Wildfire prevention plans should be mandatory, says SGA

-Scottish Government can stop public cash being lost-

Scottish Gamekeepers Association says Scottish Government should introduce mandatory wildfire prevention planning

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has called on Scottish Government to introduce compulsory wildfire mitigation planning in the wake of the devastating blaze at Cannich.

The representative body says significant tax payer spend on habitat schemes and planting programmes is being lost through lack of proper wildfire planning.

Poor access to the right fire equipment and skills and lack of necessary fuel load management is placing a major strain on Scotland’s fire service and risking human safety, property and wildlife.

Furthermore, millions of pounds of tax payers’ money is being lost needlessly through an inability to learn how to protect public investment from increasing wildfire incidents.

This week’s blaze raged over nearly 2000 hectares of forestry, impacting private farmland, Forestry and Land Scotland woodlands and the RSPB Scotland reserve at Corrimony.

It is the second time in 25 years the RSPB Corrimony reserve has gone up in flames, with trees subsidised by scarce public cash, now torched.

Gamekeepers tackle the fire on the open hill at Cannich, preventing spread to nearby forestry blocks

'We risk going in the wrong direction' 

“The rest of the world is waking to measures required to protect people and habitats from wildfire. In Scotland, through the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill, we risk going in the opposite direction by making it much harder for land managers to protect land by reducing un-managed fuel loads,” lamented SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg, MBE.

“The results of this will be loss to humans, animals and properties. Instead of placing restrictions on fuel management, and in recognition of the longer fire seasons we are experiencing, it should become compulsory for land owners to have proper wildlife mitigation plans in place. This should also be made a condition where public money is being spent on habitat programmes.

“We have an incoherent policy landscape which says: reduce grazing, encourage unfettered public access and introduce more and more combustible vegetation into our landscape. The combination of this, in drier weather, is a disaster waiting to happen.

“Too much well intentioned public money is going up in flames through lack of proper planning. If the Scottish Government spends £250m on peatland restoration, without prerequisite fuel load management, it may as well start lighting pound notes.

“It might be admirable but it’s no use to anyone if it goes up in smoke.”

Skyhook helicopter crews were praised by gamekeepers for their precision water drops at the Cannich wildfire

'Gamekeepers fighting fire alone on RSPB reserve'


Around 16 gamekeepers, a local farmer and his staff joined the SFRS fire-fighting effort using their equipment and skills developed in undertaking controlled burning, which some environmental groups such as beneficiaries, RSPB Scotland, are now seeking to restrict. 

According to eye witnesses, RSPB staff had access to only one water tank during the fire, with no means to replenish it - and some fire besoms.

When gamekeepers arrived to help at the reserve, RSPB staff left.

One gamekeeper said: “If RSPB had the proper equipment, planning and knowledge, they would not have been in the situation.”

Another, gamekeeper Steven Gray, said he and 2 gamekeepers were fire-fighting on the reserve, with no RSPB staff present at all. By communicating with a chopper pilot, they managed to get the helicopter to dump water to save the fire getting into a stand of trees. 

Gamekeepers carried out back-burning to prevent the loss of built structures around the fire and extinguished an open hill fire on Tuesday evening before it hit forestry.

“If the fire had gone in there it would have continued on to Glen Affric,” added Gray, who also praised the precision work of Skyhook helicopter staff.

Niall MacLennan, Group Commander and Wildfire Tactical Advisor with SFRS said: “Iain Hepburn, who works in partnership with SFRS in conjunction with Bright Spark Burning Techniques and the SGA was approached for support. Iain and his team created a number of breaks to act as control lines, which were effective in controlling and suppressing the fire.”


Further Reading:

The BBC has reported that the Cannich wildfire could be the largest recorded in the UK https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-65765053

  • Smoke from the fire was seen from space on NASA pictures, according to Sky News https://news.sky.com/story/smoke-from-massive-wildfire-near-cannich-in-the-scottish-highlands-visible-from-space-12893662
  • 2 SFRS fire fighters were airlifted to hospital after an ATV they were traveling on overturned
  • People close to blaze site were told to stay inside and close windows
  • RSPB Corrimony experienced a major wildfire before, in 1997
  • RSPB Scotland received money from Scottish Forest Alliance to expand the Caledonian Pinewoods at the Corrimony reserve. Forest Alliance project funding was sourced through oil giant BP, EU, Scottish Govt funding sources and Lottery cash. Much of this investment will now be lost.
  • In the last 5 years there have been several record wildfires on RSPB reserves or properties managed or managed, in-part, by the RSPB, which actively campaigns against the use of prescribed burning to reduce vegetation build-up.


Wildfires at RSPB properties in the past 5 years, include:


  • Forsinard Flows, reported to have almost doubled Scotland’s entire carbon emissions (see pics below). Interestingly, Scottish Government doesn't count these emissions in its greenhouse gas emissions inventory. Why?
  • Tay reed beds, home to marsh harriers, water rails and bearded tits (around 30% of the entire reed bed lost)
  • Saddleworth, described as the largest English wildfire in living memory. Study found that 5 million people were exposed to ‘dangerous’ levels of air pollution
  • Crowden Moor: people told to avoid the area due to large smoke plumes
  • Dove Stone: two and a half football pitches of woodland destroyed
  • Old Hall Marshes: SSSI went up in dry and windy conditions, scorching 5 hectares of woodland and grass
  • Fairburn Ings: wardens stated the wildfire put back restoration work by 30 years
  • Burton Mere Wetlands Reserve: important reed beds on the SSSI were devastated


Forsinard Fire

In the aftermath of the Forsinard fire, RSPB officials claimed to Moorland Forum members that rewetting work done on the reserve by RSPB stopped the fire. These images (taken by those on the scene fighting the fire) show a digger creating a huge fire break by trenching deep into the peat at Forsinard. This fire break- and a fortuitous change in wind direction- finally brought the fire to a standstill before it created even greater damage. The RSPB claim is therefore disputed by those in attendance at the scene.

A digger trenches a fire-break deep into the peat at Forsinard Flows, helping to bring the wildfire to an end. 

SGA NEWS photo



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