SCOTLAND'S FIRE and Rescue Service has declared its intention to trial the greater use of controlled muirburn next spring, following a successful burning season which saw no wildfires on managed moorland.

The controlled burning practice advocated by SFRS to reduce the amount of dead plant matter available to fuel wildfires is the same as the rotational strip burning employed by gamekeepers undertaking muirburn in the traditional manner on sporting estates.

Scottish Land and Estates’ moorland director, Tim Baynes, said: “There are many misconceptions about muirburn but the fact that Scotland’s fire service is now looking to introduce controlled burning next spring shows how important it is to adopt these methods and our members will continue to work closely with SFRS.

“The practice of muirburn has been established for generations and is conducted to the highest modern standards in accordance with methodology in the Muirburn Code, launched 18 months ago by the Scottish Government. Muirburn is based on sound science and we know from experience that wildfires will usually stop when they reach a managed grouse moor," said Mr Baynes.

“This season we have seen several major wildfires in Scotland but we understand none of them were related to muirburn for grouse management," he added. "Muirburn on grouse moors rarely causes wildfires and actually helps to prevent them.”

SLE said that a fire danger rating system, which is already in place in countries including the USA, Australia and Canada, should also be developed for the UK to define the likelihood of a fire starting and spreading, and the impact this may have upon nearby populations – and has written to the Scottish Government and the James Hutton Institute offering support for separate projects to research this idea.

Head gamekeeper at Dunmaglass Estate, and also a part-time firefighter with the SFRS, Iain Hepburn, said: “Controlled seasonal burning and cutting are effective methods to reduce the risk of damage from wild fires by providing breaks in continuous moorland cover and reducing the fuel load.

"A useful technique, known as ‘back burning’, enables the keeper to control a fire by lighting another in a strategically placed position which then burns towards the wildfire and in turn puts out both fires. This requires a lot of skill and knowledge and the practices we use can be shared for the benefit of fire crews and communities in rural areas elsewhere," he explained.

Around 50 gamekeepers went to help the SFRS tackle the wildfire in Moray last week, from as far afield as Grampian, Speyside, Tomatin and Loch Ness. The keepers brought specialist equipment to help the fire service extinguish the blaze. A quick response from SFRS and gamekeepers with backburning knowledge is also credited with stopping a wildfire that could have spread on a huge scale on the banks of Loch Ness last week.