By Iain Hepburn, head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate and member of the Loch Ness Rural Communities
Muirburn largely takes place in the spring and often raises questions over why parts of Scotland’s moorland landscape are ablaze. I know only too well the importance of health and safety during the Muirburn season being a part-time fireman, and relish this opportunity to support the Heather on FireOK! initiative and to explain to the general public on the benefits of controlled heather burning.
Our purple heather is iconic to Scotland’s rural landscape and if we don’t carry out heather burning we could gradually lose our much loved heather forever and that would be a tragedy for not only the people but for the habitats and species which depend upon it.
Grouse thrive in this habitat and so do other bird species – especially curlew, lapwing and golden plover which are low in numbers these days. Well managed heather provides a mosaic of different ages and is one of the oldest land management techniques which is still an essential part of grouse moor management today.
As every gardener will know you have to cut your lawn to keep the grass healthy and that’s what we do with heather. 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.
One of the biggest challenges firemen face in the countryside is combating wildfires. It is imperative to understand that the controlled burning of heather helps hugely in preventing the spread of wildfires and there is an army of gamekeepers on estates across Scotland working together to stop wildfires which pose a real threat in summer months.
If a wildfire does break out locally all of the local gamekeepers, estate workers, foresters and of course the regional fire service will rush to the area. Typically everyone would meet in a safe location on the moorland to assess the situation and the action required, we would decide where best to place hand beaters and where the use of Agrocats, which are specially designed with water tanks and sprayers to fight wildfires, would be more appropriate.
Throughout the muirburn season we have been at the mercy of Scotland’s unpredictable weather and are continuing to work hard at Dunmaglass Estate to ensure that the heather is maintained for all the species which benefit from it and this year’s grouse shooting season.
To read more about the Heather on FireOK! initiative please see the full press release here.