Co-existing with Fire: Managing Risk and Amenity’ Project

What will this project do?

This project aims to characterise and map residents’ values and amenity associated with native vegetation on and surrounding properties at the bushland/settlement interface in areas where bushfire risk is relatively high.  The project involves social science researchers from the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) and fire ecologists and biologists from the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires (CERMB) based at the University of Wollongong.

Project researchers will investigate the extent to which factors that can heighten bushfire risk (e.g. vegetation structure, proximity of house to native vegetation and type of vegetation) are the same things that are central to residents’ sense of amenity and what they value in the landscapes in which they reside. Exploration of these issues will take place in two study areas of New South Wales that encompass both semi-rural and suburban settlements. The areas are Wamboin, Bywong and Bungendore which lie approximately 30km north east of Canberra; and Bowen Mountain, Bilpin and Mount Wilson in the northern part of the Blue Mountains.


Significant numbers of people are looking for rural lifestyles, landscapes and a sense of community. For a host of reasons (e.g. visual, recreational and cultural amenity), many such people place a high value on living close to bushland. We aim to:

  • Understand how such values intersect with bushfire risk – this is important for property protection and vegetation management,
  • Develop an explicit understanding of the consequences of fire risk reduction for amenity in representative landscapes in south eastern Australia, and
  • Contribute to an improved basis for targeting fire risk reduction policies to suit the needs and attitudes of differing communities across south eastern Australia.
How are we doing it?

Through a short questionnaire, interviews, and a participatory mapping exercise we will generate qualitative and spatial data that will enable us to characterise and map resident amenity and landscape values as well as bushfire risk concerns. The mapping component is a major feature of this research and will not only act as a springboard for interviews but will also enable us to determine the key scale(s) at which residents’ values reside in the landscape and whether different values are manifest at different scales. The mapping will also enable us to compare the spatial extent of residents’ amenity with ongoing mapping of bushfire risk in NSW by other researchers based on biophysical parameters such as vegetation type, fuel loads, management interventions, slope, aspect, and proximity of houses to native vegetation.

Why is it useful?

The key aim of this project is to develop a cultural mapping tool that can interact with biophysical mapping used by emergency and planning agencies. This tool, combined with data gathered during interviews, will assist in providing detailed insights into:

·  the nature of residential amenity at the bushland/settlement interface,

·  the relationship of aspects of amenity and landscape values with bushfire risk and residents’ views on this, and

·  the extent to which the spatial extent of amenity and landscape values overlaps with biophysical mapping of zones of high bushfire risk. 

Who is funding the research?

This research is being funded by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Cooperative Research Centres are funded through an Australian Government program to bring together researchers from universities, CSIRO and other government organisations, and private industry or public sector agencies in long-term collaborative arrangements. The program aims to support research and development and education activities that achieve real outcomes of national economic and social significance.

The Team

Dr Nicholas Gill
Senior Lecturer
Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research
University of Wollongong
Tel: (02) 4221 4165

Nicholas Gill is a human geographer with interests in environmental management, rural cultures, outback mythology, Aboriginal land use and cultural history, and cultural geography. His research focuses on rural areas, particularly on cultural and social aspects of land management, land use and environmental conflict. Recent research has focused on land management by lifestyle rural land owners.

Dr Christine Eriksen
Research Fellow
Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research & Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires
University of Wollongong
Tel: (02) 4221 3346

Christine Eriksen is a social geographer. Her research examines the role and place of local environmental knowledge in building resilience to natural hazards and maintaining sustainable land management practices. A major part of Christine’s work focuses on wildfire awareness and preparedness in amenity-rich but wildfire-prone landscapes. She follows the stories of women and men who survive, fight, evacuate, live and work with wildfire to reveal the intimate inner workings of wildfire response – and especially the culturally and historically distinct gender relations that underpin wildfire resilience.

Dr Chris Brennan-Horley
DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) Fellow
Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research
University of Wollongong

Chris Brennan-Horley is a human geographer with particular interest in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for cultural research. This includes integrating GIS techniques with qualitative methods, applying historical GIS to understanding rural cultures and research focused on patterns of work in the cultural and creative industries. 

Professor Ross Bradstock
Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires
University of Wollongong
Tel:  (02) 4221 5531

Professor Ross Bradstock is the Director of the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires. He leads a research team devoted to understanding fire and risks posed to key human and environmental values. This program of research encompasses implications of global change, risk analysis and modelling, quantification of the cost-effectiveness of fire management, community preparedness and fire ecology, pursued through support by the NSW Rural Fire Service and Office of Environment and Heritage and collaborations with external institutions such as the CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship, USGS, the Bushfire CRC and various universities.

Olivia Dun
Research Assistant
Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research
University of Wollongong
Tel:  (02) 4221 4265

Olivia Dun is a human geographer with a background in migration studies and environmental science. She is working as a researcher on the project ‘Co-existing with Fire: Managing Risk and Amenity’ and, at the same time, is a PhD candidate at the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney. Her interests lie in the linkages between the environment, natural hazards and human migration.

Sandra Penman
Research Assistant
School of Biological Sciences
University of Wollongong
Tel:  (02) 4221 4441

Last reviewed: 19 June, 2014


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