Friday, 16 December 2016

Muirburn Code Review - December update + Workshops

A flyer has been circulated to announce the details of three workshops that will be held in February 2017.  A final workshop will be held in March to gather and collate all views to feed into the review process. The flyer can be downloaded from the Muirburn Code webpage.

A final draft of a revised Code will be produced at the end of March, and this will incorporate the feedback from the workshops.

The aim of these workshops is to encourage those with experience of burning, cutting and grazing on moorland to provide their views to help with the review process, and we are keen to hear from as many people as possible.

The Muirburn Code Review Steering Group met on 14 December.  A further draft of the Code was reviewed and we agreed good progress is being made.  There is plenty still to do and a further draft of the Code will be prepared and circulated to all those attending the workshops.  

The intention is to present this further draft on a dedicated Muirburn Code website, as this will allow the essential information to be presented clearly, but there will be links to additional, more detailed information, if this is required.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Muirburn Code Review - October Update

October Update

The timing of the review has been adapted in response to additional input and the following revised programme is now being proposed to the Scottish Government and the review Steering Group.

The development of the second draft of the revised Code is taking longer than originally intended.  In part this is due to people struggling to find time to provide their input to it and in part this is due to the review process being a victim of its own success and bringing to light different ideas.

It is important that the next draft, which will be reviewed in four workshops, is representative of the current views about muirburn.  The revised programme is allowing additional information to be incorporated into the review process.

It is intended to produce the second draft by the end of November and then to promote this widely as a draft version with a view to encouraging further comment.  The first deadline for feedback will be 12 noon, on Friday 27 January, so that any revisions can be included in a version that will be circulated to those attending the workshops in February and March. 

The workshops will be held in the north & west (Sleat peninsula - TBC), north and east (Edinglassie, Huntly), south and east (Lammermuirs, Carfrae Mill) and finally at Battleby.  Weather permitting, the first three workshops will be 'talk & walk' events.  The final workshop will be held at the Battleby Conference Centre, near Perth, and this will be an indoor event to pool the range of views and feedback to allow a final version of the Code to be developed.  Subject to any restrictions on numbers, attendance will be welcome by anyone with an interest in the development of the Code.

The second deadline for other input will be the date of the final workshop, which it is proposed to hold at Battleby on 14 / 15 March 2017.  It is expected that the workshops will produce more feedback and this will be incorporated into a final draft version, which will be submitted to the Scottish Government.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Muirburn Code Review - September Update

September Update

Although this blog has been quiet over the summer months, there has been plenty happening in the background, and the level of public activity will be rising shortly.  

Time then for a quick recap on where we have got to and how the plan for the review will be unfolding over the next few months.  

The story so far
A Critique Phase, which considered the existing Code, was completed in June 2014.  The report from this work is available from the Muirburn Group's page of the Moorland Forum’s website.

After discussion, the Scottish Government gave instructions to the Moorland Forum to produce a revised Code, which will cover burning and cutting, and work started in January 2016.

Although a range of people are expected to refer to the guidance in the revised Code, the muirburn practitioners are the main target audience, and it is important to maintain a focus on the requirements of this audience.  Some guiding principles have been agreed with the project Steering Group to help maintain this focus.

Principally, the revised Code will be an online document.  This will make it easy to provide access to additional information from the Code through electronic links, and this format will also allow the Code to be kept up to date easily.

The review process
At the start of the review process, a first, rough draft of a revised Code was produced to initiate discussion.

There will be many issues to address as part of the development of the revised Code; some of these will be straightforward but others will be more contentious. Sub-groups have been established to review different sections of the Code and the feedback from these groups is being incorporated into a further draft of the revised Code. 

This draft will be tested in a series of four workshops to be held in different parts of the country over the coming muirburn season.  Feedback from these workshops will be used to produce a final version of the Code at the end of March 2017.

The revised Code will not come into effect until after the end of the muirburn season on 30th April 2017.  It will then be available for the start of the next Muirburn season on 1st October 2017.

After the review
The current programme of work will produce a revised version of the Muirburn Code only, but it will signpost other information.  The review is seen as the start of a process that will hopefully address some or all of the additional issues identified during the Critique Phase, such as research and training.

An adaptive approach will be adopted to refine the Code and the supporting information so that the guidance can evolve as knowledge and experience develop, or as there are changes to regulations.
A series of four workshops is planned to cover the north west, the north east, the south east and there will be a final workshop at Battleby to pull together all the feedback and produce a final version of the Code.

How can you help?
The next draft of the revised Code will be made widely available for comment, and I will welcome all feedback.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Muirburn Code Review - Progress Update

This update is aimed primarily at members of the Steering Group, but it may be of interest to others.

The review process is well under way and a first rough draft of a revised Code has been produced. The Steering Group has been split into sub-groups to consider sections of the rough draft and propose improvements. The knowledge and experience within the Steering Group has been enhanced by the input from some additional specialists, but if anyone feels that they have specialist knowledge and experience that they would like to contribute to the review process, please let me know.

I have also established a Coordination Group to take an overview of the review process and to help me to develop the structure of the revised Code. This group has agreed some changes to the structure with the Scottish Government, and the comments received from the sub-groups will be used to develop the Code in this revised structure. 

The sub-groups have been asked to report by 22 July and comments will be incorporated to produce a revised draft of the Code for further comment.

It is intended that the revised Code will be mainly web-based, and the plan is to use a web-site for the development of the Code that will be accessed from the Moorland Forum’s website. When the next draft is in a state that is ready for wider circulation, I will add it to this web-site so that anyone will be able to view. A feedback system is planned for this website so that it will be simple for anyone to provide comments about the draft version.

Consideration will need to be given to where the final version of the Code will be hosted. Keeping it on the same website, linked to the Moorland Forum site, will be an option, but alternatives will be considered.

To promote the review process, posters have been displayed on stands at the Scottish Game Fair and a flyer and PowerPoint presentation are being prepared for circulation, when the draft Code is added to the website. It will be possible download the PowerPoint presentation so that it can be given at meetings and gatherings where attendees are interested to learn more about the review of the Code.

The next revision of the draft is due to be ready at the end of August.

Talk & walk workshops are being planned to take place during the next muirburn season, from 1 Oct 2016. These will aim to review the draft revised Code with practitioners in four different locations.  Current thinking is:

North and west
Possible venue: Isle Ornsay Estate, Skye.

North and east
Edinglassie Estate, Huntly.

South and east
Estate in the Lammermuirs

Workshop in Battleby (no site visit).

I plan to firm up these ideas during July, but I will welcome any alternative suggestions.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Wildfire Damage - the Peak District - May 2016

As part of the Muirburn Code Review we will be including references to the role of moorland management by burning and cutting as a means to restrict the capacity of wildfires to cause damage, especially to people, property, and sensitive habitats.

As an example of the sort of damage that wildfire can cause, The Peak District Moorland Group's Facebook page has some images, video clips and other information about the wildfire that occurred on Howden Moor, near Ladybower reservoir, last week.  A click on the photos will enlarge them and give access to the comments added by the Moorland Group - they speak for themselves.

There is an interesting debate about the management of moorland developing in the comments. The National Trust is being criticised for the lack of heather management, but it has also been pointed out that there is no fire without a source of ignition and the three main sources are: men, women and children.

Some of the areas of the moor in the photos appear to have been managed recently, probably by burning, and I guess that these areas are on land that is managed for grouse shooting. The photos appear to show how the fire has not affected the areas that have burnt previously. This is a demonstration of the point that we need to plan for wildfire as part of our management of moorland. You do not have to shoot grouse to manage moorland, and management should include the construction of firebreaks to provide stops for wildfire and also to allow access for firefighting. 

Firebreaks will also add vegetation diversity that will increase the value of moorland to a range of plant, bird and animal species.  Firebreaks do not have to be motorways cut or burned in ugly, straight lines across moorland; they can be formed to follow the landscape and add visual diversity.

