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Informed debate on the use of fire for peatland management means acknowledging the complexity of socio-ecological systems

Davies, G. Matt; Kettridge, Nicholas; Stoof, Cathelijne R.; Gray, Alan; Marrs, Rob; Ascoli, Davide; Fernandes, Paulo M.; Allen, Katherine A.; Doerr, Stefan H.; Clay, Gareth D.; McMorrow, Julia; Vandvik, Vigdis. 2016 Informed debate on the use of fire for peatland management means acknowledging the complexity of socio-ecological systems. Nature Conservation, 16. 59-77. 10.3897/natureconservation.16.10739

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Abstract/Summary

The effects of fire and its use on European peatlands and heaths are the focus of considerable research and debate due to the important services these ecosystems provide and the threats they face from climatic and land-use change. Whilst in some countries ecologists are actively promoting the restoration of historic fire management regimes, in the UK the debate has become increasingly acrimonious. Positions seem entrenched between continuing the intensive form of management associated with grouse moors or ceasing burning and seeking to eliminate fire altogether. In a recent paper we argued that participants’ positions appeared influenced by political and philosophical beliefs associated with, for example, private land-ownership, hunting, and associated conservation conflicts such as raptor persecution. We also suggested there was inadequate engagement with key concepts and evidence from fire and peatland ecology. We argued that management debates should aim to be inclusive and evidence-based, and to understand the benefits and costs of different fire regimes. In a strongly-worded critique of our paper, George Monbiot (author of “Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding”) suggested we: i) framed our research question too narrowly; ii) made the implicit assumption that moorlands were the “right” ecosystem for the UK countryside; and iii) failed to adequately engage with arguments put forward for cessation of managed burning. Here we critically examine each of these issues to provide further insight into how adaptive, participatory land-management could develop. We argue that a productive debate must acknowledge that complex trade-offs are inevitable during ecological management. Choosing the “right” ecosystem is difficult, especially in a landscape with a long history of human influence, and the answer depends on the values and ecosystem services we prioritize. Natural resource management decisions will be improved if based on an understanding and valuation of the multiple scales and levels of organization at which ecological diversity exists, the role of disturbance in controlling ecosystem composition and function, and the need for participatory action.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3897/natureconservation.16.10739
CEH Sections: Watt
ISSN: 1314-6947
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: adaptive management, diversity, heathland, managed burning, moorland, participatory, scale
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 10 Feb 2017 10:16 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/516162

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