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Gamekeepers act quickly to stop a wildfire on Peak District's Woodhead Moor

At 6.30pm last night, two gamekeepers saw smoke coming off the edge of the Woodhead Moor. They quickly sent out a fire alert to the fire services and all gamekeepers in the area, asking for help with the blaze.

Eleven Moorland Estates responded, sending out seven all-terrain fire fighting vehicles with fire fogging units, and 29 gamekeepers and helpers – who included local farmers and a warden from United Utilities. The fire service were very quick to attend, with appliances from Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, South and West Yorkshire. Eight engines were in attendance, as well as the Derbyshire service’s Argo.

Once the vehicles arrived the experienced team were able to contain the fire, and the main force of the fire was extinguished by 10.30pm. It was a huge task, on moorland vegetation with huge flames and in very difficult terrain. The fire service left at 10pm and members of the Peak District Moorland Group stayed on site until midnight, dampening down any remaining embers. Gamekeepers armed with thermal imaging equipment monitored the fire till first light, putting out any hot spots as they appeared.

Despite all of this, it is estimated that around 80 acres of grassland were burnt. Fire services inspected the site at 8.30 this morning, and arson has been identified as the most likely source of the fire, with three separate ignition points identified.

The location of the fire was at the base of one of the most significant moorland restoration projects in the country. The ignition point was on a vertically steep bank of unmanaged heather – the perfect environment for wildfire escalation. A large amount of public money has gone into this restoration project – an estimated £3.5 – 6M over a five year period – which is managed by Moors for the Future and partly funded by United Utilities.

It is extremely fortunate that, due to the good spell of weather over the last few days, Moorland Gamekeepers have increased their patrols on the ground they manage, and were able to quickly spot and deal with this fire. In other recent fires on non-keepered moors such as Rakes Moss and Dovestone, the fires had longer to take hold and burnt for days, incurring helicopters fees into the tens of thousands of pounds.

Local farmers Helen and Jeff Doughy said:

"We received the call for help whilst we were about to sit and have our dinner after a day baling hay, we immediately pulled our boots back on and headed to the fire. In this community we all stick together, if we get a call from the keepers we respond and likewise. We are lucky to have gamekeepers in this area who are always on high alert and on the lookout for any signs of fire. Watching the keepers last night it was unbelievably clear to see that they know what they’re doing when it comes to putting out wildfires. If you look at areas of unmanaged moorland without gamekeepers, you end up with situations like we have seen at Saddleworth and Crowden, where the moors burned for days, if not weeks."

There has been firm messaging from the Peak District National Park Authority that campfires and BBQs are not permitted, and many other groups have been trying to raise awareness of the dangers of wildfires in this hot weather. Despite all of these warnings, people are still not listening and are deliberately lighting fires on or near to the worryingly dry moorland.


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