How Gamekeepers are doing their bit to prevent wildfires

Gamekeeper-controlled Muirburn - vital work to prevent major fires
Gamekeeper-controlled Muirburn – vital work to prevent major fires

SOARING TEMPERATURES OVER the last week have focussed minds on how the dry weather can result in serious wildfires.

Now Gamekeepers and estates throughout Moray and the north are highlighting how controlled muirburn has become an essential management tool in limiting wildfires.

Most of the country was covered this week by an increased risk of wildfire, with a warning issued by the Scottish Wildfire Forum. In recent summer seasons the Fire crews have had to battle wildfires in several parts of Moray, with the SFRS highlighting how controlled muirburn helps reduce the risks of these spreading.

Members of the Grampian Moorland Group 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.

Gamekeeper Ian Hepburn, who is also a retained firefighter, said: “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.

“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 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 (see below).

Two years ago firefighters from Dufftown, Fochabers and Elgin were involved in controlling a major wildfire near Rothes. Following that the SFRS reminded landowners and the public of the dangers, saying: “SFRS is keen to work with landowners, tourists and communities to help reduce the number fires in a bid to protect the countryside and its residents.

“The demand on SFRS resources during wildfire season is significant and it is hoped that raised awareness will help reduce that demand.

“There are a number of things land managers can do to help prevent wildfires, including strict adherence to the Muirburn Code, which applies to the controlled burning of heather within the permitted season.”