Decolonising Fire Science – Fire Management Across Contested Landscapes (1-2 Dec 2022)

Decolonising Fire Science – Fire Management Across Contested Landscapes (1-2 Dec 2022)

The Leverhulme Wildfires EDI Working Group presents the third workshop of the Decolonising Fire Science programme, in collaboration with the Centre of Biodiversity Information Development, Strathmore Universitywith support from the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment.

Title: Decolonising Fire Science: Fire Management Across Contested Landscapes

Date: 1st and 2nd Dec 2022

Nairobi: 10:00-18:00 (day 1) and 10:00-14:30 (day 2)
UK 09:00-17:00 (day 1) and 09:00-14:30 GMT (day 2)

Where: Nairobi and Royal Holloway (in person); online for some sessions

Joining link: MS Teams – contact if you would like to join for the online sessions

Agendadownload agenda here

Who: All Centre members welcome and encouraged to attend; members of BID-C and Grantham Institute, invited stakeholders (governance, rightholders, NGOs etc) from across Kenya; invited participants from fire centres in Africa; and other interested parties welcome to join online.

Chairs and organisers: Abi Croker, Adriana Ford, Jay Mistry and Cathy Smith from Leverhulme Wildfires, and David Chiawo, Veronica Muniu and Elijah Praise from Strathmore.

Summary: Fire-prone landscapes across the Global North and South are amplified in protected areas where fire suppression policies and the exclusion of peoples and livestock have redefined fire management systems and altered the dominant fire regime. Colonially derived anti-fire wisdoms and degradation narratives, such as the belief that indigenous peoples and local communities burn indiscriminately, continue to inform conservation strategies which serve to maintain the wildfire paradox. This has resulted in widespread ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss, and social-economic vulnerabilities. The persistence of fire suppression policies in environmental management systems worldwide, particularly in settler colonies and historically colonised nation states, not only drives ecological degradation, but also represents deeper challenges related to social-ecological injustices, subjugation, and the excludability of natural resources. However, we know that indigenous peoples comprise less than 5% of the world’s population yet manage 25% of the Earth’s surface and protect more than 80% of the remaining biodiversity. They are the greatest environmental stewards on the planet.

To date, fire-related research has been dominated by quantitative studies focusing on the biogeophysical aspects of fire and its relationship with the natural world. Qualitative studies that explore the historical, complex, and interconnected relations between humans and fire remain limited and siloed in anthropological or ethnographic disciplines. In recent years, research methodologies using satellite data have been widely applied across the fire sciences, yet these studies do not question the politics of pixels. Most fire scientific research has been carried out and published by researchers, institutions, and scientific journals in the Global North, whilst geographies across the Global South remain the subject of inquiry and experimentation.


Aims: This workshop aims to provide a flexible and adaptable model that can be applied across diverse and contested landscapes worldwide, particularly where fire-prone ecosystems intersect with exclusionary land management systems. It has three core aims:

Centre decolonisation strategies  – explore opportunities for cultural exchanges, knowledge co-creation and development in fire-related research; build long-term relationships between the Centre and regions in which we work; and promote a new trans-disciplinary wildfire science which prioritises ethical research;

Applied decolonisation (Kenyan context) – provide an open and safe environment for dialogue and knowledge exchange over historical, current, and future fire governance between key stakeholders and rightsholders who do not normally interact; co-develop knowledge over the decolonisation of fire management and governance for an equitable future across contested Kenyan landscapes; establish an inclusive network of researchers, stakeholders, and rightsholders to support and promote the future decolonisation of fire science and governance across this region.

Conceptual and methodological: to further our understanding of decolonisation in fire science, both theoretically and practically, and to understand what decolonisation means to diverse Kenyan stakeholders and rightsholders and international researchers; develop skills and confidence in carrying out alternative research methods to communicate and represent diverse knowledge systems.


Expected Outputs:

(a) Workshop report, providing a detailed account of the workshop incl. participants, order of events, activities, discussions and knowledges shared, outcomes, output, and future plans.

(b) A joint declaration towards influencing fire management policy change, and a roadmap for developing a fire management policy report, highlighting (i) current policies and management frameworks, (ii) convergences and divergences between fire management approaches carried out by different stakeholders and rightsholders in relation to their fire-related/burning objectives, (iii) discussions had over the development of inclusive fire policies, projects, and management frameworks, (iv) potential benefits and trade-offs between proposed future fire policies and management frameworks, (v) discussions had over next steps i.e., how to turn these discussions into realisable and meaningful action.

(c) Creative pieces and art works communicating diverse fire knowledges and practices to transcend communication barriers and disciplinary expectations and explore innovative ways in researching and communicating fire science. This links directly with the work by the Centre on ‘Wildfires at the Art-Science Interface,’ including a planned exhibition at the Science Gallery London in 2023.

(d) Academic paper to highlight ways in which we can actively begin to decolonise fire science through participatory and multi-collaborative research methodologies, experimental events, the co-creation of knowledge, and diverse communications. The paper would also include elements of workshops 1 and 2 of the Decolonising Fire Science series and would be a key cross-centre collaborative paper (also including members of Centre of Biodiversity Information Development (BID-C) and workshop invited speakers).