Sunday, 24 September 2017

The Muirburn Code – further developments

  • The revised Muirburn Code has been launched.
  • Scope of the Review.
  • Volunteers sought for further development.
  • Suggestions for promotion of the revised Code.

Status of the Code

The launch of the Code on Friday 22nd September marked an important milestone in the development of a suite of guidance for practitioners.

The Code establishes the constraints for burning and cutting moorland vegetation. It sets out good practice, but it does not provide a lot of detail about techniques. This was never the intention for the Code.

The Supplementary Information that has been provided as part of the Code provides some additional information but it is intended to enhance and expand this.

The Code is available in webform on the dedicated website -  A PDF version of the Code is available from the SNH website, and the Supplementary Information is available from the Muirburn Code website.  The Scottish Government website will no longer host the Code.

Scope of the Review

Before the review started, the Muirburn Group carried out a critique of the existing Code for the Scottish Government, and the report from this work recommended a structure for a revised Code and a long list of issues to be considered. The review, which has just been completed, addressed some of these topics, but not all of them.

A diagram, taken from the Critique Phase report, is available here. The issues in green boxes have been addressed during the review; the issues in orange boxes have yet to be considered.

Next Steps

After the launch event, a short meeting was held to consider where we go from here. Two immediate areas of work were identified: 

  1. All members of the review steering group, supported by members of the Moorland Forum, were encouraged to promote the Code to their contacts / members / supporters (see below).
  2. Up to six volunteers would be sought to consider the development of an Action Plan for the further development of the issues identified during the review, and any other relevant topics. 

    • The draft Action Plan will be circulated for comment to everyone with an interest in muirburn. 
    • The draft Action Plan will then be revised and the method of delivery considered. 
    • Appropriate resources from public, private and/or NGO sources, will be required to achieve significant progress.  Obtaining these will be an early task in the process to deliver the Action Plan.
    • Volunteers to help with the development of the Action Plan should contact Anne Stoddart.

The Moorland Forum will facilitate the discussions to develop the Action Plan, but it should not be assumed that the Forum will be in a position to manage the process to deliver the Action Plan.

Promotion of the Code

During the launch event, concerns were expressed about the scope of the Code and the shortage of practitioner guidance. 

It is easy to criticise a document, such as the Muirburn Code, that has had to consider a very wide range of views, some of which have been in direct conflict. The Code could not hope to cover every angle of every view expressed, nor to cover every topic that stakeholders would have liked.

As shown from the structure diagrams produced in the Critique Phase report, the aspiration for muirburn guidance goes well beyond the revised Code. Accepting that the Code satisfies the requirements for a statement of the regulatory constraints, the aim is now to enhance and expand the Supplementary Information to provide more detailed guidance.

As contacts / members and supporters review the revised Code, the aspirations to develop more guidance should be explained to them. Also, to aid the decision about what issues to tackle first, any suggestions for priority issues will be welcome.

Change of Title - the Muirburn Code

Following the launch of the revised Code on 22nd September, I have changed the title of this Blog from 'The Review of the Muirburn Code', to simply 'The Muirburn Code'.

This blog will be available to publish information about muirburn and the further development of the information that supports the Muirburn Code.  The comment function is available to provide feedback on any post or to exchange views about any related burning or cutting topic.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Launch of the Revised Muirburn Code

This is the text of the press release that was circulated yesterday

Launch of the Revised Muirburn Code

By Roseanna Cunningham MSP,
Cabinet Secretary for Environment Climate Cange and Land Reform

Friday 22nd September 2017


The Muirburn Code has been updated to ensure that it provides effective and up to date guidance for the people who manage Scotland’s moorlands. The review was commissioned by the Scottish Government, and the work was undertaken by Scotland’s Moorland Forum, an independent body made up of key stakeholders from across all areas of land management.

Over the course of several months, Moorland Forum representatives gathered opinion on muirburn from a wide range of agencies, groups and individuals, and the process included a series of ‘talk and walk’ workshops which were held across Scotland, from Skye to the Borders. A final workshop was then held in Central Scotland to discuss and incorporate all the feedback and refine a draft version of the Code. The review adopted an inclusive approach, and this process engaged with different ideas on what should and could be included in the Code. Careful drafting aimed to ensure that the end product is representative of the many interests involved in and affected by muirburn.

Commenting on the publication of the updated code at a launch event at Blair Castle on the 22nd September, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment Climate Cange and Land Reform said: “I am pleased to publish a revised muirburn code of conduct, which clearly sets out best practice and guidance for burning and cutting heather and other vegetation as a land management tool”.

“The revised code aims to minimise the practice's negative impacts on wildlife, landscapes and ecosystem services, while also enhancing the wider socio-economic and environmental benefits well-managed muirburn practices can have”.

“My thanks goes to everyone involved in the review, which will ensure that the code remains up to date and fit for purpose. I would like to encourage practitioners to continue working together to enhance the supplementary information that has been developed in support of the Code”.

Simon Thorp, Director of Scotland’s Moorland Forum also added that “the review process has engaged effectively with a large range of people and the revised version of the Code has been improved as a result of their input”.

“It has taken time to develop the final version, but the result is a Code that is up to date, and makes greater reference to cutting, both as an independent operation and in support of muirburn, the integration of muirburn with grazing management, and the requirement to consider the sensitivity of peatland”.

“The publication of this revised Code should be seen as the first step in a process to develop guidance that will aim to improve practitioners’ understanding of fire, fire behaviour and the role of cutting, and the techniques and equipment that allow the management of moorland to be carried out safely and effectively.”

A PDF version of the Code will be available to download from the Scottish Natural Heritage website, but a novel feature of this version of the Code will be the dedicated website established to present the Code, and the associated Supplementary Information, in web format with links within the Code and to external sources of information.

The website has been designed with the practitioner in mind, and it is intended that the required information should be viewed or printed easily. Supplementary Information provides additional background information and guidance for practitioners.

All those with an interest in muirburn are asked to promote the Code around their networks. Some presentation material to support this will be made available on request.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The Revised Muirburn Code - Publication Soon

The revised version of the Code will be available soon after the launch by the Cabinet Secretary on Friday, this week.

An advance copy of a text only version is being sent to everyone who has contributed to the review, but this is being done with a 'health warning'. 

A wide range of views have been expressed about burning and cutting during the review. All the comments have been carefully considered and every effort has been made to accommodate all views. However, due to the conflicting nature of some of the views, it has not been possible to incorporate every single one. A middle ground solution has been adopted wherever possible, and therefore it is likely that no-one will be completely satisfied with every part of the revised Code.

After the launch event on Friday, a discussion will take place about what needs to be done next. It is important to recognise that the Code mainly sets out the constraints on burning and cutting, but it is clear from the critique phase of the review, reinforced during more recent discussions, that there is a need for additional practical guidance about muirburn. A start has been made with the Supplementary Information that has been prepared as part of the review; other guidance will aim to provide advice to practitioners to maximise the benefits of burning and cutting, while minimising the risks to people and property from this activity. 

There are also opportunities to consider issues such as: training, certification, research and knowledge exchange.  

Therefore, we should not see the publication of the Code as the end of the process; I suggest it is only the start. Practitioners will be encouraged to support the development and expansion of the Supplementary Information to provide information that is of relevance to them.  It may be appropriate to rework all the additional guidance into a Prescribed Burning Guide that brings together all relevant information in one place.

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: