Policy hot topics: Our latest POST Fellow on wildfires and life in UK Parliament

Each year the BES arranges fellowships for PhD students allowing them to experience the coal face of environmental policy in UK parliament. We invited Sam Tasker to tell us about his recent placement and his POSTnote on Wildfire risks to UK landscapes.

From January to April this year, at the end of my PhD, I spent 3 months at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) as a BES research fellow. It was a fantastic experience, and one which I’d recommend to any PhD student interested in learning how their research can influence policymaking.

What does it mean to be a POST fellow?

POST is an organisation which exists to facilitate the use of scientific evidence by UK Parliament. It works to ensure that the best available research evidence and information is brought to bear on the legislative process, and in scrutiny of Government. POST publishes impartial summaries of policy-relevant topics in science and technology, helping Parliament to access experts and evidence.

Each year, POST hosts PhD students as research fellows. In collaboration with POST staff, research fellows produce concise, up-to-the-minute summaries of policy-relevant topics in science and technology, known as POSTnotes, which are used to inform the work of Parliamentarians. Fellows may also seconded to committees, the House of Commons Library and the House of Lords Library.

 “I had the opportunity to learn from international academics, wildland firefighters and policy experts.”

During my fellowship, I produced a POSTnote on Wildfire Risks to UK Landscapes, drawing on the expertise and perspectives of stakeholders from across the UK’s environment sector.

My PhD is in freshwater ecology, and I knew very little about fire science before starting the fellowship. Researching the briefing, I had the opportunity to learn from international academics, wildland firefighters and policy experts.

As well as this whirlwind introduction to wildfire practice, policy and research, working at POST gave me the opportunity to meet MPs and Peers, and gain first-hand experience of the day-to-day workings of UK Parliament. If you’re a PhD student, and have an interest in learning how scientific evidence is used by policymakers, I’d really encourage you to apply for a fellowship.


Wildfires are a natural feature of almost all terrestrial ecosystems, and many biomes would be unrecognisable under altered fire regimes. Despite their ecological importance, however, it goes without saying that wildfires can have disastrous consequences for human societies.

Although the area burned globally by wildfire has declined in recent decades (due mostly to agricultural expansion and intensification in tropical savannahs), weather conducive to wildfires is occurring more frequently under climate change, including in regions where major wildfires have historically been rare.

In the United Kingdom, highly dangerous summer fire weather is predicted to occur twice as frequently under 2 degrees of warming, with smaller increases also forecast for spring.

Trees burning in a wildfire
Weather conducive to wildfires is occurring more frequently under climate change.

In the briefing, we summarise work by researchers, fire practitioners, land managers and government to address rising wildfire risks across the four nations of the UK. The briefing covers risk communication, wildfire suppression and the interactions between land management and wildfire.

For land managers, challenges exist in balancing work towards biodiversity and climate goals with the management of wildfire risk. Approaches including vegetation management, tree planting, rewilding and peatland restoration present distinct challenges and potential opportunities.

The Home Office – who hold ultimate responsibility for wildfire in England – are committed to scoping a Wildfire Strategy and Action Plan by mid-2024. The briefing describes policy options available to the Home Office – and other UK policymakers – in adapting to this emerging threat. Give the briefing a read to find out more. I had the opportunity to learn from international academics, wildland firefighters and policy experts.

Being a POST fellow gave me the opportunity to step outside of my PhD field, and learn how science can be applied to inform the policymaking process. I’m now starting a new role at Freshwater Habitats Trust, with a focus on freshwater policy. My POST fellowship has been a great introduction to science policy, and I’m sure I’ll be drawing on my experiences at POST for years to come.

Apply to be our next POST Fellow

Inspired by Sam’s experience? Applications are now open for our 2024/2025 POST Fellowship. This funded placement gives an eligible PhD researcher the opportunity to spend three months working with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, helping promote the use of science and evidence in UK policymaking.

Apply Now

Deadline for applications is 12 June 2024.