Monday, 18 September 2017

The Muirburn Code Review - final stages

Launch of the Revised Code
Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform will launch the revised Code and members of the Review Steering Group have been invited to attend the launch event on Friday, 22nd September at Blair Castle.   

How to Access the Muirburn Code and Supplementary Information
I will circulate an advanced text version of the Code to everyone who has contributed to the Review, early this coming week.

The Code will not be printed for circulation and a PDF version of the Code will be available from the SNH website, after the launch on Friday, 22nd September.

The dedicated website will provide access to a web-based version of the Code, which will contain hyperlinks to other information.  This website will also host the Supplementary Information, which will be available to view or download as a single, combined PDF document, and in due course in separate documents for each topic.

How can you help?
Revising the Code is only part of the story.  We now need to make people aware of what it contains.  Please could you circulate details of the Code round your networks and through social media, member newsletters, websites, other blogs etc.?

The End of the Beginning?
I highlighted some ideas for further work in the last blog post.  These issues will be discussed with members of the Muirburn Group and I will circulate details of what is decided through this blog.  All ideas and suggestions will be welcome.

Promotion of the revised version of the Code and the Supplementary Information will be discussed with the Muirburn Group after the launch, and any useful details will be circulated through this blog.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Publication of the Final Draft

There has been little to report about the development of the revised Muirburn Code, since the end of the workshops in March. Draft versions of the Code and the associated Supplementary Information, which incorporated the feedback from the workshops, was submitted to the Scottish Government in April, and since then, plenty of work has been taking place to refine this draft.

This blog post provides a summary of the progress and outlines the next steps.

I would like to thank the many people who have contributed to the development of the revised Code. These include:
  • The Review Steering Group,
  • Additional specialists who contributed to the development of the Supplementary Information,
  • Those who commented on the various draft documents, and 
  • Those who attended the four workshops held in February and March.
For obvious reasons, it has not been possible to include every bit of the feedback I have received, but I believe this final draft to be representative of the range of opinion that has been expressed.

Final Draft
The final draft has been circulated to the Review Steering Group, and key contributors to the review process. The current draft is text only. The final version will include additional illustrations and photographs. At this stage, detailed comments are no longer required, but suggestions about structure and any issues that may have been missed or not covered correctly will be considered.

Printed or Web-based
The original intention was for the Code to be web based, and the online content would be supported by the ability to print a full version of the Code or extracts from it, locally.

This approach poses questions around where the Code and the Supplementary Information is hosted, who controls access to it, and the protocol for introducing changes. The Scottish Government will make a decision about final format of the Code.

Photographs and Illustrations
Contributions of good quality photographs showing burning or cutting activity will be welcomed, with a view to adding some illustration to the final version of the Code. The source or the photographer will be credited.

Launch of the Revised Code
Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, has agreed to launch the revised Code on Friday, 22nd September. A proposal has been made to the Scottish Government for this to take place in Perthshire.

The End of the Beginning?
In the report from the initial critique phase of the review, the Muirburn Group recommended a range of issues that should be addressed as part of developing an improved approach to muirburn, which included a closer integration with wildfire issues. Training, certification and research are three important topics that were identified in the Critique Phase Report that have not yet been considered.

The current phase of the review is delivering a revised Muirburn Code, but there remains much work that could be done.

The launch of the Code will be an important milestone, but it will have little impact if the provisions of the revised Code are not acted upon. All those with an interest in muirburn are asked to promote the Code around their networks.

Some presentational material, which may help people to promote the revised Code at their events will be produced and made available on request.

Final Version
The final version of the Code will be made available as soon as possible. An announcement will be made on this blog, and details will be circulated.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Final Workshop at Battleby - 14 March 2017

The fourth and final workshop took place in the Battleby Conference Centre, outside Perth, on 14th March.  This workshop had a different feel to it as we did not include a visit to an area of moorland and used the time to discuss some of issues in more depth.

