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Yet another wildfire, and yet another denial of the truth

On Wednesday, a wildfire broke out on Marsden Moor near Saddleworth Moor. Saddleworth, of course, was the location of a particularly fierce moorland fire in 2018, which burned for three weeks, and forced over 150 people to be evicted from their homes.

Fortunately, thanks to quick thinking from fire crews and volunteers, Wednesday’s wildfire was brought under control rapidly. But the odd similarity between the two fires is that both the 2018 fire and the one this week is that both broke out on moorland that was unmanaged. At the time of the Saddleworth Moor fire, the RSPB’s moorland management policy – which does not include controlled burning of heather and scrub – was questioned. As now, it was in the middle of a dry spell, and warnings had been put out about the risks of moorland fires.

The fire at Marsden this week was on National Trust land; land on which controlled burning isn’t used. “Instead of using controlled burning, we focus on re-wetting the moorland to reduce the risk of fire spreading” state the National Trust, arguing that with cool burns, the “fire can also kill insects and animals such as small mammals and reptiles”.

It is worth mentioning perhaps that Marsden Moor was the scene of a number of wildfires in 2019 as well, the largest of which damaged 700 hectares of moorland and took four days to put out. The National Trust asked for donations to help cover the cost of the repairs, which they estimate at £500,000 for all of the 2019 fires.

The sad thing that all of this devastation would be far less likely to have occurred had the Trust practised proper moorland management, including the use of cool burns to remove dead and old vegetation which provides a fuel load for wildfires, and to create fire breaks which stop them in their tracks if they do start. This would surely make more sense than the current practice, which appears to be to provide near-optimum conditions for wildfires, and then pay to have the outcome ‘fixed’. The sad thing is that no amount of money can bring back the habitats destroyed by these wildfires, or the birds’ nests and eggs, and insect life.

In a piece in the Manchester Evening News, Craig Best, countryside manager for the National Trust confirms that “rangers and volunteers found destroyed nests along with burnt remains of eggs and other animals that could not escape the flames”. The likes of the National Trust, along with Moorland Monitors and other campaigners, state that cool, managed burns can harm wildlife and precious moorland flora. But surely they can see that the alternative is a thousand times worse?


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