Tag Archives: environmental management

Wildfires and burning management

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Wildfires often occur as part of a natural cycle and they are important for the health of many ecosystems across the world by making the soil more suitable for seeding, for example. Indeed, many species (especially plants) have specific adaptations to wildfires such as fire-activated seeds and thermal insulation, while others rely on fires clearing space for their seedlings to grow (e.g. S. giganteum). The cause of wildfires may be natural or human-mediated (more information), and burning vegetation to make space for agricultural land, and as a means of managing natural fires, is common in many parts of the world (FAO).

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Archive: Fire and Smoke, Democratic Republic of the Congo (NASA, International Space Station, 05/16/02) obtained via Flickr under a CreativeCommons License (link to source).

Two key processes have the potential to increase the severity of wildfires in the future. First, global warming is likely to increase their intensity and duration as dry areas become drier and the length of the wildfire season increases. In fact, it has been reported that the area affected by wildfires has doubled in the western USA since the 1980s. Second, urbanisation has recently been linked to the potential for more damaging fires in Africa because of fewer traditional controlled burns in rural areas early in the wildfire season, leading to a build-up of dry vegetation (Archibald, 2016; Sci Dev Net, 2016).

We are, therefore, in a position where wildfires are likely to become an ever greater threat to human livelihoods and wellbeing. A recent article in The Geographical Journal (Caillault et al., 2015) discusses burning management in Burkina Faso, with a focus on ‘bad fires’, which are those that occur late in the season and degrade the Savannah. The authors highlight how policy has been slow to recognise the value of traditional fire management practices. These practices were once actively suppressed, but the advantages are now generally well-known. In spite of this, there are still some difficulties because of “the difference in perspective between rural land managers and policymakers” and “the lack of integration of the human dimensions of fire into fire science and ecology“, which are significant because policymakers are influenced by fire science, as detailed by Caillault et al. (p. 376). New ecological perspectives offer support for the importance of fire in Savannah landscapes towards the development of environmental policies and management rules in West Africa.

In line with this effort, Caillault et al. conduct a space-time analysis of fire in western Burkina Faso. They use remote sensing data from MODIS combined with field data, concluding that the spatial and temporal dimensions of burning are important aspects to understand regarding local and regional fire management. A regularity in the burning regime was recognised in relation to people, meaning that fire cannot be seen purely as a biophysical variable when considering its impacts on the Savannah: human practices shape this landscape as well. The fire practices observed were consistent, and not haphazard as is sometimes the perception, and they usually occurred early in the season, which has significant policy implications.

When we consider that wildfires are likely to worsen in coming years, a greater understanding of the spatio-temporal dynamics locally and regionally will be essential for fire management policy. This necessitates understanding human and physical processes, as part of a truly geographical approach, the likes of which is demonstrated by Caillault et al.

References

books_icon Archibald, S. (2016). Managing the human component of fire regimes: lessons from Africa. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371 (1696), p.20150346. [Associated Sci Dev Net news article]

books_icon Caillault, S., Ballouche, A. and Delahaye, D. (2015). Where are the ‘bad fires’ in West African savannas? Rethinking burning management through a space–time analysis in Burkina Faso. The Geographical Journal, 181 (4), pp.375-387.

60-world2 Mosbergen D 2016 Climate Change is Fueling America’s Wildfires, and it’ll only get worse The Huffington Post 

60-world2 UCSUSA 2016 Is Global Warming Fuelling Increased Wildfire Risks? 

Reconciling humans and nature through ‘green infrastructure’

By Joseph Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

The Los Angeles River, and its iconic concrete channels, made the BBC news last week following discussions of a ‘greener’ LA River catchment by researchers at the American Geophysics Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco. The idea of ‘green infrastructure’ (or ‘blue-green infrastructure’) is proliferating internationally and essentially aims to reconcile humans and nature in urban and suburban settings, as opposed to employing previously favoured ‘hard engineering’ (i.e building man-made structures) strategies against flooding and other environmental threats. Green infrastructure initiatives have already begun on certain stretches of the LA River (e.g. see this National Geographic article from July 2014), however, this recent BBC article focusses on the complexities of such strategies.

The present concrete channels are vital in protecting Los Angeles from flood events by rapidly moving water away from the city and its residents, as outlined by one of the scientists interviewed in the article. This same scientist also notes that redesigning such a huge structure in the middle of a highly densely populated area is very difficult if the primary function to prevent flooding is to be maintained into the future as storms become more intense under climate change.

About a month prior to the focal news story of this article on the LA River, there was another story discussing droughts in the wider California area, with reservoirs and ground water supplies running dry as the state endures its third year of drought. This may sound like a wholly separate issue to flooding but a more integrative environmental management agenda implementing green infrastructure can contribute towards a host of environmental management foci, not just flood prevention. Indeed, one option discussed in the LA River article is to capture more water by creating a greater number of catchment basins to replenish groundwater supplies. However, this would ‘almost certainly’ necessitate moving people, homes and businesses, thus proving costly.

Here in the United Kingdom, Jones and Somper (2014) discuss integration of green infrastructure in London, highlighting the importance of collaboration between businesses, government and local communities and of making the socio-economic advantages of such infrastructure clear to investors. Jones and Somper provide examples of such collaboration, including Camden Council, who are actively encouraging the community to engage with ‘green issues’. Of course, expert opinion from geographers and others also has a large part to play alongside such collaborations. Indeed, research within the green infrastructure theme is thriving. For example, the Blue-Green Cities project emphasises the potential of such green strategies to provide resilience to flooding through adaptive management.

