Monday, 22 April 2013

John Muir Trust opens their new Wild Space Visitor Centre

Welcome to the new JMT Wild Space Visitor Centre in Pitlochry, which opens at 3pm today.

Members of the Moorland Forum will get an opportunity to view it first hand as JMT is kindly hosting the Forum's summer meeting on 7 June 2013 at the Visitor Centre and on Schiehallion.

Heads up for Harriers

Photo: RSPB Scotland
See the BBC News article for information about the Partnership against Wildlife Crime (PAW)  initiative that has been launched by the Minister for Environment, Paul Wheelhouse, MSP.  This initiative applies the 'citizen science' concept and encourages members of the public to report sightings of Hen Harriers to improve national records of this species.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) will record the information and details of how to take part are available on the PAW website, which has more details about the initiative.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Green Stimulus Peatland Restoration Project

Photo: IUCN UK Peatland Programme
In October last year, the Scottish Government announced funding of £1.7 million for peatlands as part of the Green Stimulus Fund.  SNH was given the task of applying this funding to benefit peatlands over a three-year period. 

On 1st April,  Andrew McBride took up the post as Peatland Restoration Manager.  He is developing the Project Plan, that will include eligibility criteria for potential projects.  The aim is to have the criteria and assessment finalised and approved by the beginning of May and details will then be circulated to a wider audience.

Andrew McBride has provided the following guidance on how the funds will be allocated, "there should be no surprises with the primary project objective being: the storage and sequestration of carbon with additional ecosystem services benefits, achieved through peatland restoration and management.  Given the demand so far, the fund will be competitive with those offering the most gains being funded. We will probably have to adjust the level of funding in response to demand and also the benefits accrued. Funding can also span the two remaining years of the project."

If anyone would like to know more about peatland restoration and management, there is some information on the Peatland Working Group page of the Moorland Forum website, otherwise, please get in touch.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Wildfires in NW Scotland - update

The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service has issued a press release to confirm that all wildfires have now been extinguished and comments that this has only been achieved after an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears by firefighters. Well done all!

The press release includes a caution that muirburn should only be undertaken with very close attention to safety procedures, having first carried out a risk assessment. The FRS press release can be downloaded from the FRS website.

Understandably in the circumstances, the value of muirburn has been questioned and fingers have been pointed at those who have been lighting fires. In response to these issues, I was pleased to hear that Michael Bruce, a landowner, member of The Heather Trust and Chairman of the South Grampian Wildfire Group met with Robert Scott, from the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service this afternoon. Following this meeting a statement has been agreed with Scottish Land & Estates as follows:


Landowners from the North and North-east of Scotland have held ‘very constructive’ talks with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service following the widespread outbreak of wildfires.

Michael Bruce, chairman of the South Grampian Wildfire Group and owner of Glen Tanar Estate, met Robert Scott, Assistant Chief Officer for the North Service Delivery Area, and his assistant, Andy Coueslant, North of Scotland Area Coordinator, today.

Mr Bruce said: “We had an excellent meeting and there is no doubt that now landowners who have been involved in efforts to tackle these wildfires are on the same page as the fire service. We welcome Mr Scott’s recognition of the role that landowners and land managers play in dealing with these fires and there is a real commitment to work together in future. As an example, a call for help in the Highlands earlier this week resulted in local landowners offering to provide 10 specialist fire fogging All Terrain Vehicles that could be used in fire-fighting operations, within 10 minutes. That is the kind of response we offer and criticism of landowners earlier this week from some quarters was unwarranted. We have agreed with the fire service to revitalise the work of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, which has been a key focus for partnership working on wildfire issues since 2004.”

This is good, positive stuff and I hope that it will lead to lessons being learned, and applied, as the result of these wildfire incidents. We need to keep matters in balance and make sure that we do not end up with a result that will lead to less muirburn and an increased risk of damaging wildfire.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

SL&E press release: Landowners ready and willing to tackle wildfires

4 April 2013


Scottish Land & Estates, which represents 2,500 landowners across Scotland, said today its members were ready, willing and able to assist efforts to tackle wildfires and were being blamed unfairly for the blaze outbreaks.

Luke Borwick, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said landowners are responsible citizens with the specialist equipment, funding and willingness to help tackle wildfires voluntarily.

Mr Borwick said: “The private sector remains ready and well-resourced to help and can be mobilised at a moment’s notice, however it is disappointing to hear how our landowning members are being unfairly blamed for this situation.

“We are now are calling on organisations such as the NFU Scotland, the Scottish Crofting Federation and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) to ensure that their members assist the fire service in controlling the flames that continue to burn in the Western Highlands. 

