We are reaching a situation which is beyond disgraceful regarding wildfire prevention
What follows is not complicated, but we have kept it as short and simple as possible because some people appear to be unable to understand even the simplest logic.
Once again we are into a maelstrom of wildfires. More than fifty since February. More than twenty last weekend. These are underestimates: not all get reported immediately, and with the dry weather persisting, they will continue to rise. It is now normal and expected that significant parts of the uplands owned or managed by the conservation industry will go up in flames whenever there is a dry, sunny spell in spring or summer. This time RSPB Dovestones has burnt, again, Marsden has burnt, again, and a spectacular fire, a kilometre wide has swept through re-wilded land near Loch Lomand. There has even been a catastrophic blaze in a nature reserve's tidal reed beds on the Wirral.
These fires are not a surprise. They are the same problem that occurred last year, and the year before, and the year before that. They have become so predictable that locals say that the first sign of spring around Marsden is not the arrival of the swallow, but the sight of a convoy of fire engines racing up to the moor. They occur disproportionately on land where traditional landscape management techniques have been banned by conservationists such as the RSPB and the National Trust.
Historically moorlands, where most of these wildfires have occurred, have been subject to rotational cool burning. This is designed to create a mosaic of different ages and heights of vegetation, increasing biodiversity, but also crucially reducing and breaking up fuel load and creating fire breaks. Where these techniques are still being used on some privately owned grouse moors, if some idiot starts a fire, it is much easier to contain and extinguish it, because it lacks extensive areas of deep, unbroken, and combustible vegetation. That is why the people who have managed these moors for generations think that the reason there are so many fires on conservation industry moors is that they have abandoned rotational burning.
For their part, the conservation industry position is that if you re-wet the moors they will not burn and there is no need to reduce or break up fuel load as this is 'Unnatural' and a 'Red Herring'. Management can be abandoned and the moorland vegetation can grow as long, dense and continuous as it likes. So much do they dislike rotational burning that they have run a long, and increasingly hysterical, campaign to get all rotational burning banned completely. This has been only partially successful, despite being supported by their co-conspirators in Natural England, who use every opportunity to stop even private owners from managing their moors.
We are reaching a situation which is beyond disgraceful. Where the people who own the moors that are going up in smoke are trying to force the people who own the moors that are not, to stop doing what they know protects them from wildfire.
The people whose moors are not burning believe that the retention of rotational burning is essential for the landscapes safety from wildfire.
The Fire and Rescue Services have made it repeatedly clear that reducing fuel load, breaking it up and creating fire breaks is a minimum requirement for controlling the problem of wildfires.
Internationally, countries that are experiencing wildfire problems, are re-instating rotational burning as an essential element of their wildfire control and mitigation strategies, having realised thanks to painful experience that banning rotational burning was a serious mistake.
Even the scientists are concerned that the fanatical opposition to traditional moorland management demonstrated by some of the more extreme elements in the conservation industry has gone so far as to be dangerous. A multi-authored peer-reviewed paper published by the Royal Society, one of the most respected science organisations, contained the following words.
'Fire is a valued and integral component of of the eco-system manager's tool kit....Throughout Europe managers, ecologists, and conservationists value proscribed burning as a tool to protect and restore globally rare heathland and moorland eco-systems and there is a growing body of scientific literature to inform best practice. Much of this knowledge comes from research in the UK and it is ironic that while the public debate here has shifted against the use of fire, scientists in other countries are using this evidence to promote the re-introduction of burning.
Elsewhere the paper says;'The conversation needs to move away from unhelpful hyperbole about banning part of the eco-systems managers toolkit and focus on how to use it well.'
But none of this has any effect. No impact at all on the closed minds of the conservation industry. The locals are wrong. The practitioners are wrong. The Fire and Rescue are wrong. France, the USA, Spain etc, etc are wrong. The Royal Society scientists are wrong. Everybody with any practical knowledge is wrong. Only they are right. Re-wet and abandon management and there will be no problem. Yet they have fire, after fire, after fire. As for re-wetting, think of the huge and dreadful reed bed fire on the Wirral marshes. They were regularly flooded by the tide. How much wetter can you get the land than a tidal swamp. Yet it burnt.