Overall then, green infrastructure seems to be able to offer much towards protecting people from environmental threats both now and into the future, while also encouraging a more harmonious relationship between people and nature in presently unnatural urban areas. If the known complexities of green infrastructure can be overcome to produce environmental solutions that make for a better future for both nature and humans (both practically and aesthetically), then this should surely be encouraged.

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books_icon Jones, S. & Somper, C. (2014). The role of green infrastructure in climate change adaptation in London. The Geographical Journal, 180 (2), 191–196.

Adapting to coastal change: understanding different points of view in coastal erosion management

by Mark Tebboth

The devastating flooding in central Europe is a powerful example of the destruction that extreme weather can cause. Yet, finding agreement on the best way to protect citizens, infrastructure and nature from the sort of events witnessed in Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic is a difficult, sometimes impossible, balancing act. As an article published in February in The Guardian newspaper put it ‘Floods kill, wreak havoc and cost billions. And we know they’re coming. So why aren’t we doing anything about them?’ Happisburgh, a small village on the East Anglian coast, is typical of some of the issues highlighted in The Guardian article. The village has lost a number of homes and other structures in recent years (compare the pictures from 1996 and 2012) and is suffering from the consequences of coastal erosion. However, despite the urgency of the situation, it has not been possible to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to all involved.

Happisburgh in 1996, 2006 and 2012 during which time it has lost a number of sea front properties (copyright Mike Page)

Happisburgh in 1996, 2006 and 2012 during which time it has lost a number of sea front properties (copyright Mike Page)

The inability of stakeholders to agree a way forward can be explained, in part, by the different ways in which the issue of coastal erosion is framed. For example, the Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG), a local pressure group based in Happisburgh, highlights the problems caused by a lack of investment in sea defences. Conversely, the UK Government tends to emphasise the inevitability of coastal erosion, citing causes such as nature or climate change. By highlighting different causes as primarily responsible for coastal erosion these two stakeholders gravitate towards different solutions: increased and more appropriately targeted investment if a lack of investment is the problem and a different management approach if coastal erosion is inevitable. How is it that these two stakeholders, with access to similar information can have such different perspectives?

The different views held by institutions such as CCAG or the UK Government are, in part, determined by their implicit beliefs or how they think the world works. These beliefs help institutions to make sense of the world around them and can act as short cuts when to trying to understand complex issues. In the case of Happisburgh, this might explain why dredging is seen as a critical issue for one party (CCAG) but is barely on the radar of the other (UK Government).

In policy conflicts, revealing some of the more underlying beliefs that stakeholders rely on to support a particular point of view can helpfully inform governance and communication approaches leading to more realistic, acceptable and better designed solutions. For Happisburgh, this could mean a reframing of the issue of coastal erosion to focus on the more recent successes that have been realised through the Pathfinder Programme, rather than past failures. Such an approach offers potential to rebuild trust and understanding between the different stakeholders, increasing the chances of a more positive outcome.

The author: Mark Tebboth is a PhD student at the School of International Development affiliated with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

books_iconTebboth M 2013 Understanding intractable environmental policy conflicts: the case of the village that would not fall quietly into the sea The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12040

60-world2Harvey F 2013 Floods: a disaster waiting to happen The Guardian 2 February

60-world2North Norfolk District Council 2012 Happisburgh North Norfolk Pathfinder

60-world2Weeks J 2013 Floods cause chaos across Europe – in pictures The Guardian 6 June

Area Content Alert: Volume 43, Issue 3 (September 2011)

The latest issue of Area is available on Wiley Online Library

Articles

From beginnings and endings to boundaries and edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste (pages 242–249)
Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather

Public perceptions of jaguars Panthera onca, pumas Puma concolor and coyotes Canis latrans in El Salvador (pages 250–256)
Michael O’Neal Campbell and Maria Elena Torres Alvarado

The value of single-site ethnography in the global era: studying transnational experiences in the migrant house (pages 257–263)
Ruben Gielis

Anthropogenic soils in the Central Amazon: from categories to a continuum (pages 264–273)
James Fraser, Wenceslau Teixeira, Newton Falcão, William Woods, Johannes Lehmann and André Braga Junqueira

On Actor-Network Theory and landscape (pages 274–280)
Casey D Allen

Sinking the radio ‘pirates’: exploring British strategies of governance in the North Sea, 1964–1991 (pages 281–287)
Kimberley Peters

Changing meanings of Kyrgyzstan’s nut forests from colonial to post-Soviet times (pages 288–296)
Matthias Schmidt and Andrei Doerre

Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies (pages 297–304)
Christopher Bear

The role of French, German and Spanish journals in scientific communication in international geography (pages 305–313)
Artur Bajerski

Gardens and birdwatching: recreation, environmental management and human–nature interaction in an everyday location (pages 314–319)
Paul J Cammack, Ian Convery and Heather Prince

Where music and knowledge meet: a comparison of temporary events in Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio (pages 320–326)
Robert R Klein

Local nuances in the perception of nature protection and place attachment: a tale of two parks (pages 327–335)
Saska Petrova, Martin Čihař and Stefan Bouzarovski

Actor-network theory as a reflexive tool: (inter)personal relations and relationships in the research process (pages 336–342)
Rebecca Sheehan

‘So, as you can see . . .’: some reflections on the utility of video methodologies in the study of embodied practices (pages 343–352)
Paul Simpson

Greening the campus without grass: using visual methods to understand and integrate student perspectives in campus landscape development and water sustainability planning (pages 353–361)
Lee Johnson and Heather Castleden

Participating and observing: positionality and fieldwork relations during Kenya’s post-election crisis (pages 362–368)
Veit Bachmann

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