IN THE wake of Australia’s devastating wildfires, new research has found that agroforestry could play a key part in reducing the risk of wildfires in European Mediterranean areas.

New pan-European research has identified that how land is managed is vital, and that mixing livestock with trees reduces wildfire risk.

Through analysing ten years worth of data, researchers found that agroforestry accounted for 12% of land area but only 6% of fires, compared with shrubland occupying 16% of land but suffering from 41% of fires. The results suggested that abandonment of traditional farming and forestry in parts of the Mediterranean has led to extensive unmanaged lands which leads to an increase in flammable biomass in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events or by human activity.

Reader in Crop Ecology and Management at Cranfield University, Dr Paul Burgess said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel. Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing,” he explained. “Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create biodiverse habitats that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. In comparison to using machinery for clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

The proportion of burnt land over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France, to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, to 14% of the area of Portugal. Uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature increase.