The extent and intensity of management burning in the English uplands.
World-wide, the controlled use of fire is an important ecological management tool and is essential for the continuance of many communities. It is used extensively in upland regions of England to maintain dwarf shrub habitats for game-bird rearing. Inappropriate burning, however, is now cited as the second most important reason for the poor condition of conservation sites in these areas. Despite this there are few data on the extent and frequency of its use to help judge its potential impact on biodiversity. This study, using aerial photography of a 2% sample (208 km2) of the English uplands, surveyed the national scale of fire management for the first time, and used historical photography to identify medium-term trends in its use. Management burning in the English uplands is now widespread on ericaceous-dominated moorland; in the year 2000 17% of the area of this habitat had been burned within the previous 4 years, equivalent to 114 km2 year-1. The present median burn repeat time of consistently managed sites is approximately 20 years. Within most of the English national parks there has been a significant increase in the extent of new burns (from 15.1% to 29.7%) over this period, indicating an intensification of burning regimes in some areas. Synthesis and applications. The extent and frequency of burning, and the habitats in which this management occurs, are contentious issues. Reconciling the differing objectives of conservation, game rearing and agricultural stakeholders to allow the development of both strategic and local management planning to address these issues requires information on the extent and history of burning practices. This study provides a much needed first national estimate of burning practices in England and serves as a baseline against which changes in management regimes and their impacts on habitats can be judged.