Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Wildfire in the Peak District

The Peak District Moorland Group's Facebook page has some images, video clips and other information about the wildfire that occurred on Howden Moor, near Ladybower reservoir,  yesterday.

Anyone wanting to see the devastation to moorland caused by these incidents should have a look at this Facebook page. A click on the photos will enlarge them and give access to the comments added by the Moorland Group - they speak for themselves.

There is an interesting debate about the management of moorland developing in the comments that have been added to Facebook.  The National Trust is being criticised for the lack of heather management but it has also been pointed out that there is no fire without a source of ignition and the three main sources are men, women and children.

Some of the areas of the moor in the photos appear to have been managed recently, probably by burning, and I guess that these areas are on land that is managed for grouse shooting.  The photos show how the fire has not affected these areas.  This is a demonstration of the point that we need to plan for wildfire as part of our management of moorland.  You do not have to shoot grouse to manage moorland properly, and management should include the construction of firebreaks to provide stops for wildfire and also to allow access for firefighting.  Firebreaks will also add vegetation diversity that will increase the value of moorland to a range of plant, bird and animal species.

Firebreaks do not have to be motorways cut or burned in ugly, straight lines across moorland; they can be formed to follow the landscape and add visual diversity.

My work with the England & Wales Wildfire Forum is plagued by short-term memories.  At this time of year, while the smoke is rising, the wildfire challenge appears to be possible to address, but the solutions drift away as soon as the rain starts to fall.  

We should acknowledge the hard graft put in by all those involved in fighting these fires, and the risks that they face.  We must also understand their frustration that with more thought, and better planning, much of this effort would not be necessary.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

England: Wildfire in the news

With the outbreak of summer across the country has come a rash of wildfires, and the associated images of fires lighting up the sky and Fire & Rescue Service personnel working in, what for many, are unfamiliar conditions.

It is a great concern that a lot of the fire fighting effort comes as a result of acts of stupidity.  A fire near Ladybower Reservoir was started by a disposable barbecue.  See the Derbyshire Times report.  A member of the firefighting team had to be evacuated by helicopter after their all-terrain vehicle overturned.

Near Darwen, in Lancashire, it is believed that a large wildfire was started by arsonists.  See the report in the Daily Star.

Ilkley Moor also suffered a wildfire, and this was on a steep bank that made it difficult to tackle.  BBC News has a report of this incident.

These incidents prove that wildfire is a real risk, particularly at this time of year. Efforts to raise awareness of the dangers associated with wildfire tend to fall on deaf ears at other times of the year, but we need to learn the lessons about wildfire and make better efforts to plan for them so that we can minimise their impact when they do occur.  It is a certainty that while there are people on our moorland and open spaces, wildfires will continue to occur.

The previous post about wildfire situation in Scotland states that, "We have a forecast of settled dry, warm and at times windy conditions over the next week. We therefore ask people to be vigilant and act responsibly while this period of weather affects the country".  This applies equally to England.

Wildfire Warning across Scotland, this week

The Scottish Wildfire Forum (SWF) is raising awareness about the increased risk of wildfire across most parts of Scotland over the next few days as weather forecasters predict very dry conditions.

Vice Chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, Michael Bruce, monitors the European Commission’s European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) which provides information, which can be used to inform the public about the risk of wildfire.

He said: “At the start of spring there is often a lot of dead vegetation leftover from last year. This fuel can dry out quickly when there are bright sunny days with high temperatures and low humidity levels. We have a high pressure weather system dominating Scotland creating these conditions at the moment.”

We are now well into that time of year when the risk of wildfire is at its highest and The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is already working closely with land managers and appealing to tourists and communities to help reduce the number fires in a bid to protect the countryside and its residents.

On Saturday, SFRS crews tackled a wildfire which involved a large area of heathland a mile long being fanned by strong winds near the village of Carsphairn in rural Dumfries and Galloway.

SFRS Deputy Assistant Chief Officer, Andy Coueslant, the chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, said raising awareness is key to reducing the risk.

He explained: “We have a forecast of settled dry, warm and at times windy conditions over the next week. We therefore ask people to be vigilant and act responsibly, while this period of weather affects the country.

“Many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by wildfires, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage.

“Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can all be devastated by these fires, as can the lives of people living and working in rural communities.

“Human behaviour can significantly lower the chance of a wildfire starting so it’s crucial people act safely and responsibly in rural environments and follow the countryside code.”

The public can help prevent wildfires by making sure they dispose of litter and smoking materials carefully while in rural areas. Land managers are reminded that the legal period for Muirburn ended on 30 April.

For further advice and information about wildfires and what we can all do to prevent them visit our website

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Graze the Moor Project - Molland Moor, Exmoor

Allan Butler, Richard Langdon (farmer), Dave Barrow (Moorkeeper)
and Janet Dwyer at Luckworthy Farm
I had an away-day to Exmoor, yesterday.  It is a bit of a challenge from Dumfries but with trains and the sleeper running sweetly, it is not a problem.

The Graze the Moor project is a partnership project with the main players being The Molland Estate, the Exmoor National Park Authority, and Natural England. As Project Manager I am responsible for the delivery of the project plan and the inevitable bureaucracy that surrounds such a project.  funding is being provided by Exmoor NPA, through their Partnership Fund with contributions from the other partners included The Heather Trust.  The project is running for five years and the second year was completed at the end of March.

A new recruit - 'Juggernaut'
a former native of Dumfries-shire
The purpose of yesterday's visit was to introduce Prof Janet Dwyer, from the University of Gloucestershire and Dr Allan Butler from the Royal Agricultural University to the project as I have invited them to provide some input to the economic comparison that is part of the project and to consider how to carry out the external evaluation of the project in its final year.  

The economic comparison seeks to identify the difference in income and expenditure between farms that graze the moor with hill livestock and those that have different breeds but keep them on in-bye land or in buildings. It is not a straightforward exercise and I am hoping that the challenge will be accepted.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Country Market & Sporting Sale - ready for the final fling?

The Country Market & Sporting Sale is poised for the final flurry of activity. We have a large range of exciting Lots on offer that have been attracting bids since the launch of the Sale on 22 April.  There has been some furious bidding for some Lots and we are expecting a large amount of activity between now and the end of the Sale at 7.00pm on Sunday 8 May.

Don’t miss out!  Have a look at the Lots on the Sale’s website and get bidding. There is something for every interest and every budget.