Michael Bruce (Firebreak Services Ltd) and Graham Sullivan (SNH) accepted the challenge once again to help me to present the issues.  There was good representation from the Muirburn Steering Group at the workshop and a total of 22 delegates attended that I have categorised as:

Discussion in progress

Steering Group


We addressed a range of issues during the workshop.  To set the scene, I provided the background to the review before handing over to Michael Bruce and Graham Sullivan who led discussion on: the Risk Assessment approach being adopted for the Code, Ecosystem Service and Environmental Issues, and Planning for Burning and Cutting.  As for the earlier workshops, the focus was on getting the views of delegates on the issues and there was good discussion during the workshop. This has provided some useful feedback that will be incorporated into the review.

The key points that will be taken forward for further consideration include:
  • The structure of the Code on the website could be in two layers - essential information could be highlighted in the first layer and further detail in the second layer.
    • There was support for reducing the volume of the text.  The proposed structure will not be used as an excuse for including more information than necessary.
    • The proposal to use video clips to demonstrate activities was liked and a voice-over could be a good way to get information across. 
  • The status of the Additional Information will be clarified. Is it part of the Code or is it seen as providing ancillary information?
  • The proposal to highlight the different categories of guidance as MUST, SHOULD, or COULD was supported.
  • Once again, there was support for the concept of a guidance card to provide access to the information contained in the tables, but consideration should be to its presentation so that the information can be accessed easily.
  • There is a need for training to allow practitioners to apply fire science principles to make burning safer and easier. The revised Code could be seen as a catalyst to the introduction of more formal training.
  • Wildfire mitigation and muirburn should be seen as working together.
  • The value of a fire danger rating system calibrated to Scottish fuel types was recognised; it would provide benefit for planning SFRS response and practitioners muirburn effort.
  • A complete ban on burning on peatland could have unintended consequences.
  • The report commissioned by the CarbonXchange from the James Hutton Institute will be published during March.  This has assessed the science surrounding muirburn on peatland, and the findings from the report will be used to develop the Code.
  • The value of adopting a risk assessment approach in the Code was recognised, for example to guide fire size or the number of people required to burn safely.
  • A risk management approach is seen as a better way to assess the impact of muirburn on ecosystem services and environmental features.
  • Fire size should be addressed in the Code in a way that allows different sizes of fires to be used to achieve different objectives.
  • Buffer zones to protect waterbodies are seen as an important feature of the new Code and brings the muirburn code into line with the burning codes in other countries.
  • Local knowledge is an important contributor to burning safely. 
  • The Code must give clear guidance about the activities that are right and those that are wrong.
  • A revised Code is of no value until it is adopted by practitioners.  Publication of the Code must be followed by promotion.  
  • The promotion of the Code needs to address ways to reach people who do not recognise the need to follow the guidance in the Code.
  • There are some concerns about the tables included within the Code.  Can these be simplified and presented in a better form?  
  • A checklist that is too detailed will remove the need for a practitioner to think about the issues.
  • The Code should be presented in a way that practitioners will see as being positive, not negative.

See the draft revised version of the Muirburn Code at: 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Workshop - Edinglassie, Huntly - 21 February

The third workshop in the series was held on 21st February, on the Edinglassie Estate, near Huntly, and in the Glass Village Hall.  The estate owner, Malcolm Hay, and his gamekeeper, Darren Milne, kindly hosted us.

Building on the success established during the Sleat workshop, the double act of Michael Bruce (Firebreak Services Ltd) and Graham Sullivan (SNH) represented the other members of the Muirburn Steering Group and supported me at the front during the workshop.  There was a total of 27 delegates that I have categorised as:
Michael Bruce and a Drip torch

Steering Group

We were once again blessed with very acceptable weather for February and good discussion took place during the afternoon moorland visit, as well as in the village hall.  We were back in grouse country and this influenced the discussion, but there was contribution from the Pearls in Peril project, which provided some useful input about the impact of muirburn, by burning or cutting, on water bodies.

