Estates gear up to fight wildfires

Wildfire 1

Scottish Land & Estates is leading a new defence against wildfires following massive damage and destruction to so much of Scotland’s countryside inflicted by fires last spring.

The organisation, which represents some 2,500 landowners across the country, has published a wildfire information guide.  The guide has been prepared in response to the results of a survey of deer management groups which showed 96% of respondents were willing to participate in creating a chain of wildfire defence, by working with the Fire and Rescue Services and their rural neighbours.   The guide also responds to calls being made for contingency plans to be put in place by rural groups in all high risk areas, in an effort to tackle the threat of wildfires ahead of the dry season.

Drew McFarlane Slack, Highland Regional Manager with Scottish Land & Estates said: ‘The risk of wildfire is growing while the resources available to fight it are decreasing.  Land use trends are indirectly increasing the quantity of vegetation while climate change predictions indicate an increase in the occurrence of dry and warm spells.  These factors coupled with falling fire and rescue budget cuts all make for a difficult context.    It is therefore essential that we study how well we are organised and look at how prepared and willing we are to work together to support each other in tackling the wildfire threat.

‘The results of our survey have shown that the willingness to collaborate amongst the wildfire network is high.  There is recognition that we must collectively come together to see how we can improve current procedures for combating wildfires.  Many of our members have made a huge effort over the last few years, investing significant time and resources and working together with neighbouring landowners and landowning bodies to fight wildfires.  Many have established local fire groups in their regions which assist the efforts of the fire and rescue services.  We are keen for more members to collaborate in the development of further such groups. We are also involved with the Scottish Wildfire Forum where a strategic approach to the wildfire problem is being developed between the fire and rescue services and a wide partnership of countryside interests.’

Fire at Glen Torridon © Steve CarterIt is estimated that private landowners and estates across the Highlands spent in excess of £1million supplying vital resources in the fight against the 2011 wildfires.   The resources landowners provided and paid for included staff experienced in burning techniques and specialist equipment including fire fogging units and helicopters to deal with wildfires on all affected habitats, regardless of ownership.

In spring 2011 wildfires broke out especially in the North West of Scotland with very significant fires in Inverkirkaig, Lochailort and in Newton of Ardtoe in Salen.  In a period of six short days between 30 April and 5 May 2011, the Highlands & Islands fire and rescue services dealt with 76 wildfires where over 10,000 hectares of land were burned, including conservation sites, forests, moorland and farmland.    Of those, a number of the more remote fires were often left to burn and other fires burned assets because of over stretched resources.

Michael Bruce of Glen Tanar Estate is Chairman of the South Grampian Wildfire Group and a member of the Scottish Wildfire Forum.  He explained the context of today’s announcement:

‘The Scottish Wildfire Forum was created in 2004 after a similar outbreak of wildfires in 2003. This organisation brings together all the public and private sector interests to focus on the wildfire threat. The forum has made progress developing a strategy and action plan but has no separate budget to implement its recommendations.  One key recommendation from the forum is for local fire groups to be established, either as stand-alone groups or by bringing the subject into the work of existing groups such as moorland groups or deer management groups.   This is what prompted Scottish Land & Estates, with the support of the ADMG, to conduct their survey of Deer Management Group (DMG) leaders in December 2011.’

Figures from the survey showed:

  • 96% of respondents would help and work with the Fire & Rescue Services and neighbouring landowners in tackling wildfires.
  • A lack of resources is a huge factor in dealing with wildfire both in terms of manpower and access to equipment.
  • Over half of those surveyed have not discussed issues relating to wildfire within their deer management group in the last three years.
  • Two thirds have knowledge of wildfire groups already working across Scotland.
  • There is a belief in some areas, should a fire break out, that those affected would be caught very much off guard and be unprepared to tackle it effectively.

Trevor Johnson of the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service, and Chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, says: ‘As Chair of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, I would wish to support the Scottish Land & Estates information guide relating to wildfire.  The information provided is clear, concise and will serve to highlight the significant risks which wildfire presents, to those fighting the fires, to our natural heritage, built-in environment and ultimately the economy. It provides some particularly useful advice around wildfire prevention, preparation and response, and I would encourage land managers to share this information with the wider wildfire audience.

‘I cannot emphasise enough the important role wildfire groups can play, bringing the capability to co-ordinate mutual aid between landowners, bringing valued personnel and making specialist equipment available to tackle any large wildfire.  In order to help develop the best possible response to wildfires, the Scottish Wildfire Forum encourages landowners to consider forming local wildfire groups to pre-plan mutual assistance, which will facilitate the effective response and management of wildfire incidents.’

Here is a downloadable copy of the Scottish Land and Estates Wildfire Information  Sheet, for everyone to read who uses the countryside in any way: Scottish Land & Estates Wildfire info sheet Feb 2012

The photographs accompanying this article are of the 2011 fires at Glen Torridon and are by Steve Carter.

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