Developing a UK flammability map for characterising fire behaviour and fire danger Geography- PhD (Self-Funded) Ref: 3206

About the Research Project


Prof. Claire M. Belcher, Department of Geography, University of Exeter and leader of the Wildfire Lab

Andy Elliott, Dorset County Council and Wildfire Tactical Advisor

University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter EX4 4QJ

Project information:
Many don’t consider the dangers of wildfires and their effects on UK ecosystems, however, at least 70,000 wildfires occur each year in the UK. In 2013 the government added “severe wildfire’ to its National Risk Register, highlighting that there is building concern around wildfire threats to UK ecosystems and infrastructure. Over the last 15 years there have been several large fire events that have impacted air quality and land assets a recent example is that of the large moorland fire at Saddleworth Moor near Manchester in June 2018. In order to improve our understanding of wildfire risks a better understanding of the flammability of UK vegetation types is required. This research will undertake novel measurements of key UK fuel types. These data will be used toward developing a UK fuel flammability map for different weather scenarios, that can be used to aid wildfire managers in portraying fire risk to land managers and the general public.

Wildfires cost the UK some £55 million per annum. Despite this severe wildfires have only been officially recognised by the central UK government as a threat to the UK since 2013. In response to significant fire seasons in 2003 and 2006 National Wildfire Forums were formed and the Chief Fire Officers Association Wildfire Group. These groups recognise the need for the UK to build appropriate systems with which to manage current and future fire threats. In order to provide a strategic overview of the challenges for UK policy in respect to current and future wildfire management we are lacking a well-characterised understanding of the flammability of UK fuels (vegetation). Gaining such an understanding will enable us to develop a UK fuel map that 1) links to flammability and fire risk, 2) design realistic fuel models that describe UK fuel types and energy release in fire events and 3) will hopefully allow better predictions of changes in UK fuel flammability to be made according to near-term climate changes.

The successful candidate will undertake flammability experiments in a range of major UK fuel groups. These fuels will be chosen based on published UK Land Cover maps and expert knowledge via links to the UK wildfire forums. The flammability experiments will be undertaken in the University of Exeter’s wildFIRE Lab utilising state-of-the-art fire testing equipment see Using controlled experiment approaches you a variety of fuel groups (plant type) and fuels states (moisture) will be characterised in terms of how quickly they ignite, the rate over which they release heat, how much energy is released from burning known volumes of fuel, and the effective heat of combustion quantified.  Additional experiments will be undertaken by monitoring prescribed fires in relevant ecosystems in regions close to the university, allowing you to interact with local land managers, fire managers and fire crews.

In order to achieve this you will work with Prof Claire M. Belcher who leads the wildFIRE Lab and Andy Elliott one of the UK’s wildfire tactical advisors. You will also join the wildFIRE lab team who work across broad wildfire topics ranging from fire danger rating systems, modern day fire effects through to fire’s long-term effects on Earth system processes.

You should be a strong team player who is happy and experienced in working in a laboratory setting and therefore be of practical nature and well able to carefully design experiments. GIS skills would be of benefit towards mapping, but are not essential. You will be keen to develop a passion for understanding wildfire and it’s effects and be happy to travel and work in easily accessible field environments.

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor, Claire Belcher

Things to consider:
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Entry requirements

You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree from a UK university, or equivalent, in an Earth based science including geography, ecology, environmental science, plant based sciences OR fire safety engineering.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency.  Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, covering letter and two academic references. Your covering letter should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project.

You may also be asked to upload verified transcripts of your most academic qualification.

Please quote reference 3206 on your application and in any correspondence about this project.


Application deadline:7th January 2019
Value:This project is self funded
Duration of award:Not applicable
Contact: PGR Enquiries