He continued: “Scottish Land & Estates was instrumental in the development of the Muirburn Code, along with other organisations such as the Association of Deer Management Groups, which has existed for several years and our members are well used to adhering strictly to the code.

“Contingency plans created by Scottish Land & Estates and other organisations, on the back of the bad fire season in 2011 have been initiated and we have offered support to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. We have members near the fires ready to volunteer their resources to help.

“Muirburn is an essential form of hill farm and Highland land management enabling grass and heather regeneration but must be exercised with caution at all times. Some of these fires have been as a result of careless activity by recreational access takers. However, a significant number of fires have clearly been the result of irresponsible actions of other land users burning and not following the Muirburn Code.

“We agree with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s call for muirburn restrictions, but any restriction should only be targeted on high risk areas in the west and not applied uniformly across the country.  The Eastern Highlands for example in many places are still blanketed in snow, and controlled burning will still be safe, as the snow retreats, for some time there.”


Scottish Land & Estates published a comprehensive wildfires guide in February last year, following a survey which showed that 96% of its members were willing to participate in creating a chain of wildfire defence, by working with the Fire and Rescue Services and their rural neighbours.   The guide also responds to calls being made for contingency plans to be put in place by rural groups in all high risk areas, in an effort to tackle the threat of wildfires ahead of the dry season.

For further information:-
Ramsay Smith
Media House
m: 0141 220 6040 / 07788 414 856

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Wildfires in NW Scotland - Request to stop Muirburn

Photo: Karen Appleyard
The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service has issued a request for all land managers (crofters, farmers, gamekeepers & stalkers) in NW Scotland to stop all muirburn activities in response to the continuing spate of wildfires.

It is inconceivable that anyone in this area where conditions are so dry should be considering muirburn, as it is clear that any fire once established will be difficult, if not impossible, to control.  However, this does not mean that muirburn cannot be carried out in other parts of Scotland, especially where snow is still lying, but great care must be exercised; conditions can be deceptively dry even in between beds of snow.

The Fire Service is at full stretch fighting the existing wildfires, and no-one should consider adding to the workload of permanent and part-time crews.  It will be difficult for the Fire Service to maintain this level of activity and with the weather set to remain the same until early next week, there are concerns about how the Service will cope.

As an example of the scale of the problem, I spoke to a senior fire officer this evening, who told me that one of the fires had a front that extended over 8km, it was being attacked by two helicopters with water bombing equipment and numerous fire engines had been deployed to protect property.

This evening the Fire Service reported that in the Highlands & Islands area, fire crews had attended almost 200 wildfire incidents during the last week and there were 6 large wildfire incidents in progress:

  • Nine appliances were in attendance dealing with a significant wildfire incidents and were being assisted by a helicopter. 
  • Four appliances were attendance with assistance from a helicopter. 
  • Four appliances were dealing with this wildfire incident. 
Ty-Coat, Kinlochmoidart 
  • Two appliances were in attendance. 
  • One appliance was in attendance. 
Stratton Lodge Area 
  • One appliance was in attendance.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Wildfires in the Highlands & Islands

Photo: Greg Little

There are an increasing number of wildfires in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland.  The Scottish Fire & Rescue service (a single fire service since, yesterday) has reported that at 12:30 today they were tackling 6 wildfires:

Banavie near Fort William
  • The wildfire at Banavie has been extinguished and is under control. Crews are in attendance to maintain a watching brief and check for any hot spots. 
  • At its height, there was a 3 mile fire front with 8 appliances and 50 personnel who worked throughout the night to control the fire. 
Morar near Mallaig
  • There is currently a large fire front with and crews in attendance who are making good progress in dealing with this heath and moorland fire. 
  • There is a significant fire with crews in attendance currently assessing the risk to property with an Officer mobilised to assist in the incident management. 
  • There is a heath and moorland fire in the hills around this area. Crews are assessing the wildfire and the risk to properties in the area. 
  • The wildfire at Lochinver is under control. Crews remain in attendance to monitor the incident. 
  • There is an ongoing wildfire with crews in attendance to deal with the incident.
I was near Oban yesterday and can confirm that conditions were very, very dry.  I expect that the conditions further north are as bad if not drier.  The easterly wind was very blustery, which would make it very difficult to predict the behaviour of a fire.  

At the risk of generalising, but based on the conditions I saw, and these wildfire reports, I think it most unlikely that conditions are suitable for muirburn anywhere in the north and west of Scotland.  Great caution must be exercised before lighting fires for any purpose.