The key points to take forward for further consideration include:
  • A key point throughout the discussions was that 'one size does not fit all'.  Planning for muirburn needs to be carried for each site.
  • The number of people required for muirburn should be decided by a risk assessment approach.
  • Efforts will need to be made to communicate the message about muirburn to those who might not think of visiting the website.
  • On-the-job training is essential for muirburn. 
    Malcolm Hay
  • There was a concern that a move towards certification could result in opening the doors to a lot of bureaucracy.
  • If the Code, and the bureaucracy that surrounds it becomes too prescriptive, the result could be an increase in bad practice and uncontrolled fires.
  • The Neighbour Notification procedure is largely ignored.
  • Some form of simple written plan should be prepared.
  • Many estates already have muirburn plans.  Duplication should be avoided.
  • There was a mixed reaction to the proposal to produce a Guidance Card, but on balance the concept was supported. If this is produced, it should be in a form that can be downloaded onto a smart phone.
  • The existing Code's statement about fire size (a fire front of 30-50m) should be revised with a view to reflecting the different needs of different parts of the country.
  • The ability to burn in September would be welcomed (a trial to assess the impact of burning in September has been completed and the results are due to be reported in 2017).
  • The final workshop will take place in the Battleby conference centre, near Perth, on 14th March.  In addition to seeking the vies of delegates about the draft revised Code, the workshop will consider the feedback from the previous workshops.

See the draft revised version of the Muirburn Code at: 

Friday, 17 February 2017

Workshop - Sleat, Isle of Skye - 16th February 2017

Some of the delegates
This second workshop was based at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, (the Gaelic College), on the Sleat Peninsula of Skye. Lady Lucilla Noble kindly allow us access onto Fearann Eilean Iarmain, her 23,000 acre estate on the Sleat peninsula, and Scott Mackenzie, the estate's gamekeeper, and his assistant Craig Jackson, acted as our guides for the day.  Malcolm Younger, who is a member of the Moorland Forum's Muirburn Group, carries out advisory work on the estate and was also present.  Sabhal Mor Ostaig provided excellent accommodation and first class catering facilities (it is highly recommended for a visit!).

Michael Bruce with leaf blower
Michael Bruce (Firebreak Services Ltd) and Graham Sullivan (SNH) represented the other members of the Muirburn Group at the workshop and we entertained 20 delegates that I have categorised as:

Grand Total

I welcomed the input from crofters at this workshop, as getting this input was the reason for holding one of the workshops in the north west.  I was keen to stress that the principal aim of the workshop was to establish what people in crofting areas want from the Code.  I see yesterday's discussion as the start of a dialogue that will aim to bring muirburn techniques up to date and make the Code relevant to all parts of Scotland.

The key points to take forward for further consideration include:
Scott Mackenzie holding forth
  • The revised Code must address crofting issues clearly.
  • Move the Code away from being just a 'club to beat crofters with'.
  • Facilitate better coordination and communications between the different interests.
  • A risk based approach to decide the size of the fire and the number of people required to burn safely.
  • A crofter employing bad practice to burn on common grazing puts at risk the payments from SGRPID to all shareholders.
  • There was support for the production of a small guidance card, but some people did not think it would serve any purpose.
  • Protection for otters and badgers.
  • Protection for drinking water supplies.
  • Funding for the establishment of a training or fire group.
  • Promotion of the completed Code to those who do not want to engage.
  • Neighbour notification requirements do not work well on common grazings.
  • Loss of fertility, particularly phosphorus, associated with regular burning.
  • The Code should be kept as short and simple as possible.
The next workshop will take place at Edinglassie, Huntly on 21st February.  The final workshop, to consider the feedback from the previous workshops, will be held at Battleby on 14th March.

See the draft revised version of the Muirburn Code at: