Monday, 29 June 2009

Muirburn History

I have been reading an old file which has reminded me that many people have walked this way before when it comes to discussing muirburn issues . Our Past President, Professor Charles Gimingham, gave me his file that dates back to 1955, when he was already active in the discussions about muirburn. Reviewing old files is not everyone's idea of fun, especially as most of us have enough trouble keeping up with the current output of relevant research papers, the minutes from meetings we have attended and the unending list of consultations. However, during this period that my my wings have been clipped, I have been doubling my efforts to do some more reading, in the hope that an understanding of the development of discussions about muirburn (and heather burning in general) in the past will help to inform future discussions. Charles Gimingham gave me this file last year but it is only now that I have got down to reading it in the depth it deserves.

There is much more to read and I will return to this theme at least once in the future but as a taster, the first meeting on 27 September 1955 discussed the following issues, amongst others:
  • Rotational burning is detrimental to soil fertility
  • Rotational burning is essential for the livestock industry
  • There had been a deterioration in the previous high standards of burning
  • Extension of the muirburn season beyond 16 April was undesirable
  • Burning should take place in strips of moderate size in regular rotation
  • Each area of hill should be dealt with on its own merits
  • Moorland that is being colonised by tree species should be left unburned
  • The role of sphagnum moss in retaining moisture and preventing erosion
This could have been written last week - not 54 years ago. It is fascinating and maybe a bit depressing that we have not moved further forward. Perhaps now is a good time to seize the initiative. I would like to think so!


  1. Lincolnshire AlpsTuesday, 30 June, 2009

    When I was at University in the last quarter of the last century I was taught moorland management techniques, including much of the muirburn guidance you present here, which dated back to the last quarter of the previous century! You commented that not much has changed in 50 years; I'd counter that not much has changed in over 100 years...however, theory and actual practice can be quite different!

  2. Fair point. The paper I was reading referred to Lord Lovat's seminal book of 1911 'The Grouse in Health & Disease" as a relatively recent work. Now it is nearing its centenary and policemen are getting younger too.


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