Fire behaviour and impact on heather moorland
Davies, Gwilym Matthew
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For roughly the past 200 years land-managers have used the practice of “muirburning” to manipulate the structure of heather (Calluna vulgaris) to create a patchwork of habitat structures able to provide forage and nesting sites for red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) as well as grazing for sheep (Ovis aries) and red deer (Cervus elaphus). This thesis investigates both the behaviour and impact of management fires in recognition of the need to develop multi-aim land management practices that ensure both continued productivity and protection of biodiversity in the face of climatic and environmental change. Fuel structure and loading are crucial controlling factors on both fire behaviour and impact governing both rate of spread and heat release to the ground surface. A visual obstruction method is developed that estimates total and fine fuel loading as well as the structure of the heather canopy. In order to adequately understand fire impact a dimensional analysis approach is taken to estimating the mass of burnt heather stems. Experiments at a number of spatial and temporal scales relate variation in heather fuel moisture content to stand structure and variation in weather conditions. Monitoring shows moisture contents to be relatively stable temporally, but spatially variable. Periods of extreme low moisture contents in early spring are associated with frozen ground, winter cuticle damage and physiological drought. Such conditions may have contributed to the large number of wildfires in 2003. A replicated plot design was used to investigate the effect of weather conditions and fuel loading on fire behaviour. An empirical approach is taken to fire behaviour modelling with equations describing rate of spread and fireline intensity being developed on the basis of fuel structure descriptors and windspeed. The theoretical negative correlation between fuel bed density and rate of spread is demonstrated to hold true for heather stands, while the impact of heterogeneity in fuel bed structure is also investigated. Redundancy Analysis is used to investigate the influence of multiple predictors on a number of aspects of fire behaviour including: rate of spread, fireline intensity, flame length and ground surface heating. Data from this and previous studies are used to ground-truth a number of fire behaviour prediction systems including BehavePlus and the Canadian Fire Behaviour Prediction System. Finally linkages between fire behaviour, fire severity and heather regeneration are investigated. A number of proxy measures of ‘Immediate Severity’ are tested and used to examine the influence of fires on plant regeneration. The post-fire development of stands is shown to relate primarily to stand age and structure before burning, and to post-fire substrates rather than variation in fire behaviour and severity.