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: