Moorland fire equalled carbon footprint of a small town

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Moorland fire in 2019 devastated an area of blanket peat moorland the size of about 1,000 football pitches. Strong winds caused it to rip through moorland in the South Pennines for four days before it was put out.

A moorland fire, this time on the moors around Darwen, Lancashire

As temperatures soar and the dry weather continues, it’s time to raise awareness of wildfires and urge us all to be vigilant to prevent things happening again.

Moors for the Future Partnership has estimated the amount of carbon released as a result of a huge wildfire which devastated moorland in the South Pennines. The figure was equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of about 4,000 people.

An estimated 12,000 tonnes of carbon was burned in the blaze, resulting in 43,000 tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

Wildfires on peatland kill the plants and animals living on the surface, but what people may not realise is that underneath the living plant layer, the peat can be up to six metres deep. Peat is a huge store of carbon, and burns readily when dry. This is one reason why fires on deep peat cause such harm – because they release so much of the carbon stored in the peat.

This fire took place in April 2019 and was – surprise, surprise – started by a barbecue.

The research was only possible because scientists from the Partnership were already monitoring the moor. They had installed ‘peat anchors’ – metal rods inserted in the peat to measure changes to its depth over time. After the fire, it was possible to measure how much peat had disappeared from around the anchors. This figure was then used to estimate the amount of peat lost across the whole fire area.

Paul Titterton, research and monitoring officer at Moors for the Future Partnership and lead author of a report on the findings, said “these figures show that the impact of moorland wildfires on the UK’s carbon reduction commitments is not to be underestimated. Not only do wildfires cause the release of huge amounts of carbon, but they create a knock-on effect where a burnt and bare moorland bog isn’t then absorbing and storing carbon like it should. Wildfires turn blanket bog from carbon sinks into carbon sources. It is simply too risky to light any kind of fire on or near the moors. As climate change continues, leading to longer spells of hot, dry weather, this problem is likely to become worse. Everyone should take note that if they see or suspect a moorland fire, or someone having a fire, they should phone 999 straight away. As the heatwave continues we’re asking people to once again be vigilant to prevent another fire at this scale.”

What to do if you see a moorland fire

  • Get to safety
  • Put a fire-break between you and the fire if possible (a farm track, fireroad etc)
  • Note your location as best you can
  • Dial 999 and ask for fire and rescue


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Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)
  • Moorland fire equalled carbon footprint of a small town
  • Premier Icon MrSparkle
    Free Member

    It was 2020, btw. It was a bloody terrible thing. I was up there within an hour of it starting and it was scary to see such massive flames. The moor is very damaged although grass and Heather have grown back on the surface.

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Free Member

    I wasn’t sure if it meant that or the massive 2018 fire on Winter Hill.

    Things are visually back to normal up there now and I think shutting the mast road to public motor traffic has been a great move. I did suspect the longer term, less obvious effects might be more negative though.

    Good to see this covered anyway.

    Premier Icon hopkinsgm
    Free Member

    There were moorland fires in 2019 – can’t recall if Saddleworth or Marsden Moor – possibly both? Either way, it feels like there’s at least one moorland fire somewhere in the Pennines most years in relatively recent history. And, as noted in the article, often started by barbeques

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Free Member

    Sadly, I suspect many are started deliberately.

    Premier Icon Neal Taylor
    Full Member

    The plant coverage on Smithills, Rivington and Darwen Moors is tinder dry again. But there is still a few muppets out there. I saw a couple flicking their dog ends out of the window on Georges Lane. UU have been out with signs about BBQs as well.

    UU (and the Woodland Trust?) are maintaining the fire breaks better now, and there are some beaters situated around the moors too. Spotted a couple on Two Lads last week, but hope we don’t need them.

    Premier Icon Rik Legge
    Free Member

    I live in Marsden and the sound of sirens on a bank holiday weekend is sadly all too frequent. There were around 4 or 5 incidents last year, one of which caused damage over around 700 hectares. Mainly caused by barbecues, or rather those who naively think their barbecue won’t cause a fire.

    Premier Icon burko73
    Free Member

    I’ve been on duty this weekend covering our wildfire response. Despite proactive patrols and lots of signage and social media were still having idiots bbqing on heathland and in pine forests. We’ve had campers wild camping in tinder dry woodlands who have been sat around 1m2 campfires on Saturday afternoon despite 28 degree heat. You’d never believe it if you hadn’t experienced it.

    Premier Icon matt_outandabout
    Free Member

    ^ numpties everywhere unfortunately. We’ve the same with ‘dirty campers’ around Scottish beauty spots.
    I think that many people are not appreciative of fire as a tool and privilege. Like nature deficit / disengagement. I say that as someone who’s organisation trains teachers to light, manage and cook on open fires.

    Premier Icon robertajobb
    Full Member

    I do fear for the number of possible fheckwhit-started fires that could occur in the Peaks given the bone dry conditions and heat at present.
    School holidays in a week to worsen it all.

Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)

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