NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Call for controlled burning to help limit spread of wildfires

Moray fire scene Image copyright Stuart Naylor
Image caption Large areas of Moray were ravaged by wildfires in April and May

A gamekeeper who helped fight recent wildfires in Moray has called for more controlled burning to limit the spread of future incidents.

One wildfire in moorland south of Forres in April was one of the largest ever seen in the UK.

Tinder dry conditions and high wind saw the flames spread aggressively.

David Thomson, who helped firefighters, told BBC Scotland's Landward that more proactive action on the ground was needed to prevent a repeat.

The gamekeeper believes that April's wildfire was stopped by areas of moor that had previously been control burned.

He fears that otherwise it could have continued into the Cairngorms National Park, despite the efforts of scores of firefighters.

He said more "fire-breaks" needed to be created.

Mr Thomson has years of experience using controlled burning on sporting estates.

Called Muirburn, it encourages regrowth of the moorland plants which grouse feed on.

Managed burns also create these fire-breaks, by removing the natural fuel that allow wildfires to spread.

Image caption The wildfires caused widespread devastation

Mr Thomson was called in, along with many other locals, to help try to limit the spread of the flames.

'Difficult to stop'

Speaking of the damage, he said: "It's really serious, a massive, massive fire, almost to the coast - pretty grim really you know, big fire obviously well out of control, needed some serious attention to try and bring it back under control again.

"It's huge areas really of unmanaged moorland where trees and vegetation's been allowed to grow up. Heather that's 2ft high and trees above that which gives a massive fuel load. Difficult to stop.

"You need some really good fire-breaks to stop it.

"It's locally devastating for this area. It was really a vital time of year when things (birds) are just beginning to nest and get established into their territories. It'll be up to 20 years before some birds come back and use this area."

Image caption Mr Thomson said controlled burning could help limit the spread of wildfires

He said of areas that were spared the worst of the wildfire: "What's happened there, the fire came down and hit the Muirburn from previous years, that's maybe three or four years old, and when it hit the Muirburn where it's reduced the fuel load.

"That's the effect of it, it either kills the fire or knocks it right down and then you can just knock out the last few bits that are burning."

Image caption Gamekeeper David Thomson (left) told Landward's Euan McIlwraith about what he believes needs to be done

He is concerned areas remain more vulnerable to wildfire.

Helicopters were also brought in to drop water on the Moray fires earlier this year due to their dangerous, widespread nature.

Mr Thomson said: "Undoubtedly there'll be more fires like this, without a shadow of a doubt, there's no natural fire-breaks being made.

"This fire started in the Spey valley and it's almost run to Forres.

"There has to be breaks created in these huge areas because without the breaks it's going to result in something serious going wrong in the future."

You can see this story on Landward on BBC One Scotland on Friday at 19:00, as well as on the iPlayer.

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