A NEW initiative has been launched to raise awareness of why Scotland’s heather-clad hills are burning.
Sporting estates and gamekeepers across the country are behind ‘Heath on FireOK!, demonstrating why muirburn – the controlled burning of heather – is necessary to protect habitat and bird species.
Muirburn largely takes place in the spring and often raises questions over why parts of Scotland’s moorland landscape are ablaze.
Estates and gamekeepers are now stepping up efforts using social media, blogs and videos to raise public awareness of why they set the heather on fire.
The benefits of burning also include helping to keep Scotland’s heather hills purple and preventing the spread of wildfires.
Hans McKenzie Wilson, a head gamekeeper on the Invercauld Estate in Aberdeenshire, said: “It’s vital we get the message across to the public that setting the heather on fire is OK.
“If we don’t use the heather we will lose it and that would be a tragedy for everyone. Our purple heather is the landscape that people from all over the world adore.
“Grouse thrive in this habitat and so do a host of other bird species – especially curlew, lapwing and golden plover which are worryingly low in numbers these days.
“As every gardener will know you have to cut your lawn to keep the grass healthy and that’s what we do with heather.”
Iain Hepburn, head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estates, who is a part time fireman, said: “We keep the fires under control and one of the biggest challenges we face in the countryside is combating wildfires.
“Controlled burning helps hugely in preventing the spread of wildfires and there is an army of gamekeepers on estates across Scotland who work together to stop wildfires which are a real problem in the summer months.”
Tim Baynes, director of the Gift of Grouse campaign, said: “Burning heather is the same as getting your hair cut. It needs to happen for the heather to thrive. It’s important that we do everything we can to inform the public why it is happening and what benefits it delivers.
“Well-kept heather is very nutritious for a range of species but overgrown, rank heather as we call it is an unattractive habitat for wildlife and takes longer to regenerate, while posing a much higher wildfire risk.”
Muirburn is carried out between 1 October and 15 April under the Scottish Government’s Muirburn Code, which sets out best practice guidelines for land managers.