Action: Use fire suppression/control
Key messagesRead our guidance on Key messages before continuing
- Two out of three before-and-after studies, from Australia and the UK, found that five species of bird (including noisy scrub-bird, the target species of one study) increased following fire suppression measures.
- A before-and-after study in the USA found that open habitat species declined in a pine forest site after fire exclusion, whilst mesic woodland species appeared. A before-and-after study from the UK found that five bird species declined following fire suppression.
In some environments, fires can damage important habitats, particularly if habitat patches are small or fragmented, meaning that entire patches can be destroyed in fires. Under these circumstances it may be beneficial to reduce fire frequency or severity, but there may be long time issues due to the build-up of fuel (i.e. dead vegetation).
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A before-and-after study in 1967-1981 in loblolly pine Pinus taeda-shortleaf pine P. echinata woodland at Tall Timbers Research Station, Florida, USA (Engstrom et al. 1984), found the breeding bird community changed dramatically in an 8.6 ha plot from which fire was was excluded for 15 years. The plot was burned in March 1967, after which fire excluded, with annual burns in the surrounding woodland. Species of more open habitat (e.g. blue grosbeak Passerina caerulea and Bachman's sparrow Aimophila aestivalis) disappeared within five years of fire exclusion although abundance of species peaked during the ‘brushy’ stage (years 3-7) and mesic woodland species (e.g. wood thrush Hylocichla mustelina) appeared following sub-canopy development. The total number of species recorded regularly in the plot fluctuated between 15 and 29 species. Numbers of red-cockaded woodpecker Picoides borealis declined (over the site as a whole) over the study period.
A before-and-after study in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve (4,637 ha), Western Australia, Australia (Smith 1996), found that the local population of noisy scrub-bird Atrichornis clamosus increased from 45 to 189 singing males over a period of 25 years following the implementation of fire prevention measures from 1970 to 1994, which excluded wildfires. The population also expanded outwards from its initial stronghold to colonise new areas.
A before-and-after study in 2000-2006 on a grouse moor in Dunfries and Galloway, south Scotland (Baines et al. 2008), found that five bird species decreased following the discontinuation of moor management in 2000, whilst four increased. Before 2000, the moor underwent rotational burning and red foxes Vulpes vulpes, carrion crows Corvus corone, stoats Mustela erminea and weasels M. nivalis were controlled.
- Engstrom R.T., Crawford R.L. & Baker W.W. (1984) Breeding bird populations in relation to changing forest structure following fire exclusion: a 15-year study. Wilson Bulletin, 96, 437-450
- Smith G.T. (1996) Habitat use and management for the noisy scrub-bird Atrichornis clamosus. Bird Conservation International, 6, 33-48
- Baines D., Redpath S., Richardson M. & Thirgood S. (2008) The direct and indirect effects of predation by Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus on trends in breeding birds on a Scottish grouse moor. Ibis, 150, 27-36