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Fight fire with fire

By Alistair Whitfield

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Moorland near Aberlour
Moorland near Aberlour

CONTROLLED burning of moorland is the best way to combat the rising number of wildfires, according to a group representing Scotland's gamekeepers.

Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) has spoken out following the wildfire near Aberlour a fortnight ago, which was one of the largest in Scotland for many years.

Around 50 gamekeepers from all across the North East went to help firefighters tackle the blaze, bringing with them specialist equipment to aid in extinguishing the flames.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said last week it would trial the greater use of controlled burning next spring – a move which has the vigoroussupport of the SLE.

The organisation's moorland director, Tim Baynes, said: "We know from experience that wildfires will usually stop when they reach a managed grouse moor.

"The practice of muirburn has been established for generations and is conducted to the highest modern standards.

"Muirburn on grouse moors rarely causes wildfires and actually helps to prevent them.

"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."

SLE believes a fire danger rating system, already in place in Australia, Canada and the USA should also be developed for the UK to define the likelihood of a blaze starting and spreading, and the impact this may have upon nearby populations.

The organisation has written to the Scottish Government offering support to research this subject.

Iain Hepburn, the head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate, is also a part-time firefighter.

He said: “Controlled seasonal burning and cutting are effective methods to reduce the risk of damage from wildfires 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.

"We work continuously with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to share knowledge and best practice and we look forward to this continuing for years to come.”

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

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