SCOTLAND'S Muirburn Code has been updated following a review commissioned by the Scottish Government – but the best thing that moorland managers have had to say about the new code is to express the hope that further industry consultation will improve its practical guidance.

Undertaken by Scotland’s Moorland Forum, an independent body made up of 'key stakeholders' from across all areas of land management, the review gathered opinion on muirburn from a wide range of agencies, groups and individuals, and included a series of ‘talk and walk’ workshops held across Scotland, from Skye to the Borders. A final workshop was then held in Central Scotland to discuss and incorporate all the feedback and refine a draft version of the code, to ensure that the end product was "representative of the many interests involved in and affected by muirburn".

Launching the updated code, Scottish environment cabinet secretary Roseanna Cunningham said that it clearly set out "best practice and guidance" for burning and cutting heather and other vegetation as a land management tool.

“The revised code aims to minimise the practice's negative impacts on wildlife, landscapes and ecosystem services, while also enhancing the wider socio-economic and environmental benefits well-managed muirburn practices can have," said Ms Cunningham.

“I would like to encourage practitioners to continue working together to enhance the supplementary information that has been developed in support of the Code."

Moorland Forum director Simon Thorp acknowledged that the new code, as published, was more of a starting point than a finished product: “The publication of this revised Code should be seen as the first step in a process to develop guidance that will aim to improve practitioners’ understanding of fire, fire behaviour and the role of cutting, and the techniques and equipment that allow the management of moorland to be carried out safely and effectively.”

Amongst the key muirburn 'must nots' highlighted in the code are:

• burning between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise;

• burning within 30metres of a public road;

• creating smoke that is a nuisance;

• intentionally or recklessly damaging an SSSI, or harassing birds listed in Schedule 1A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, including damage to nests;

• killing, injuring or disturbing protected mammals, such as badger, wildcat, otter, pine marten or water vole, including damage to their place of shelter.

Reacting, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust said that the new code posed "opportunities and challenges" for the land management sector, as the long established tool of muirburn was formalised into a Scottish Government policy context.

GWCT Scotland director Dr Adam Smith said: "This new Code is much more policy document than practical guide to doing good things for our game and wildlife with muirburn.

"While we welcome guidance to protect very deep peat habitats and hydrology, there is a lack of evidence for some assumed negative impacts of fire or positive benefits of not burning, and not enough recognition of the positive role of muirburn for biodiversity and reducing the risk of wildfire.

"It also seems likely that some of the Code changes will prove challenging to deliver in real world conditions," warned Dr Smith. "We welcome assurances that this is a living document so we can continue to feedback our experience of muirburn into the Code so it can evolve over the years."

Scottish Land and Estates senior policy officer Anne Gray said: “The launch of an updated Muirburn Code is an important step in our continual drive to ensure Scotland’s uplands are managed in the most effective way possible.

“A code regulating muirburn in Scotland has been in place since 1424, and the drive for a refresh of the 2011 version was accelerated by multiple wildfires which occurred in the north-west Highlands in 2013. Muirburn is a powerful tool that must be used carefully by people who have the necessary skill and experience and there is a desire to keep improving their knowledge and techniques to ensure best practice is maintained.

“We would have liked to have seen this new version contain greater practical guidance on how to carry out muirburn safely rather than the code functioning primarily as a policy document," said Ms Gray. "However, there is an opportunity for stakeholders to look at a practitioners’ guide more closely to ensure crofters, farmers and gamekeepers have access to the latest advice on muirburn techniques.

“Muirburn brings environmental benefits, particularly in providing the right habitat for endangered upland birds such as curlew and golden plover, and the only native bird found only in UK uplands, the red grouse. Muirburn and grazing also prevents the reversion of moorland to scrub woodland, whereupon those precious open moorland species would be lost forever.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “There are elements of the updated Code which are undoubtedly an improvement. However, we are disappointed that additions to the document – not discussed by the Moorland Forum partners or working group – were introduced late on, turning what was planned to be a practitioner’s guide more into a list of what people should and shouldn’t do.

“We have heard similar views from other stakeholders who genuinely saw this as an opportunity to get everyone who practices muirburn, as an important management tool, to do so to an agreed high standard," said the gamekeepers.

“If work on the supplementary material takes greater account of the working knowledge of those who actually practice muirburn, it may stand a better chance of getting the buy-in it seeks but we cannot be assured this will be the case. We hope that there will be continuing support from the Scottish Government to continue the work that has been started.”

NFU Scotland’s Highland regional manager Ian Wilson said: “With the recent revision of the Muirburn Code we would like to take this opportunity to remind famers and crofters of the importance of abiding by the rules when cutting and burning heather and vegetation as a land management tool. Being able to safely control heather growth is vital for many of our members in order to improve grazing for sheep, as well as grouse moor management.

“We need to ensure that muirburn is done in a controlled and well thought through manner by experienced and knowledgeable groups so as to avoid fires getting out of control and possibly becoming large scale wildfires.”

The muirburn season runs from October 1 to April 15. A PDF version of the code will be available to download from the Scottish Natural Heritage website, but there is also a dedicated website – –to present the code and its associated supplementary information, in web format.