The crucial role that gamekeepers, stalkers and rural workers played in tackling the huge wildfire at Cannich is being explained in a new video released this week.

Loch Ness Rural Communities, a group highlighting land management, employment, wildlife and conservation that goes on in the Straths around Loch Ness, has released the film in partnership with Scotland’s Regional Moorland Groups.

The video’s first broadcast came at a meeting held this week with Kate Forbes MSP, following on from the wildfire summit organised by Ms Forbes in Beauly last Wednesday.

Gamekeepers spoke of the role they played alongside the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, providing expert knowledge as well as estates supplying vital equipment such as argocats, fogging units and leaf blowers to tackle and contain the wildfire.

Concern was also expressed to Ms Forbes about the Scottish Government’s Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill, which is seeking to introduce punitive new controls on muirburn – increasing the risk and intensity of wildfire as vegetation fuel loads grow.

Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said:

‘First and foremost, I would like to thank all of the firefighters, gamekeepers, rural workers and communities who played an active part in tackling the recent wildfires in Cannich and Daviot.

‘I held a wildfire summit recently, which was a positive first step in learning the lessons of the recent fires and adapting the approach to future fires. I’m grateful to everybody who contributed to the constructive discussion.

‘The clear and consistent message is that wildfires are likely to become more intense and more frequent, as is seen across parts of Europe, unless decisive action is taken.

‘As such we must ensure that we use as many techniques as possible at our disposal for combating fire, including helicopters dropping water but also man-made breaks in vegetation, usually created through backburning.’

Jenny McCallum, coordinator of Loch Ness Rural Communities, said:

“The wildfire at Cannich has had a devastating impact on land, the environment and wildlife in the region – but it could have been even worse had it not been for the selfless actions of rural workers.

“Many gamekeepers and estate staff are skilled and experienced in muirburn techniques and were able to provide frontline assistance to firefighters to contain the flames at points where it was stretching more than two miles wide.

“The film highlights the vital work of just some of those involved, including those who had travelled several hours to get to the area to offer their help. The risk of wildfire is increasing all the time and we need to recognise and give our gratitude to those who are stepping up at their own risk to keep us all safe.”

Lianne MacLennan, National Campaigns Manager at Scotland’s Regional Moorland Groups, said:

“We are really pleased that Ms Forbes took the time to engage with gamekeepers and rural workers as she seeks to make a real difference in how Scotland addresses the growing threat of wildfire.

“What these gamekeepers did at Cannich is a high-profile example of what many have been doing across the country for years. Due to their existing expert knowledge in controlled burning techniques, and the privately funded equipment that estates make available such as argocats, fogging units and leaf blowers, the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service recognises how vital it is to have the assistance of keepers in such a situation.

“When a wildfire occurs, it is firefighters and rural workers who are on the frontline to protect our communities. We would appeal to the Scottish Government to value this expertise and take a step back from measures to penalise estates and grouse moors.”

Ross Ewing, Director of Moorland at Scottish Land & Estates, added:

“One of the key tools we have in preventing the spread of massive wildfires is controlled burning under the right conditions – muirburn. By doing this, we can create firebreaks to help prevent wildfires taking hold.

“A controlled, cool burn will not damage the soils underneath but sadly, as we have seen at Cannich, the ferocious nature of unchecked wildfires will leave lasting damage on the environment for decades to come.

“At a time when countries across the continent are using controlled burning to lessen their own wildfire risk – and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service is on record as supporting muirburn – the Scottish Government is seeking punitive new controls on the practice. Any form of regulation must be proportionate and we thank Kate Forbes MSP for taking on board the deep concerns we have.”

The video, produced by filmmaker Kirk Norbury, can be viewed here: