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Peak District inferno brought under control

Tragedy was averted yesterday after gamekeepers brought under a control a wildfire that threatened to cause untold damage, and risked the lives of many members of the public walking in the Peak District.

It has been one of the driest Mays on record and it is no surprise that moorlands, as well as much of our forestry areas, are at red alert levels – the highest level – of wildfire risk.

Yet despite the obvious risks, people continue to flock to our moorlands. This is of course understandable, particularly given the recent relaxation in lockdown. However too many people continue to show scant regard to the risk of wildfire. There are signs everywhere warning that disposable BBQs are forbidden, and yet they – along with cigarettes – remain the overwhelming cause of wildfires.

The latest example of this came yesterday at Bamford Edge in the Peak District. A portable BBQ once again was the cause. And it was once again the local gamekeepers who were first on the scene and battled bravely, supporting the fire-service for a number of hours to get the fire under control. Over ten fire engines attended the incident, with a helicopter also on standby.

On Twitter, eyewitness Ben Mitchell said: “Huge credit to the firefighters, mostly community volunteers, who are tackling the blaze.”

Gamekeepers have time and time again acted as volunteer firefighters, almost always being the first to arrive on the scene. There is no knowing the extent of the damage that could have been caused and the lives lost if it weren’t for their actions.

Importantly though, the latest fire once again shows the reality of moorland management; the fire was able to be controlled largely because of the controlled burning and spraying off of the bracken and old heather that took place earlier in the year.

It is of no surprise either that the area which took hold and burnt most aggressively was the area on the lower edge of the moor which was an unmanaged area designated for re-wilding.

The lessons here could not be clearer. The UK is getting warmer. Without proper moorland management, the UK’s uplands will become a tinder box, and it will only be a matter of time until people die as a result.

Groups like the Moorland Monitors, Wild Justice and other anti-grouse shooting organisations are seeking to politicise controlled burning and spread disinformation about its reality. As inconvenient as the reality might be for them, without gamekeepers and the private investment brought to the moorlands, wildfires will continue to get worse and more damaging, leading to the wiping out of endangered wildlife, huge carbon release into the atmosphere and, ultimately, many deaths. Had the fire at Bamford Edge not been contained when it was, it would have spread though the rock edge gap, trapping numerous walkers who were all across the edge.

One land manager on a separate piece of moorland in the Peak District was known to have employed a team of security guards over the weekend to try and stop people using portable BBQs. This responsibility should be that of the Park Rangers, who are paid to do that job yet were nowhere to be seen.

Actions have consequences. It’s time policy makers and officials recognised that. We must do what is proven across the world to work for fire control; not what Luke Steele, Bob Berzins and other Moorland Monitor members or anti-grouse shooting activists try to claim.


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