Director of the wildFIRE Lab

Prof. Claire M. Belcher Professor (Personal Chair) of Earth System Science


Claire is an Earth scientist specialising in the study of natural fires and the role that they play in regulating the Earth system. She graduated from Royal Holloway University of London with a degree in Geology in 2000. She then undertook an MSc in Micropalaeontology at University College London, graduating in 2001 before returning to Royal Holloway to undertake her PhD. She completed her PhD in 2005 entitled “Assessing the evidence for extensive wildfires at the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary” and has continued to build on his fiery start ever since.

She then moved to University College Dublin to work at the Programme for Experimental Atmospheres and Climate (PEAC) facility where she focused on the relationship between ancient wildfires and variations in palaeoatmospheric composition. She was then successful in gaining a Marie Curie Research Fellowship to hold a unique position joint between BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering and the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh. She moved to Exeter in January 2012 to take up a permanent position in Earth System Science where she founded the wildFIRE Lab.

Claire is the team leader of a 1.52 million euro European Research Council Starter Grant that seeks to understand the impact of plant evolution on fire behaviour in ancient ecosystems. Her research is internationally recognised for integrating state-of-the-art modern experimental methods into studies of Earth’s ancient past, an approach which is well highlighted by her recently published edited book “Fire Phenomena and the Earth System an Interdisciplinary Guide to Fire Science”.

Dr Ania Losiak Marie Skłodowska Curie Experienced Research Fellow

Bio coming soon!

Dr Mark Grosvenor ERC Research Technician – ECOFLAM

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Mark graduated from the University of Exeter with a first class BSc Geography degree in 2009. He then undertook a PhD within the Geography Department investigating ‘Human-environment interactions during the mid-Holocene in Cumbria’. Mark has also been involved in a number of research projects relating to palaeoenvironmental change, in particular dealing with lake sediments, pollen analysis, and human impact.

Mark is the wildFIRE lab Research Technician for the ECOFLAM project and will carry out a range of experimental research using state-of-the-art facilities as well as continuing his own palynological research.

Dr Rebecca Dewhirst ERC Research Fellow – ECOFLAM

Rebecca Dewhirst

I graduated from the University of York in 2011 with a first class degree in biology. I then joined the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences at the University of Edinburgh to undertake a PhD in plant biochemistry. I completed my PhD, entitled ‘Formation and subsequent metabolism of ascorbate oxidation products in vitro and in plant cells’ in 2015.

After my PhD I joined the wildFIRE lab here in Exeter to continue researching plant biochemistry but this time in relation to plant flammability, specifically in pine species.

Dr Sarah Baker ERC Research Fellow – ECOFLAM

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Sarah graduated from the University of Plymouth in 2013 with an MGeol in Geology.Sarah is particularly interested in the reconstruction of palaeoclimates and environments. During her PhD at the University of Exeter her research assessed variations in atmospheric oxygen concentration across past oceanic anoxic events, which are thought to have severely disrupted the Earth’s carbon cycle. She joined the wildFIRE Lab as a post doc in September 2017 to build an understanding of variations in fire behaviour in Palaeozoic and Meszoic forests.

Postgraduate Research Students

Nicholas Walding PhD Thesis title – “The Economic Impact of Large Wildfire Events”


Nick graduated from the University of Exeter with a first class BSc Geography (Hons) degree in 2014. His final year dissertation aimed to identify future fire threats associated with future shifts in vegetation distributions in North America. Nick has continued to explore these themes by exploring Mid-Pliocene fire risk and by looking at the economic impact of large wildfire events in order to aid future fire management.

Scott McGarvie – Bank of England, London & Senior Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Stacey New PhD Thesis title – “Effect of fire on Amazon carbon cycling and forest structure”


Stacey graduated from the University of Exeter with a first class BSc Geography (Hons) degree in 2013 and continued on at Exeter to graduate with a MRes in Climate Change Impacts and Feedbacks. Her master’s thesis investigated fire activity through two peatland palaeo-archives looking for a novel way to identify smouldering wildfires. Working in the WildFIRE lab, using state-of-the-art equipment, she developed an interest in the interaction between fire and the environment. She has continued her research at Exeter by undertaking a PhD investigating the effect of fire in tropical and temperate ecosystems using reflected light microscopy.

