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Some lessons in wildfire prevention, as demonstrated on a Calderdale moor

In June 2010, a wildfire started by a group of youngsters with a campfire took out all of the heather on a piece of moorland near Heptonstall, which lies just to the south of this reservoir shown on the diagram below.

Keepers and firemen eventually got on top of this wildfire. However it was a severe fire, due to a lack of fire breaks and the fact that the canopy consisted of a high fuel load of old, woody heather. But even dark clouds such as this can have a silver lining as fortunately, lessons were learned from this wildfire. Ever since this fire happened, and due to its severity, the land managers and keepers have been allowed to conduct responsible heather burning. When and only when the heather had recovered enough, land managers and keepers were allowed to conduct small cool burn fires, using both cutting and burning to create a mosaic of different heather stands. The managed moorland recovered, with rewetting and gulley blocking used as well, to enable the ground to hold as much water as possible.

In May of this year, another wildfire took out 35 acres of moorland. It damaged nests of waders, grouse and other ground-nesting birds, but it was manageable. Keepers, farmers and the fireservice worked together and were able to contain the fire. Some of the main reasons why this fire was controllable were because the fuel load had been reduced and through the responsible creation of fire breaks, on land managed mainly for the benefit of grouse.

The map above shows the recent Calderdale wildfire alongside recent cutting and burning conducted in the last recent years. It also demonstrates how the fire was got under control using fire breaks created through cutting and burning. The message from the gamekeepers on the ground in this hugely vulnerable area of the uplands? Rewild these moorland areas at your peril; this very landscape management saves the peat from destruction by large and dangerously hot wildfires.


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