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Wildfires in Wales: social drivers and mitigation measures

Fire on open moorland above Nant-y-Moel, March 2009


Burnt ground on Baglan Mountain (Mynydd Dinas Block) overlooking M4 and Port Talbot, May 2009
View of Baglan Mountain burn showing proximity of fire spread to Corlannau and surrounding houses, May 2009

This two-year project, completed in May 2011, sought to address the issue of deliberately started wildfires in South Wales. It took two strands, the exploration of motivations that drive people to set fires and the assessment and testing of methods currently used to prevent such behaviour.

The project utilised a mixture of methods including:

  • Geospatial mapping
  • Qualitative interviews
  • Participant observation
  • Questionnaire survey.

Research summary, including background, methods and findings (PDF-134K)


Interim reportInterim Report - January 2010 (PDF-1201K)

Final reportFinal report - May 2011 (PDF-2391K)

Executive SummaryExecutive Summary (PDF-1209K)

Crynodeb GweithredolTanau Gwyllt yng Nghymru - Crynodeb Gweithredol (PDF-1177K)

Research objectives

  • Review current literature on motivating factors for wildfire setting and current methods of tackling the problem
  • Work towards an understanding of who sets fires in grass, scrub and forested land in South Wales and their motivations for doing so
  • Engage with local communities as both a data gathering exercise and as a way of building connections between communities and organisations
  • Forward proposals for new methods of tackling the problem of deliberately set fires that are based on quality sociological research.

Research findings

  • Areas of socio-economic relative deprivation are more prone to experiencing wildfires.
  • The peak fire season is generally between March and May
  • Over 60% of wildfires occur between 1600 and midnight.

As part of this research, we investigated community and institutional stakeholder perceptions of wildfires. Over 1000 residents of South Wales were surveyed about wildfires and related issues. The survey revealed that there is low public awareness of wildfires in South Wales, with most people not recognising them as posing a problem to themselves or their communities.

Young people are regarded as primarily responsible for committing wildfire arson in South Wales, although in areas to the west of Coed y Cymoedd, stakeholders are more likely to blame farmers or land owners.

Motivations for wildfire arson

There are a variety of motivations for wildfire arson in South Wales and recognition of this is key to finding a solution. As a result of interviews and literature research, we have compiled a list of motivation types. The primary motivations for wildfire arson are that it is carried out:

  • as a method of relieving boredom;
  • as a result of socio-economic factors;
  • as a method of land clearance;
  • for fun;
  • as part of associated criminality;
  • as an act of rebellion;
  • due to psychological pressures, i.e. mental health issues;
  • with an unclear motive.

Understanding these categories will help inform future mitigation strategies. Firesetting in South Wales appears to be tied to wider socio-economic problems and should be seen as part of broader issues around deprivation and a comparative lack of financial and service investment in the area.

Funders and partners

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service logo South Wales Fire and Rescue Service logoForestry Commission Wales logo
This Project was supported by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and Forestry Commission Wales.

Forestry Commission policy

This project worked towards fulfilling the objectives of Forestry Commission Wales as laid out in:


This project began in January 2009 and completed in May 2011.


For further information please contact:

Jake Morris