With devastating scenes of wild fires raging over Saddleworth Moor across the news this week, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is warning of the increased risk of similar disasters if proposals to re-wild many of the UK’s upland areas are pursued.

Risk factors of predicted climate change and weather patterns combined with the removal of grazing animals could mean the fires causing distress amongst people living and working in the area could become more widespread.

The organisation said that in the past grazed areas have protected uplands from out of control fires by creating natural firebreaks.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said: “Wildfires are becoming more common across the UK, in part due to a loss of grazing animals and an increase in high volumes of dry vegetation.

“The result is causing immense environmental damage including the loss of peat and release of carbon into the atmosphere, the destruction of mammals and young birds, the potential loss of domesticated livestock and of course, a risk to human health.

“The grazed nature of most of our uplands has, in the past, protected us from out of control fires, meaning that when fires occur as they inevitably will, they are short lived and relatively easy to get under control.

This is a practical example of how sheep farming has an integral relationship with our planet and connects our landscape, our people and our wildlife and environment through natural and traditional land management whilst also producing food and fibre from plants and regions that would not otherwise feed and clothe us.

Extending sympathy and concern to all affected by the blaze currently affecting over 6km² of land on Saddleworth Moor, Stocker continued: “The NSA is not aiming to win political gain from a clearly distressing and damaging event and our thoughts go to all affected in the area.

“However, we do feel the need to point out that moves to re-wild many of our upland areas would put far more and far larger areas at risks.”