Sporting estates and gamekeepers across Scotland today launched a new initiative – Heather on FireOK! – to raise public awareness of why Scotland’s heather-clad hills are burning.
Heather on FireOK! has been launched to demonstrate why muirburn – the controlled burning of heather – is necessary to protect habitat and bird species.
Muirburn largely takes place in the spring and often raises questions over why parts of Scotland’s moorland landscape are ablaze.
Estates and gamekeepers are now stepping up efforts via social media, blogs and videos to raise public awareness of why they set the heather on fire. Please see our latest muirburn video shot with the help of the Lammermuirs Moorland Group last week here or follow the action on twitter through #heatheronfireok!.
The benefits of burning include:-
- Helping to keep Scotland’s heather clad hills purple.
- Providing the best habitat for a host of different bird species.
- Preventing the spread of wildfires.
Hans McKenzie Wilson, a head gamekeeper on the Invercauld Estate in Aberdeenshire and member of the Grampian Moorland Group, said: “It’s vital we get the message across to the public that setting the heather on fire is OK. If we don’t use the heather we will lose it and that would be a tragedy for everyone. Our purple heather is the landscape that people from all over the world adore.
“Grouse thrive in this habitat and so do a host of other bird species – especially curlew, lapwing and golden plover which are worryingly low in numbers these days.
“As every gardener will know you have to cut your lawn to keep the grass healthy and that’s what we do with heather.”
Iain Hepburn, head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estates, who is a part time fireman, said: “We keep the fires under control and one of the biggest challenges we face in the countryside is combating wildfires.
“Controlled burning helps hugely in preventing the spread of wildfires and there is an army of gamekeepers on estates across Scotland who work together to stop wildfires which are a real problem in the summer months.”
Tim Baynes, director of the Gift of Grouse campaign, said: “Burning heather is the same as getting your hair cut. It needs to happen for the heather to thrive. It’s important that we do everything we can to inform the public why it is happening and what benefits it delivers.
“Well-kept heather is very nutritious for a range of species but overgrown, rank heather as we call it is an unattractive habitat for wildlife and takes longer to regenerate, while posing a much higher wildfire risk.”
“There are currently six regional moorland groups that work to highlight the role that estates and the shooting industry play in rural community wellbeing and environmental management. Prescribed muirburn is one of the main moorland management activities currently taking place and being promoted by groups such as the Lammermuirs Moorland Group and the Tayside & Central Moorland Group. These groups’ members and gamekeepers are highly skilled, trained and well equipped to carry out muirburn procedures in a safe and controlled manner.”
Muirburn is carried out between 1st October and April 15th under the Scottish Government’s Muirburn Code, which sets out best practice guidelines for land managers.