CARELESS BEHAVIOUR in the countryside post-lockdown could heighten wildfire risk in Scotland.

The warmest spring on record coincided with the nationwide lockdown which saw many people confined to their homes for weeks on end.

With lockdown measures beginning to lessen during phase one of the Scottish Government’s plans, the public has been desperate to get out and explore their newfound freedoms, but this has been met with a warning that disposable barbecues and tinder dry conditions could lead to dangerous consequences.

The risk of wildfires in Scotland remains exceptionally high following the period of hot dry weather and the public have been urged to leave items such as barbecues at home.

This warning came following a spate of wildfires south of the border, including one on Bamford Moor in Derbyshire’s Peak District on Saturday evening. The fire, which is believed to have been started by a barbecue, was tackled by gamekeepers using their own specialist firefighting equipment until fire services arrived.

It also follows a series of fires in Scotland over the past quarter including those at Glenfeshie in the Highlands, Strathpeffer in Rossshire and in Stirlingshire near Bannockburn.

Moorland Director at Scottish Land and Estates, Tim Baynes, said that private investment in equipment and manpower by estates which provides this wildfire fighting service is estimated to be in the tens of millions of pounds across the country.

“Each year we are witnessing more and more wildfires occurring on moorland and grassland and this period of exceptionally hot weather in the UK has heightened the risk once again,” said Mr Baynes.

“These fires often occur by innocuous means such as discarded cigarettes and disposable barbecues and we need to ensure the correct precautions are taken by those accessing hills and moors. Sadly, those managing rural land have found more careless behaviour occurring since lockdown rather than less,” he continued.

“Wildfires not only create a safety risk for all of us but are also devastating for wildlife, particularly for ground nesting birds, insects and mammals. We would urge the public to take care and leave items such as barbecues at home.

Head gamekeeper, Iain Hepburn, at Dunmaglass Estate, has first-hand experience of dealing with wildfires: “Being a retained firefighter myself I know only too well how a wildfire can quickly take hold and rage out of control. Understanding the techniques for mitigating the risk is essential, particularly in remote rural areas of Scotland where large areas of land are at high risk during warm weather.

“The recent wildfire in Stirlingshire saw gamekeepers from local estates in the Tayside and Central Scotland Moorland Group quickly on the scene, along with local farmers and other volunteers, to help tackle the fire that broke out in woodland and quickly spread to the open hill, which posed a serious threat to the nesting territories of rare birds,” he stressed. “Applying their knowledge and skills, along with the aid of estate equipment including leaf blowers which are used to manage controlled burns, considerably helped in preventing the further spread of this wildfire."