Scottish gamekeepers to aid wildfire fight

Gamekeepers have offered support to firefighters to tackle wildfires like this one in North Toslta, Isle of Lewis. Picture: Contributed
Gamekeepers have offered support to firefighters to tackle wildfires like this one in North Toslta, Isle of Lewis. Picture: Contributed
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SCOTLAND’S gamekeepers are offering to assist stretched fire services in a bid to prevent wildfires getting out of control in the future.

• Gamekeepers pledge to offer support to firefighters to ensure wildfires do not rage out of control

• Outbreaks of recent wildfires spurs co-operation bid between fire service and gamekeepers

Over 240 wildfires have raged in the north west Highlands and islands in the last week, causing major resource issues for fire services in the highlands.

Now managers on sporting moorland, who felt they were being unfairly blamed for some of the blazes, hope to work further with the fire services to formalise a strategy to tackle the fires.

Gamekeepers are permitted to undertake controlled burning of heather moorland in specific seasons under strict conditions set out through the Muirburn Code.

The patchwork burning promotes the growth of new heather for grouse, creating a diversity of habitats for Skylark, Black Grouse and butterflies.

Gamekeepers on Scotland’s estate believe there can be more cooperation between the fire services and estates in the future to quell some of the outbreaks of recent days.

Most modern estates are equipped with all terrain vehicles fitted with water tanks or ‘fogging units’ which are readily on hand if fires fan out.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said: “Already many estates help their neighbours or the fire service if there is an outbreak in a remote area. They have the equiptment. Many keepers have the skills to help.

“Our members in the highlands have been speaking to the fire service and we intend to talk further about how the right people can assist on a more formal basis. For example, many of our members have the expertise and experience to know how to burn into the direction of the fire, creating a natural break that can slow the blaze down and help put it out more quickly.

“This could help free up the brigade’s resources when they might be required elsewhere.”

At the height of the recent outbreaks, fire chiefs threatened to prosecute land managers if they flouted the Muirburn Code.

Crofters and farmers also burn off hill grasses to improve grazing for sheep.

The SGA spokesman added: “Many of the keepers were upset when moorland management was blamed despite the fact there is very little grouse interest in that part of the country. We are hearing on the ground that grass fires, camp fires getting out of control and even garden fires have been amongst the causes.

“However, we are more than willing to help in the areas we can and we will continue to talk with the fire service to see where we can be of further assistance.”

Meanwhile, gamekeepers have described the RSPB’s prediction of wildfires causing golden eagle nest losses in ‘double figures’ as scaremongering.

The bird charity claimed the losses could ‘potentially have a huge impact’ while admitting they didn’t know how many eagle nests, if any, had been affected.

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “These stories grab headlines but offer very little insight to the public.

Eagles generally nest in high rocky areas and the talk of huge impacts, we believe, is misleading as well as being a deliberate political attempt to discredit muirburning as a legitimate and effective management tool.

“According to the BTO, the golden eagle population in Scotland has been relatively stable for 20 years. They are green-listed in the UK as a species of least conservation concern.

“It is highly unlikely, for example, that the Scottish government would have sanctioned the donation of 66 eagle chicks from Scotland for the Irish Golden Eagle Reintroduction project if eagles were hanging by a thread in this country.”