Scottish landowners back proposals to introduce controlled burning

No wildfires have been reported on Scottish grouse moors as muirburn season closes
No wildfires have been reported on Scottish grouse moors as muirburn season closes

Landowners and gamekeepers have welcomed Scottish Fire & Rescue Service's proposals to increase the use of controlled burning to tackle moorland wildfires.

Calls for the increased use of controlled burning approach to combat wildfires is backed by the experience of this year’s muirburn season, land managers have said.

Muirburn is the burning of the heath and stubble on a moor. The practice is guided by 'The Code' which sets out both the law and good practice relating to it.

It comes as Sottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) said last week that it was to trial the greater use of controlled burning next spring after gathering evidence on the practice internationally.

The controlled burning practice advocated by SFRS is the same as the rotational strip burning employed by gamekeepers undertaking muirburn in the traditional manner on sporting estates.

The muirburn season has now officially ended, with no reports of wildfires caused by muirburn on Scottish grouse moors.

Tim Baynes, Scottish Land & Estates' Moorland Director, said: “There are many misconceptions about muirburn but the fact that Scotland’s fire service is now looking to introduce controlled burning next spring shows how important it is to adopt these methods and our members will continue to work closely with SFRS.

“The practice of muirburn has been established for generations and is conducted to the highest modern standards in accordance with methodology in the Muirburn Code, launched 18 months ago by the Scottish government.”

Mr Baynes said muirburn is based on 'sound science' and wildfires will 'usually stop' when they reach a managed grouse moor.

He added: “This season we have seen several major wildfires in Scotland but we understand none of them were related to muirburn for grouse management. Muirburn on grouse moors rarely causes wildfires and actually helps to prevent them.”

Fire danger rating system

Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), a membership organisation for landowners, said a fire danger rating system, which is in place in countries including the USA, Australia and Canada, should also be developed for the UK.

The group said it would define the likelihood of a fire starting and spreading, and the impact this may have upon nearby populations.

Iain Hepburn, head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate, part of Loch Ness Rural Communities, and also a part-time firefighter with the SFRS, has in the past worked with firefighters to share best practice when it comes to tackling wild fires on moorland.

He said: “Controlled seasonal burning and cutting are effective methods to reduce the risk of damage from wild fires by providing breaks in continuous moorland cover and reducing the fuel load.

“A useful technique, known as ‘back burning’, enables the keeper to control a fire by lighting another in a strategically placed position which then burns towards the wildfire and in turn puts out both fires.

“This requires a lot of skill and knowledge and the practices we use can be shared for the benefit of fire crews and communities in rural areas elsewhere.”

It follows around 50 landowners and gamekeepers helping the SFRS tackle the wildfire in Moray in late April, from as far afield as Grampian, Speyside, Tomatin and Loch Ness. The keepers brought specialist equipment to help the fire service extinguish the blaze.

The quick response from SFRS and gamekeepers with backburning knowledge also stopped a wildfire that could have spread on a huge scale on the banks of Loch Ness last month.