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Enhancing peatland resilience to wildfire through ecological and hydrological reclamation; building the evidence base.

Project Description

The recent Saddleworth Moor fire burned over 1000 hectares of UK upland, instigated a major national incident, led to the evacuation of 100 homes and placed considerable strain on UK emergency services, with even the army activated to support fire suppression. Such large-scale high-severity wildfires are projected to become more frequent across the UK as climate change results in enhanced meteorological extremes.

The Saddleworth fire burned areas of globally significant carbon-rich peatlands that dominate large areas of UK upland landscapes. Despite the intensity of such fires, peatlands across the globe are resilient to wildfire. This is because their high moisture content protects the peat from extreme temperatures. Ecological and hydrological processes also support the recovery of the ecosystem post-fire.

However, within the UK, peatland ecosystems have been exposed to a range of additional disturbances for centuries: atmospheric deposition, drainage, grazing, managed burns and historical wildfires. These disturbances can compound the impact of wildfire and leave peatlands vulnerable to intense fires. As such, there is a renewed need to restore degraded peatlands to increase their resilience to future extreme events. Despite this, the evidence-base to support the implementation of such restoration practises to enhance peatland resilience to wildfire is poor.

The Saddleworth fire offers an exceptional opportunity to enhance this evidence-base. The PhD aims, i) to determine the impact of the intense wildfire on peatlands under different levels of degradation and ii) assess the extent to which restoration approaches protect peatlands from intense fires and enhance ecosystem stability. The PhD project will achieve this goal through close collaboration with key non-academic partners involved in the management and restoration of UK peatlands, characterising the recovery trajectories of degraded and restored peatland regions within the Saddleworth fire.

Understanding the nature of wildfire impacts on UK peatlands needs a multidisciplinary approach requiring understanding of ecological, hydrological, biogeochemical and micrometeorological processes. We are looking for a motivated geography, environmental science or ecology graduate to take on this challenging project, working with government, NGO and private sector stakeholders to produce high quality science that will have real, applied impact beyond academia.

Funding Notes

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.
• Annual stipend, set at £15,009 for 2019/20
• Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000


Albertson, K., Aylen, J., Cavan, G. and McMorrow, J., 2010. Climate change and the future occurrence of moorland wildfires in the Peak District of the UK. Climate Research, 45, pp.105-118.
Davies, G.M., Gray, A., Rein, G. and Legg, C.J., 2013. Peat consumption and carbon loss due to smouldering wildfire in a temperate peatland. Forest Ecology and Management, 308, pp.169-177.
Turetsky, M.R., Benscoter, B., Page, S., Rein, G., Van der Werf, G.R. and Watts, A., 2015. Global vulnerability of peatlands to fire and carbon loss. Nature Geoscience, 8(1), p.11.
Kettridge, N., Turetsky, M.R., Sherwood, J.H., Thompson, D.K., Miller, C.A., Benscoter, B.W., Flannigan, M.D., Wotton, B.M. and Waddington, J.M., 2015. Moderate drop in water table increases peatland vulnerability to post-fire regime shift. Scientific Reports, 5, p.8063.

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