october 2017
Wildfire in Heath - Andy Elliott.JPG
Fire responders manage a heath fire in Dorset. Photo: Andy Elliot.

The biennial UK Wildfire Conference, hosted November 7-8, 2017 by Dorset’s Urban Heaths Partnership and overseen by the England and Wales Wildfire Forum and the Scottish Wildfire Forum, brings together wildfire practitioners from all over the UK and beyond. Speakers and workshops investigate how to make UK homes, communities and the landscape more wildfire-resilient in the future

As well as featuring national and international speakers, the conference will focus on themed workshops looking at resilience over three habitat types – upland moors, lowland heaths and forestry. The first workshop will be considering wildfire resilience at three levels; home, community and landscape. The second workshop will seek to identify the key stakeholders as well as the barriers and opportunities for wildfire resilience.

Dorset is an ideal location for a wildfire conference. Fragments of internationally-protected heath cover 7,000 acres of the county, offering a home to some of our most endangered animals and plants. But the heaths are vulnerable to wildfires. The Urban Heaths Partnership – a unique collaboration of 14 member organizations drawn from local authorities, Police, Fire and conservation groups – focuses on the rural urban interface and aims to protect and enhance the remaining areas of Dorset Lowland Heath, through wardening, an inclusive education program, access management, fire risk assessment and heath management.

UK Wildfire Conference – Wildfire resilience in a UK context

For more information on the conference, including the program, speaker bios, and how to register and book accommodation, visit www.dorsetforyou.gov.uk/uk-wildfire-conference, and keep up-to-date using #UKWildfireConf17.


Perspective on the Conference
Ben Ansell, Chief Fire Officer of Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The conference will be opened by Ansell, who offers this preview:

“I am delighted to be involved in this year’s Wildfire Conference. Here in Dorset and Wiltshire we have first-hand experience of both dealing with wildfires and working with communities to try and prevent them. Increasing knowledge about how to build wildfire-resilient communities can only be a positive thing, reducing the potentially devastating social, economic and environmental impact of wildfires. I would encourage first-responders, planners, land managers and landscape architects to come and get involved in this innovative and critical area of work.
“We hope that the conference will generate a wide debate on the issues around wildfire resilience in the UK and lead to action, if required, to resolve any issues identified. In light of the recent wildfire tragedies around the world, and in particular in Portugal, it is appropriate for key stakeholders within the UK to review our position on wildfires, to ensure that we are well-prepared to meet the challenges posed by our present and future climate and fuels.”


Burning heath
Burning heath. Photo: Andy Elliott.

A preview by the Event Manager, Andy Elliot

“This conference provides an ideal platform for wildfire specialists and planners from around the world to discuss the potential impact of wildfires on the UK planning and building control system in years to come. Most wildfires in the UK are started by people, on the whole deliberately, but also accidentally. The evidence suggests that this activity is closely linked to public access areas in the wider countryside such as trails and car parks.
“However, most of the unwanted fires are started within the Rural Urban Interface (RUI). Arguably, the RUI has been created by planners over the years, as lowland heaths are broken up and fragmented, mostly by housing developments. This brings people into direct contact with flammable habitats, such as lowland heath, and it’s in these areas that we see most of the deliberate fire starts and most of the threat to homes and disruption to roads and infrastructure. These wildfires often leave our internationally important and protected heathland fragments badly damaged too.
“The conference hopes to attract planners and engage them to raise awareness and seek solutions to some of the problems. Currently, new development pays little heed to well-established community design principles from around the world. Many housing developments use dead-end cul-de-sacs with car-only turning circles, rather than consider the needs of firefighters should there be an incident.
“With the predicted changes to our climate we can expect an increasing incidence of severe wildfires in the UK. Ember intrusion into homes may well be a new problem for the UK, but this is well understood elsewhere in the world. We should be incorporating this global learning now into our home, community and landscape planning.”