Agriculture: Careful burning can help control wildfire risk

Muir burn can easily get out of hand

With the UK recording its hottest temperatures this week, wildfires have taken their toll on fire crews in rural and urban areas, with 440 wildfires reported across the UK.

And yesterday Scottish Land & Estates, which represents land managers and rural businesses, said the time had come for the Scottish Government to back the use of controlled burning to manage vegetation, a traditional practice that reduces the fuel load through which forest fires propagate. .

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The organization highlighted fire teams across mainland Europe currently using controlled burning to introduce fire breaks and TV clips of teams fighting ‘fire with fire’ in Spain, Portugal and France who had been seen in recent days.

“Muirburn, which is the controlled burning of heather and vegetation from autumn to spring, is already practiced in many parts of rural Scotland by land managers, gamekeepers and farmers and has been supported by the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service as a means of reducing fire risk,” said Ross Ewing, Moorland Director at SLE.

Stating that last week’s heatwave demonstrated that Scotland was not immune to the effects of climate change and associated bouts of extreme weather, he continued:

“Creating powder keg conditions allows fires to spread quickly over dry ground thick with vegetation, endangering lives and property, as well as causing damage to the environment and landscape,” Ewing warned.

He said the World Wide Fund for Nature estimated that the huge Flow Country wildfire in 2019, which proved almost impossible to control, had doubled Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions during the six days it burned:

“This is the scenario we need to take proactive steps to avoid in the future,” he said.

Ewing explained that the muirburn, which was undertaken during the cooler fall and spring months, was a valuable land management tool that had been undertaken by skilled land managers for centuries.

“The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service has supported its use and we would like to see greater recognition from the government of the role Muirburn can play in the future.”

And, pointing to recent research at the University of Cambridge which had shown that infrequent, cooler fires can increase soil carbon retention through the formation of charcoal and soil aggregates that inhibit decomposition favoring increased soil carbon retention, he said policy makers need to take this into account:

“We have a stark choice between wildfires which can burn deep into soils – including peatlands – and emit huge amounts of carbon – or controlled burning which essentially burns the top layer of vegetation without damaging the soil. below.

“There are many critics of muirburn, particularly those who dislike its association with grouse moorland management, but the reality is that controlled burning should have a huge role to play in ensuring the safety of the rural Scotland for decades to come,” Ewing concluded.