Land managers asked to stop muirburn during Covid-19 pandemic

Moorland managers are being urged by Scottish Land & Estates not to undertake muirburn (controlled burning of heather) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This public plea comes with the view of ensuring there is no chance for any additional strain being put on public services at this time.

The fortnight before the end of the main muirburn season, on April 15, is said to be a very busy time for muirburn, as it is often the only time when the heather is dry enough.

However, even after a careful risk assessment shows conditions are safe for burning, there could still be a very small risk of a fire getting out of control and needing emergency services to be called out. This could divert resources from elsewhere and put others at risk.

During this pandemic, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) potentially, would not be available and so a wildfire may not be controlled, or an ambulance or hospital bed may not be available to treat anyone injured.

As a result, Tim Baynes, director of moorland at Scottish Land & Estates urged land managers not to undertake anymore muirburn for the rest of the season.

“Even though the risk of the fire getting out of control is very small, we want to be absolutely 100% certain that there is no additional call on the fire or ambulance service and the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“Muirburn is a strictly regulated and essential tool to manage moorland and has many benefits including enhancing biodiversity and conservation.

Putting back a muirburn programme will have consequences, so I urge land managers to keep a record of muirburn foregone because of the current situation, and any impact that has on wildlife and biodiversity.

Muirburn is the traditional way to manage moorland and has been practised for centuries, resulting in Scotland’s renowned purple heather landscape.

Muirburn is strictly regulated, and the benefits are recognised by the government, its agencies as well as those who manage land.

Recent research shows that careful muirburn has minimal impact on the peat layer below and can actually be beneficial because the charcoal formed by burning is a stable form of carbon storage, helping to prevent it being released into the atmosphere.