Teuntje Hollar PhD Thesis title – “Milankovitch forcings on wildfire during the Early Jurassic’

Bio coming soon !

Robyn Pointer PhD Thesis title – “Palaeoenvironmental changes throughout the Lower Jurassic”

I am studying Jurassic sediments of Poland in order to understand the palaeoenvironments in which they were deposited. Research will focus on Lower Jurassic terrestrial sediments recovered from boreholes located around the country. Analysis of carbon-isotopes, charcoal samples and palynological samples will be used to generate proxy data for palaeoenvironmental changes throughout the Lower Jurassic.

Associate Researcher

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Matt graduated from the University of Exeter in 2013 with first class honours in Physical Geography and is currently a PhD candidate within the cross-disciplinary Earth System Science group.

Matt’s current work focuses on pyrogenic carbon, a fraction of the organic carbon continuum that cycles extremely slowly through the carbon cycle owing to its extremely stable chemical structure. Pyrogenic carbon is the primary constituent of charcoal residues left behind after open biomass burning and of aerosol (soot) released to the atmosphere from open biomass burning and fossil fuel combustion.

Dr Chris Boulton

Bio to come

Dr Victoria Hudspith 

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Victoria  graduated from Royal Holloway University of London with an MSci. in Geoscience in 2008, and continued at Royal Holloway to complete her Ph.D in 2012. Her thesis, entitled “The Palaeoecological and Industrial Significance of Inertinite (Charcoal) in Late Permian Coals from the Kuznetsk Basin, Russia” sparked an interest in using coal petrography microscopy techniques to interpret ancient fire occurrence, type and return intervals. She then moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to complete a year long postdoc, applying the techniques acquired during her Ph.D in order to gain a better understanding of fire regimes and fire-vegetation feedbacks in more modern boreal forest and tundra ecosystems in Alaska. She then moved to the wildFIRE Lab for 3 years where she focussed on detailed palaeoecological observations of charcoal assemblages in a variety of ecosystems, with an emphasis on interpreting charcoals as a proxy for wildfire behaviour and developing new understanding the fossil record of wildfire using state-of-the-art flammability techniques.

Associate Artist

Charlotte McDonald – ERC ECOFLAM “Burnt Area”


Charlotte is a Scottish born painter who studied at The Edinburgh College of Art.
Her work focuses on environment and landscape. Her previous work has explored the magical, private and ominous elements of a family owned forest in Scotland. Where her careful work has documented our constantly changing natural environment and the persistence of nature. Her work makes intimate observations of landscapes drawing the viewer back to an almost child like perception of nature.
Charlotte is currently working on a long term project with us called Burnt Area to create works in response to our scientific exploration of wildfires.
Take a look at Charlotte’s own website that show’s the work we are developing for
Burnt Area.

Postgraduate Alumni

Dr Nuria Prat-Guitart (PhD 2016) “The role of moisture content on the horizontal spread of smouldering peat fires”

Dr Alastair Crawford (PhD 2016) “Understanding the Nature of the Fossil Record of Wildfire”

Stacey New (MSc 2014) “The record of fire in peatlands”

Associate Designer

Olivia Whittle – “Libby’s Lab iPad App”

Olivia Graduated with a BSc in Geography from the University of Exeter in 2014. Since then she has been utilising her passion for design and science communication working with Claire on creating an App for the university. The App is designed to engage children of all sexes and backgrounds in science based around the principle that “Science is for all” and aims to be released to the public at Easter 2015. Olivia is also passionate about the environment and is currently designing and starting her own company that takes sustainable design into the ski industry!

Undergraduate BSc Dissertation Students (2013-2014)

Olivia Whittle – Variation in leaf morphology of Ginkgo biloba 

Kealan Freeman – Fire disturbance in Canadian Boreal Forests

Beatrix Webb – Plant volatile compounds and ecosystem flammability

Lauren Barnes – Climate induced vegetation change during the Quaternary and its influence on fire activity in North American boreal forest ecosystems

Nicholas Walding – Future fire threats due to vegetation change

Isobel Garrett – Understanding the fossil record of fire

Luke Gent – Fire histories of the Mtn Kenya region