Gamekeepers keep fighting fire with fire

Muirburn in the Lammermuirs.
Muirburn in the Lammermuirs.

Ahead of the grouse season gamekeepers have been ensuring our heather-clad moorlands provide favourable habitat for ground-nesting wildlife.

However, at the same time, they have been stepping up their efforts to safeguard against wildfires.

Wildfires can devastate acres of moorland in a matter of hours; moorland which provides much needed habitat to a host of ground nesting bird species such as the grouse, lapwing, golden plover and the globally threatened Curlew, now acknowledged as the UK’s number one conservation priority.

When carried out carefully by professionals, seasonal burning or muirburn provides breaks in continuous moorland cover and reduces fuel load giving opportunities to control wildfires and thereby reducing the amount of damage caused.

The main muirburn season is between October 1 and April 15 and the Scottish Government’s Muirburn Code (currently under review) sets out best practice guidelines for land managers.

Gamekeepers have been busy carrying out seasonal burning and cutting of heather to remove over-dominant vegetation and enable the heather to regenerate healthily which in turn helps prevent wildfires from starting.

Bruce Farquharson is an area manager in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, he also sits on the Muirburn Code Review steering group.

He said: “Gamekeepers have shown a great understanding and knowledge of the land they manage on a daily basis and the risks and benefits of conducting muirburn. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service often works in partnership with gamekeepers if a wildfire does break out because keepers have the local knowledge and experience to assist firefighters and such situations can be very resource intensive.

“Good relations and communications between the fire service and gamekeepers at a local level are absolutely key to the Muirburn Code’s success and any ongoing improvements.”

There is currently an army of gamekeepers from Scotland’s regional moorland groups who work together to manage moorland in a way that will limit the spread of wildfire, which can be especially damaging in the warmer, dryer summer months.

A head gamekeeper from the Lammermuirs Moorland Group, said: “Heather cutting with a tractor and swipe is increasingly used for preparing firebreaks around an area to be burnt, reducing the risk of fire spreading and improving the efficiency of the muirburn operation. Heather cutting can also be an alternative in wet or windy conditions where burning is not possible or near to sensitive areas.”