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Lessons learned in Europe on tackling wildfires could help Wales reduce the risks to property and lives, says climate change project FUTUREforest.
The Forestry Commission Wales team responsible for the EU programme here is finalising a report which details fire control measures already developed in some of the driest countries in Europe.
The hottest April on record, which saw only 21 per cent of the expected rainfall in England and Wales, has caused vast areas of parched, tinder-dry land to go up in flames.
But partners in the EU INTERREG IVC and Welsh Assembly Government sponsored project have already experienced these conditions for decades.
“We have well established procedures in place to contain wildfires in Wales,” said Mike Over of the FUTUREforest project.
“But we believe it is important to look at new control measures that can help us as we face climate change and the increasingly severe weather conditions that are already beginning to make an impact with more drought, higher temperatures and increased fire risks.
“Across Europe foresters have a wealth of experience of dealing with these devastating fires and, through FUTUREforest, we plan to share this with our colleagues in Wales.”
In Catalonia, the state forest department has carefully mapped all known fires, where they start, the wind direction that spreads them and the topography.
By pulling together this information they then carry out a programme of felling and thinning to create corridors to control the fires – which effectively put themselves out as they run out of fuel.
The objective is to avoid putting firefighters, residents and property at risk.
Meanwhile in Brandenburg the German forest service has taken a high-tech approach to fire monitoring. A new automatic warning system has been developed which recognises smoke clouds at a distance of up to 20 kilometres.
It sounds a warning and then models the fire scene, provides zoom pictures of the site and the various different likely scenarios which enable the authorities to plan their fire fighting strategy.
And in Bulgaria, local groups of volunteers, forest workers and emergency services have been set up by the state, building co-ordinated teams that co-operate closely together to tackle fires earlier.
“Each of these methods has strengths that we may be able to use here in Wales, especially as the frequency and ferocity of wildfires is expected to increase as our weather changes,” said Mike.
“Certainly FUTUREforest sees merit in analysing large fire behaviour, identifying key strategic points, integrating fire prevention measure in Forest Management Plans and promoting collaboration between all stakeholders.”
The FUTUREforest final report, outlining some of best climate change mitigation and adaptation measures from across Europe and providing practical answers to the practical problems forests are facing is being completed now. It will be officially launched in Brussels in June.
It will include the latest thinking on climate change and forests from the partner regions - Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon sequestration).
Contact: Mike Over, FUTUREforest, Wales project – Tel: 0300 068 0069
Guy Pargeter, Taliesin Communications – Tel: 01970 832375
FUTUREforest is a three year INTERREG IVC programme funded by the EU and the Welsh Assembly government. It aims to identify the threats, weaknesses and strengths of Europe’s forest as they face up to climate change; developing best management techniques to guide policy makers and stakeholders.
It also aims to improve and adapt regional and local forest management policies and practices focusing on water balance, soil, biodiversity, timber and non-timber forest products, air quality including carbon sequestration, and natural risk like fires, pests and pathogens.
The objective is to improve the effectiveness of regional development policies and contribute to the economic modernisation and increased competitiveness of Europe through exchange, sharing and transfer of policy experience, knowledge and good practices in woodland management.
The project will provide political decision makers and other stakeholders in European regions with the knowledge, tools and approaches to enable effective forestry/regional development policies and forest management practices.
It also intends to identify opportunities resulting from climate change including increased biomass production - and therefore carbon sequestration - due to changes in rainfall pattern and higher temperatures.
The partners include Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon sequestration)
Forestry Commission Wales is responsible for FUTUREforest in Wales. About 14 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government. Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf. More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales