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: