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.