wildfire burning in a field | Drilcorp

Wildfires pose risk to water quality in the UK

UK Wildfires are costing the UK’s water companies millions of pounds and they also pose a risk to the quality of our water supply.

Climate change predictions suggest that the UK will see more extreme wildfire weather in the future. Fire is almost certain to become an increasing factor affecting the condition and longevity of some woods and forest areas in sensitive areas, and climate change is likely to be a contributory factor.

Prior to 2012 wildfire was barely recognised as a significant hazard in the UK.

However a report by the Utility Week has published that the cost of wildfires to the UK is around £80 Million every five years.

Although the Fire and Rescue Service deals with about 70,000 grassland fires a year in the UK, their potential to cause serious damage, disruption and loss of life had rarely been studied in detail.

The University of Manchester has now created a service for monitoring wildfire damage using satellite data with the support of the Satellite Applications Catapult.

With regards to water quality, discolouration is a likely outcome of wildfires, because “deep” burning into the soil “destroys the seedbank” and prevents natural re-growth of vegetation, making it easier for soil and minerals to infiltrate the water system.

In addition, “in some parts of the country there are heavy metals that are deposited in the peat, remaining from the industrial revolution. These deposits may also be more likely to get into the water course” as a result of unmanaged wildfires.

Downstream flooding risks are enhanced by wildfires because the absence of vegetation removes a “natural barrier” to surface run off.

The Envirosar team is already in talks with United Utilities and Yorkshire Water to discuss how satellite data services for wildfire monitoring might help them improve catchment management and resilience.

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