Rural Fire Group established to tackle muirburn

Springtime over the past couple of years has seen particularly widespread fires
Springtime over the past couple of years has seen particularly widespread fires

Out of control fires burned for over a week in 2014 due to the weather and ground conditions, stretching the local Fire Service to its limit.

The last two springs have seen particularly widespread fires resulting in damage to woodland, destruction of rare bird nests and even temporary road closures.

In addition to the dry springs, recent changes in land management may have added to the risk of fires becoming uncontrollable.

With a large reduction in sheep and cattle numbers on hill areas over the last decade, the amount of dry vegetation present in the spring has increased leading to increased risk of fire spreading.

Steve Oliver of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service explained: “We would encourage the early reporting of unattended fires before they become uncontrollable.

“There are a number of offences relating to improper management of fire listed in the Muirburn Code that could result in prosecution.

“These include leaving a fire unattended, burning at night, causing damage to neighbours property and reckless disturbance or destruction of birds nests, eggs or young. “

He continued: “There was one prosecution relating to improper use of fire in 2014 and the police are keen to receive any information relating to offences listed in the Muirburn Code.

Fires that are out of control should be reported by dialling 999.”

Stewart Robertson of the Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate added: “There is also a responsibility on land mangers under ‘cross compliance’ to fulfil statutory management requirements and to keep land in good agricultural and environmental condition.

A breach of these conditions could result in loss of agricultural payments.”

The Lewis and Harris Rural Fire Management Group formed in response to growing concern over incidents of uncontrolled fire causing damage to habitats, property and endangering public safety.

The group is made up of representatives from the Fire Service, Police, Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate, Scottish Agricultural College, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB, John Muir Trust and Community Land Scotland.

Whilst fire is an important land management tool, land managers considering Muirburn this year are urged to take extra precautions to stop fires becoming uncontrollable.

Land managers are advised to carefully plan burning taking account of weather and ground conditions, have adequate resources to control the fire if it spreads unexpectedly and to burn into the wind.

The Muirburn season ends on 15th April to protect nesting birds. Any burning after this date requires written permission from RPID. More advice can be found in the Muirburn code available at the Stornoway RPID office.

The Rural Fire Management Group is planning to hold events demonstrating best practice muirburn.