Muirburn vital to limit more wildfires in Scotland

Press release issued by the Grampian Moorland Group on 13 May 2016

Gamekeepers and estates in the north believe controlled muirburn will become an essential management tool to limit future devastating wildfires in Scotland, as the UK climate warms.

While the public has enjoyed soaring temperatures this week, the dry weather has increased the risk of wildfire with The Scottish Wildfire Forum issuing a warning for most of the country.

That warning came as firefighters and landowners worked to contain two fires near Tongue in Sutherland which spread over seven square kilometres and left resources stretched.

Earlier this week, at Howden Moor in England a fire caused by a disposable barbecue set alight heather and blanket bog on National Trust property.

Around 200 acres were torched, with endangered wading and song birds’ nests destroyed in the blaze which, due to its heat and depth, could render the habitat redundant for years.

Gamekeepers practice controlled rotational burning of strips of moorland, in set seasons, to rejuvenate heather as a protein source for red grouse; also food for a range of moorland species.

This burning of the heather, informed by the Muirburn Code, removes old and dry surface vegetation: one of the principal elements causing accidental fire to intensify and spread.

Burning in strips or patches also creates vital fire breaks, preventing flames licking unchecked across vast areas and potentially destroying breeding habitats of conservation-listed birds.

“Muirburn is a beneficial practice, for a variety of reasons, and there is no doubt controlled muirburn could have helped prevent the worst of what we have seen recently,” said Gamekeeper Ian Hepburn, member of Loch Ness Rural Communities group and a retained fire fighter in Inverness-shire for 23 years.

“Given the heat we’ve had this week, everything is so dry and, if the heather on the moors are not being managed by controlled burning and the creation of firebreaks, all it takes is a strong wind in the wrong direction and an accidental fire will just take off.

“It takes an awful lot to get it under control, when that happens, not to mention the strain on the resources of the fire service.

“These wildfires, like the one in England, will burn very deep into the peat, which is what you look to avoid with a controlled muirburn because deep burning of peat releases carbon. The habitat will be a desert for several years. There are some with agendas who are critical of muirburn but it will be increasingly important in controlling wildfires in future.”

The comments come as Grampian Moorland Group and Loch Ness Rural Communities release a joint film explaining why heather is burnt at specific times of the year on grouse moors. 

The groups were established in 2015 to highlight rural working life and the film, entitled: The Untold Story - Muirburn, will be shown to MSPs and the public, through social media.

Hans Mckenzie Wilson, Gamekeeper and member of Grampian Moorland Group said: “Muirburn is undertaken, principally, for grouse shooting, which brings over £30 million to Scotland in a very short window each year and sustains employment for families in rural areas. But it also benefits a whole host of rare species and helps ensure that accidental moor fires can be brought under control much quicker than we have seen in the last few days.”

For more information - contact Lianne MacLennan, Grampian Moorland Group Co-ordinator

View the film, The Untold Story- Muirburn, produced by Pace Productions UK, here:

First Draft of a Revised Code Considered

The Steering Group took part in a conference call on Friday, 13th May.  We considered a very first draft of a revised Code and we agreed to establish a series of sub-groups to develop this draft further. These sub-groups will draw on the expertise of steering group members, but we will also draw in knowledge and experience from beyond the Group membership. Please let me know if there is anyone who would like to contribute to the review process.

One of the challenges the Group faces, is to keep the focus on producing a practitioners guide. There is no end to the amount of information that could be placed into a revised Code, but unless we restrict this we will lose the message in verbiage.

We have plenty of issues to address and some of these will be a bit contentious, but the aim remains to produce a draft guide at the end of August. We will then be testing this draft during four workshops between October and March.  The Group will be agreeing locations for these workshops soon, but we will be pleased to hear from anyone with suggestions about where these meetings could be held.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Wildfire Incidents in the North of Scotland

 Photo: Press & Journal

Recent wildfire incidents have highlighted the high fire risk that exists in some parts of Scotland and Northern England.

