MUIRLAND MANAGEMENT : FIRE
This website is intended to discuss places and what you can find around West Dunbartonshire. So why do we find a section on muirland management here?
Each year, almost invariably in spring and summer as the weather offers us lovely sunny drier days, we see smoke rising from the muirs. So what?, many may ask. Each burn takes out the older dry growth and spurrs on new growth. Afterall, muirs are intentionally burnt by land owners. Some muirlands are burnt to increase game birds such as red grouse. To achieve this there needs to be a very carefully considered strategy to clear overgrown areas and stimulate fresh growth so attracting such game birds. But this is so often to the detriment of other indigenous birds.
The fires across our local muirlands are almost always started indescrimately and certainly not properly managed. The culprits are almost always local delinquents out for a bit of irresponsible excitement.
There are several problems :
- Not only do the burnings become a danger to those starting them, but if not fully controlled, can reach homes, farm building and livestock as well as walkers who are often out with their dogs.
- Wildlife is always affected. This is most severe during the breeding season when young cannot escape. The timing of the fires is crucial, not only for birds and small mamals, but also for a vareity of insects and other creatures that are reproducing around this time. Their demise does not only affect them, but those higher up the food chain. There is a surpringly wide range of often rare creatures such as moths dependent on our muirland.
- Most flowers and other vegetation becomes dormant during the winter months and can survive almost anything from frost to fire, but when fire occurs when they are at their most exhuberant, they can be wiped out completely.
- Fires are a menace for walkers and other out to enjoy the muirlands. Not only do fires interfere with pathways, but the smoke can drift across urban areas becoming both an irritant and a health hazard.
- Out of control muirland fires can distract our fire services from other fires needing their attention. A muirland fire in the hills above West Dunabrtonshire's urban areas can burn for several days and can be very difficutl for fire fighters to reach.
When muirland is intentionally burnt under properly controlled conditions, ususally referred to as muirburn, this is done according to a specific code. This means that it is in the right place, avoids damage to sensitive habitats and ecosystem services, doesn’t lead to wildfire and is timed to minimise the impact on crops and livestock. There is even a course available for those intending to manage their muirland in this way. Of course, many promote muir cutting rather than burning.
The millburn code has been published by the Scottish Government through Nature Scot, Scotland's nature agency, a link to which can be found below.
So for peat's sake, be careful with your disgarded cigarette or BBQ fire.
Groups of delinquent youths run off having been spotted. They had been setting fire indescriminately along the paths on Carman Muir.
This fire having been set by the youths has spread across grass and heather into gorse which goes up in flame rather dramatically. This fire then threatened some mature trees which were thankfully only scorched.
At the time that this photo was taken, the youths were long gone.
This view of Carman Muir was taken in early April. Much of the gorse has regrown, the heather is still brown as is the grass. Beyond the immediate thicket you can see the charred remains of larger gorse bushes and beyond them some small trees. The vegetation in this state is highly combustible. If it is burnt now, it will recover to some extent, but the overall balance will be harmed.
NATURE SCOT website : https://www.nature.scot/muirburn-code