used to be just outside my back door when I lived in Thetford!

Fire engine in Thetford Forest

Update: Firefighters leave scene of 10,000 sq metre fire at Thetford Forest - News - Eastern Daily Press

Luckily, it seems like the Firemen (or Watermen, as a friend of mine always insisted they should be called) did a good job, and got the fire out quickly and professionally, limiting the damage it caused. Well done chaps! (I wonder if Mr. H was there?)

Wild fires are a natural occurrence in many ecosystems, not just woodland. Grassland and heather moorland is often susceptible to wild fires, which was where the fire started in this instance. Unfortunately, as the forest composition in Thetford is mainly pine and the climate is generally warm & dry, the fire service are highly experienced in dealing with man-made blazes. Had the fire started to spread into neighbouring woodland, it could have got out of control very easily, although the damage caused would have more likely been to human property or life than to the ecosystem itself. 

This is because some species of tree have made special adjustments to how they grow, such as having seeds which will only germinate after a forest fire, when competing vegetation has been burnt away leaving a nice clear space for their seedlings to become established. Some trees (notably Eucalyptus, but also some species of Pine) actively encourage fires through their physical adaptations: see this extract from the Australian Govt. website regarding Eucalypts;

"Adaptations that promote fire include: a high content of volatile oils in the leaves and litter; litter that breaks down extremely slowly; an open canopy; long strands of bark that hang from limbs after peeling and which can be carried alight for many kilometres to start new ‘spot’ fires well ahead of the fire front. Greater Blue Mountains area world heritage nomination (PDF - 5,610 KB )
Most eucalypts can regenerate from seed after fire. Many eucalypts have woody capsules that protect the seeds during fire, but which open after fire, releasing their seeds." 

See here for a more scholarly, in depth article about fire adaptations in Eucalypts: Fire Ecology of Australian Eucalypt Forests

In Northumberland, wild fires are much more rare than in East Anglia or 'down-under', but they still do happen surprisingly often. A large area of the Northumberland National Park is open heather moorland (otherwise know as European Dry Heath, a protected habitat), managed on a large scale for driven grouse shoots. As mentioned before, heather (Erica spp.) also has adaptations to help it to regenerate after a fire. This often leads to 'controlled burns' being carried out as part of the overall management of the estates shoot  areas. This can improve conditions for rare birds like black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) which feed on young heather shoots, but can also sometimes spread to neighbouring areas of blanket bog (another European protected habitat) which have species that are very sensitive to water levels and hydrology, and deep peaty soils which during dry spells can burn for days on end.

Northumberland fire group ( has been set up as a forum to discuss the management of wild fires, and anyone wishing to find out more about them should contact Ben Scotting at the Rural Development Initiative (RDI).

Well, what was supposed to be a quick post about forest fires has turned into a lengthy Ecology lesson! Anybody wanting to find out more about the habitats mentioned should visit the JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) websites for Dry Heaths and Blanket Bogs. Please do be careful when smoking or barbequeing in the outdoors, don't throw cigarette ends and make sure you use proper BBQ facilities. Even broken glass or bottles can start fires, as they can act as magnifying lenses.

And, as Smokey the Bear says; Only YOU can prevent WILD FIRES! :-)

Currently listening to - 'Let it Be' by Blackmill - thanks for the recommendation!



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