The Press & Journal article describes fires at Keiss, on the coast north of Wick, and in Glen Nevis.  This reports highlights the effort required by Fire & Rescue Services to tackle these incidents.  the photo shows the fire at Keiss and the large stand of European Gorse, which appears to have had little recent management, is a huge fire risk and a large problem for firefighters if they have to control the fire.

Some better preparation and planning for wildfire, which we will be recommending as part of the review of the Muirburn Code, will help to reduce the scale of the problem faced by the Fire & Rescue Services and the risk of damage to the land.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Progress Update

The Review Steering Group met on 15th March and a range of actions were agreed.

We noted that regulation of muirburn started as far back as 1424; the Steering Group's overall aim is to modernise the way we approach muirburn to make it fit for the requirements of 2016, and beyond.  We also need to link the benefits of muirburn to minimising the number of wildfires and their impact.

Muirburn is not just about conservation, sporting enterprises or farming; it is essential that we embrace all current and potential land uses.  The Group will be making sure that recreational and landscape factors are brought into consideration alongside all other interests.

Before a decision is made to employ muirburn techniques, we will be recommending that an assessment is carried out to consider the potential benefits from muirburn against the possible risks.   Also, it will be important to make sure that effective measures to control a fire, once lit, are in place.

A similar assessment will need to be carried out before deciding to use cutting to manage vegetation.  Cutting is not without its risks and potential problems and these need to be considered alongside the potential benefits before starting work.

The Group has started work on drafting a revised version of the Code.  A new feature will be additional guidance that will be published to support the revised Code, and drafting has also started on these sections.  The topics will include how to use muirburn as part of peatland, and grazing management.  This will allow more detailed guidance to be provided on specific topics without burying the key messages of the main Code in additional information that will not be relevant to everyone.

The aim remains to publish a draft of the revised Code by the end of August, this year, and then to test the Code during four workshops, which will be held in different parts of the country.  The venues have yet to be decided and any suggestions will be welcomed.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Review of the Muirburn Code

This blog has been established to track the progress of the review of the Muirburn Code that will be taking place between now and the end of March 2017.

The Scottish Government has commissioned Scotland's Moorland Forum to carry out the review and this builds on the report that the Muirburn Group of the Forum submitted to the Scottish Government in June 2014, which provided a critique of the existing Code. As Director of the Forum, and chairman of the Muirburn Group, I will be managing the review process, and I will be using the Muirburn section of the Forum's website to provide access to more information.

This review will only be successful if we are able to gather opinion from a wide range of stakeholders.  This blog has a comment facility and I encourage you to provide your views about the review of the Code, and if you feel passionately about the issues, perhaps you might like to help communicate the message through your own network and encourage others to provide their feedback.

The start-up meeting took place last Friday (22 January 2016) and I am now starting to get the project moving.  I am setting up a Steering Group, which is based on the Planning Group that helped to get us to this stage, and this group will be responsible for managing the project.  I will also be setting up a wider Muirburn Group and I will circulate information about the review to members of this group, using newsletters and email traffic, as appropriate.  please let me know if you would like to join the Muirburn Group; no input from you will be required, but being a member of this group will allow you to stay up-to-date with the progress of the review.

The key dates for the review process are as follows:

Muirburn Code review
Key dates

1.  Contract start
22 Jan 16
2.  Submit the proposed structure and content of the revised Code
29 Feb 16
3.  Submit the first draft of the Code
31 May 16
4.  Submit the draft revised version of the Code
31 Aug 16
5.  Stakeholder engagement / demonstration events
Oct 16 – Mar 17
6.  Review feedback from events and submit draft final version of the Code
31 Mar 17

Note the the intention is to produce a draft at the end of August and then to test it in four workshops, which will be held in various parts of the country, during the next muirburn season.  

I will place more information on this blog as the project develops.

I hope that you will wish to help the Muirburn Group develop a revised version of the Muirburn Code so that it will be a valuable document for everyone who has some involvement with the management of vegetation by fire and/or cutting.

Simon Thorp