A MAJOR international gathering will be taking place in North Yorkshire next week to examine what can be done to help curb the threat posed by wildfires.
With global temperatures rising, fears have also increased that moorland and woodland fires will become more widespread, damaging livelihoods and habitats and posing a significant risk to the public.
We have to prepare for this scenario and minimise the threats to woods and other habitats
Mick Hoban - Forestry Commission
Now the Forestry Commission and the YORWOODS initiative are backing the two day gathering on 5 and 6 June at Dalby Forest near Pickering. The event will be attended by experts from across the world, including the US Forest Service and the UK's Met Office.
During the severe drought of the mid-1970s, a record number of wild fires broke out and for a time, woods like Dalby were closed to the public. As recently as 2003, a major blaze scorched two and a half square kilometres of Fylingdales Moors. Last summer saw a number of major blazes break out in the Yorkshire Dales area - including on Ilkley Moor.
Martin Glynn, conference co-ordinator, said: "The key word in this conference is prevention and sharing experience from across the world. In Yorkshire our moorland areas are perhaps the most vulnerable, given that many forests have been re-shaped to build in fire breaks. But even so, the moorland edge often comes right up to woodland boundaries, presenting an additional threat. We'll be looking at what climate prediction models say about the possible increase in wildfires and what we can do about them."
Delegates will also quiz US officials on the success of the Smokey Bear programme. The character was dreamt up by ad-men in the 1940s to ram home the message that forest fires cost dollars and harm wildlife. It is one of America's most successful ever public awareness campaigns and dramatically cut the number of blazes.
Mick Hoban, Regional Development Manager with the Forestry Commission, added: "At our recent climate change seminar in York we were left in doubt that more frequent summer droughts are on the way. We have to prepare for this scenario and minimise the threats to woods and other habitats, while allowing the public to enjoy the countryside."
Attending the event will be countryside managers, fire and rescue personnel, emergency planning experts, estate owners, foresters, local authorities and national park officials. To find out more go to www.wildfire2007.org.uk