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July 30th 2006
Published: July 29th 2006
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Ilkley

As I write this I can hear the distant drone of the helicopter as it circles overhead, trying to douse the flames and to help the fire fighting up on Ilkley Moor.

The fire has lasted for days. On Thursday I went up to take these pictures and was shocked by the scale of the fire. Two fires were on the plateau of the moor, the smoke obscuring the view ahead.

And that’s the point of today’s blog. I didn’t travel far for this - 30 minutes climb up from my parent’s house. But the billowing smoke, flames and boiling clouds on what is a damp place, a water source, is a shock. Ilkley Moor is an important place, a focus of Yorkshire’s identity. When large swathes go up in smoke, the damage will be severe and very long lasting. There are still areas of the North York Moors that have not recovered from fire during the drought of 1976. When vegetation is stripped by severe burning, the rain washes out the thin moorland soils.

This fire has brought home to me the threat of climate change. Yes, there have always been moorland fires, but I know through my research that the fires have become an increasing problem on the moors of upland northern England. The problem is likely to get worse in future as warmer and drier summers are predicted by climate change models. The moors are vulnerable areas, the heather and grass drying out during droughts, artificial they may be, but they are our escape from the towns and cities. It’s Ilkley Moor, not Australia!

Now I wonder what it will be like in ten or twenty years time. We can’t stop climate change, because the warming now is triggered by emissions of greenhouse gases many years ago. But we can do something about reducing our own emissions of greenhouse gases, and by being aware of the changes happening around us. We travel, we observe.

From the window I can see the smoke billowing above the woods as the fire approaches. An increasing southerly wind is a bad direction for Ilkley. The sun is partially obscured by the smoke cloud and now the smoke is coming through the wood above the house. Rain was forecast, but was later than originally predicted.

The rain was low and lasted all of five minutes. By Sunday, Ilkley was covered in smoke. The fire has been burning 5 days, as the burning peat on the moor takes a lot of water to extinguish.




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smoke from moorland fires

Saturday 29 July.


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