A summit held today to discuss wildfires in Scotland has been welcomed – but land managers have urged the Scottish Government to listen to fire experts and recognise the value of controlled burning.

Scottish Land & Estates were among representatives to attend the wildlife summit in Beauly organised by MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Kate Forbes MSP.

Bruce Farquharson, deputy assistant chief officer at the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, was among those speaking and he provided an overview of recent wildfire incidents and tools such as muirburn that can help mitigate the wildfire risk.

Tim Baynes, Senior Policy Officer at Scottish Land & Estates, said:

“Wildfire is becoming an evermore present danger to Scotland and we welcome the efforts of Kate Forbes MSP in organising this valuable summit.

“As we have seen in recent years, wildfires have caused devastation across many areas of the Highlands, particularly at Cannich in May as well as the Flow Country fire in 2019 which was estimated to have doubled Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions for the six days it burnt.

“It is up to the Scottish Government, its agencies and stakeholders to look for solutions that can manage the increasing risk as much as possible. That involves taking the views and expertise of gamekeepers and land managers into account and working with them in partnership.

“We spoke at the summit about work going on elsewhere that we can learn from, such as at the Peak District National Park in England where a range of groups and government have come together to develop landscape scale wildfire mitigation planning. Their method combines local practitioner knowledge and professional wildfire expertise to provide a solid evidence base for responding to wildfires and it is an approach we should be looking at.”

SLE also reiterated its call for the value of muirburn to be recognised when managing land susceptible to wildfire.

Mr Baynes added: “Controlled burning of vegetation, commonly known at muirburn, is vital in lowering the risk by reducing the fuel load through which wildfires can spread.

“Deputy assistant chief officer Bruce Farquharson and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service are on record as supporting muirburn as part of the toolkit that we must have at our disposal and it is particularly pertinent at a time when firefighters in Spain and other countries are using controlled burning and backburning to fight their own wildfires.

“The Scottish Government has proposed punitive new restrictions on muirburn, purportedly as part of measures to address the climate emergency, but it is failing to listen to experts that explain why the resulting higher risk of wildfire is much, much worse for both the environment and communities.

“Any form of regulation for muirburn should be proportionate. We are fully supportive of the need for only trained individuals to carry out muirburn and this is already happening with more than 100 land managers and gamekeepers across Scotland receiving the latest approved training, with many more to follow.

“We hope that collective progress can be achieved on tackling wildfires following today’s summit but we would urge the Scottish Government not to take a decision on muirburn that could hamper those efforts for decades to come.”