Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Wildfire in Galloway

There was a large wildfire incident in Galloway on 15th & 16th April.  The size has been reported as being 3mls x 2mls.  The details are emerging slowly and I am hoping for a report from the Dumfries & Galloway Fire & Rescue Service, later today.  First indications are that this was a management fire on a farm that got out of control.  

This incident, which is far from being alone, serves to highlight the wildfire danger at the moment.  It may not be as hot and sunny as two weeks ago but the vegetation is still very dry and once ignited will burn vigorously.

We have reached that time of year when the vegetation is at its driest, before the sap rises, and when the risk of wildfire incidents is at its height.  In all parts of the UK, apart from in Scotland above 450m (1,500ft) the heather burning, swaling or muirburn season has finished.  However, we need to maintain vigilance to avoid wildfire incidents that can be extensive and very damaging at this time of year.

After a wildfire incident, as occurred in Galloway, questions are rightly asked about how a repeat event can be avoided.  There is often a call for tighter regulation or a ban on burning.  These are very negative and ineffective ideas.  I am convinced that the non-regulatory approach is the best.  Regulations are almost impossible to enforce in a moorland situation and I believe that we will achieve more through better guidance.  Good guidance through well produced and targeted codes of practice is much more likely to achieve the required results.  I am hoping to lead the review of the Muirburn Code in Scotland and I have been asked to assist Defra with a review of the Heather & Grass Burning Code in England that is 5-years old this year.  Relevance of these codes, and those in other parts of the UK to landowners and managers is something we can improve on and I am sure this will reduce the number of runaway management fires.

In Dumfries & Galloway, I helped to start a Fire Group in 2007, but this withered and died due to a lack of support for it from the agencies and a lack of funding.  After this fire in Galloway, and the earlier one on Criffel (see the previous entry in this Blog), perhaps the D&G Fire Group will appear to offer better value for money.  A fire group does not need lots of expensive equipment; it is there to provide support, coordination and guidance for landowners, land managers, the agencies and the fire & rescue service.  This does not require vast funds but it does require effort and commitment.  The Scottish Wildfire Forum is available to coordinate the work of the fire groups, but this also needs to properly resourced. 

I will provide extra detail about this fire, if it is relevant.  Meanwhile I am in Devon preparing to chair a meeting of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum tomorrow.

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