Woodbury Common: scientists research impact of wildfire on global warming

PUBLISHED: 12:49 20 July 2017 | UPDATED: 12:59 20 July 2017

Clinton Devon Estate’s Pebblebed Heaths Site Manager, Kim Strawbridge (far right) with the University team L-R Prof Claire Belcher, Mark Grosvenor, Matthew Jones and Nicholas Walding

Clinton Devon Estate’s Pebblebed Heaths Site Manager, Kim Strawbridge (far right) with the University team L-R Prof Claire Belcher, Mark Grosvenor, Matthew Jones and Nicholas Walding

Archant

Researchers from Exeter University are carrying out studies on the Colaton Raleigh Common site which was ravaged by fire in April.

University scientists are assessing the impact of a 50-hectare fire on Colaton Raleigh Common on global warming.

A group from University of Exeter’s wildFIRE lab has been conducting weekly field visits to the site since the fire in April, which took 160 firefighters to extinguish.

Landowner Clinton Devon Estates is supporting the ‘internationally important’ research project.

Clinton Devon Estate’s Pebblebed Heaths site manager, Kim Strawbridge, said: “We are keen to support science and learning whenever possible so are really pleased to be able to work with Exeter University’s wildFIRE lab.

“Not only will this improve our understanding of the site’s recovery post fire, but it enables us to contribute to the wider understanding of fire in carbon cycling, informing internationally significant climate change research.”

The scientists are hoping to find out what happens to the carbon held in plants when they burn and the overall effect of fire on atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.

The team’s work will help determine the role and effect of wildfires globally, before they become more common as temperatures rise and droughts become more frequent through global warming.

They are also examining whether there is credibility behind the theory that wildfires have some long-term benefits for the earth’s climate.

PhD researcher Matthew Jones said that the recent wildfire on the Pebblebed Heaths presents a “unique” opportunity to investigate these questions because the fire affected an accessible area from which rainwater washes directly into a single stream flowing off the common.

Dr Claire Belcher, who heads up the lab, added: “The varied nature of vegetation at the common, a mix of grassland, heathland and tree stands, makes it a perfect case study to analyse charcoal from across the site and monitor the ecosystem over time to see how species recover, or die.

“Some trees, such as pines, may have been protected from the flames by thick bark, while other individuals may have been killed by smouldering soil. By tracking how the ecosystem recovers at the common we can begin to understand the long-term implications of fire activity on carbon stocks and ecosystems.”

READ more: Exmouth fire fighters tells of ‘hell raising’ experience fighting Woodbury Common blaze


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