Local fire chief highlights devastating environmental impact of wildfires

LOCAL fire chief Dave Swallow has raised awareness of the devastating environmental impacts of wildfires, including those affecting moorland.

While it is an ongoing Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) initiative, it was being reinforced to mark World Environment Day approaches on Saturday, June 5.

Working with partners, GMFRS continues to remind people of the importance of preventing these kinds of incidents and avoiding the devastation and disruption that wildfires bring with them.

Mr Swallow, station manager at Mossley and Stalybridge and deputy wildfire lead with the National Fire Chiefs’ Council, was on the front line when moorland above the two towns was ravaged by blazes and homes in Carrbrook were evacuated in 2018.

He said: “GMFRS is committed to supporting Greater Manchester’s five-year environment plan, and as outlined in its new fire plan and will be refreshing its sustainability strategy to ensure the service is resilient to potential impacts of the climate emergency.

“Wildfires can have a hugely negative impact on the environment, and the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere is also a contributing factor to climate change. This is why we continue to urge people to take care when visiting the countryside and never be tempted to light barbecues or campfires on the moors.

“We are now approaching the third anniversary of the 2018 moorland fires, which remain fresh in the minds of everyone involved – from our firefighters who worked incredibly hard to put the fires out, to the residents who were forced from their homes.

“There is no better time to remind people that the smallest action can have catastrophic consequences, putting people’s safety – and our natural environment – at risk.”

A typical wildfire in the UK can be disastrous for the environment. Fires can displace or even destroy wildlife and habitats, damage peatland – vital to storing carbon – for decades, and cause countless other environmental hazards, including risks to human health.

GMFRS recently launched its first ever Fire Plan, outlining work which the organisation will undertake to help make Greater Manchester safer. The plan includes six priorities and a series of commitments to residents, businesses, and partners across Greater Manchester.

The work undertaken by GMFRS to prevent and mitigate the damage caused by wildfires supports Greater Manchester’s Five-Year Environment Plan, which sets out a vision for protecting and enhancing our natural assets and the multiple benefits that they provide to local communities and the economy.

Peatlands, which are often damaged by wildfires – such as those which tore through parts of Greater Manchester and neighbouring areas in the summer of 2018 – can play a vital role in the fight against climate change, capturing carbon form the atmosphere, reducing flood risk, and supporting biodiversity. With hotter summers and wetter winters now becoming the norm, the risk from the effects of climate change is greater than ever before.

The Greater Manchester Peat Pilot, in partnership with Natural England, recently carried out key research into the huge potential of peat in helping Greater Manchester to become carbon neutral by 2038.

They mapped the size and condition of peatlands across the city-region, including the Winter Hill area of Bolton. The fire which took hold on the moors there in June 2018 caused an estimated 25,556 tonnes of carbon to be released into the atmosphere, and negated significant conservation work carried out by the Woodland Trust and United Utilities in the area.

DEFRA – the Department for environment, Food and Rural Affairs – highlights several environmental risks which can occur as a result of wildfires. These include inputs of harmful chemicals into water bodies and habitat loss.

Another risk associated with wildfires is emissions of miniscule particulate matter from smoke into the atmosphere. Inhaling particles that are less then 2.5 microns in diameter has been shown to be damaging to human health.

GMFRS works closely with partners, locally and across the UK, on its work to prevent and further understand wildfires, and is currently leading on a survey on behalf of UK fire and rescue services to gather public views about wildfires.

The survey closes on August 31, with results to be used to shape future work around wildfires. The survey should take around 10 minutes to complete and can be found on GMConsult.

To find out more about staying safe when visiting the countryside, visit GMFRS’ website.

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