For the first time in a while, heather moorland has been number one item on the news because of the ‘hot’ fire on Saddleworth Moor.

The nearest fires to us were on the ranges at Otterburn. Although they were 40 miles away, our air was thick with smoke.

My memories of the heatwave in 1976 are getting vague. I remember driving north to Eriboll, in Sutherland. The country was like the Sahara until we got to Eriboll.

My uncle Joe’s few cows and wee dumpy Angus bull, all rolling fat, were lying in a meadow full of wild flowers. The grass was so deep that only the top of their backs and heads were showing as they flicked the flies off with their ears.

The other main item on the news has been Brexit. The farmer in me prays that we get a soft Brexit as favoured by Theresa May. I wonder how many of the hardliners, like David Davis, Boris Johnston and Jacob Rees Mogg, rely as much as we do on trade with Europe.

Donald Trump’s increasingly hard line policy on international trade indicates that dealing with ‘America First’ would be no salvation. Most of us find that for a harmonious relationship, we have to take a bit and leave a bit.

I wonder what will happen to Michael Gove as he is one of the Prime Minister’s main supporters in her soft Brexit stance. He is the first front line politician for decades to be entrusted with the agricultural portfolio.

Gove is the consummate politician and, in Brexit and his attitude to farming, is a realist. I hope that he won’t be moved at this critical time.

Criticism that he hasn’t given us guidance on future policy is unjust as so much in the wider sphere is still undecided. Apart from indications that future support will be increasingly directed at the environment, we must remain in the dark.

Realistically, if it is no longer to be based on area and headage payments, as we know them, are internationally taboo, there aren’t many options other than the environment. Hopefully, the new regulations will not hamper food production and won’t cost as much to implement as government pays in support.

The environment is, of course – except on the highest mountains – not only subjective, but entirely man made. Attempts to freeze-frame it at any point in time are at the discretion of those with a controlling interest whether they be grouse shooters, farmers or tree huggers.

Recent policy to protect raptors and corvids has decimated songbirds. Allowing badger numbers to expand exponentially has also seen hedgehogs disappear.

Like breeding livestock, most things we do have an unintended consequence. The visually obvious consequence of the reduction of sheep on our hills has been the domination of heather by hill grasses. Sheep prefer these and kept them grazed down.

In times such as we are presently experiencing they are like tinder. Although I have burned heather many times, I have never experienced a ‘hot’ fire like on Saddleworth Moor, where the fire got into the peat.

These were rare because burning took place in the spring, or occasionally in the autumn. Conditions were never as dry then as they are at this moment. If it was very dry, we burnt a strip on the lee of the projected main fire to act as a fire break, or we burned into a river.

I did witness a heather fire which developed into a hot fire on a neighbouring farm. The fire started in an area of long heather which hadn’t been grazed for a decade. Three thousand acres over several farms were absolutely scorched. The remoteness of the location precluded fire engines and the fire eventually burned itself out.

I went to see it some days after. The heat had been so intense that all fences had been destroyed and bull snouts three feet high had been reduced to tiny piles of ash. Some time after I spoke to a shepherd, part of whose hirsel had been burned.

His boss, a low ground man who was interested primarily in grouse shooting, had asked him to assess the damage with view to a claim. The answer wouldn’t have pleased him.

The shepherd, like most Lammermuir sheep folk, thought that it was the best thing that could have happened. Unlike those who only visit our hills for a few days in August, he knew that nature would quickly regenerate and his sheep would benefit for years to come.

Part of Rawburn had been an artillery range in the Second World War. When we burned that area, we uncovered shells, hundreds of them, which had previously been hidden by the heather. Most were solid lumps of steel. The ones with a brass nose cone were high explosive which had failed to detonate. We notified the Army Bomb Disposal Unit, who blew them up.

One of our shepherds, by then retired, told me that he had been on his ground looking his sheep when the Polish army was firing on another part of the farm. He met a Polish soldier and, as they were chatting ... 'wheeeee', they heard a shell coming their way. They dived for cover and seconds later there was a tremendous explosion some yards away. Our man was badly shaken. The Pole not so much.

Dusting himself down, he looked at the still smoking hole in the ground and asked: “Vot you think, rebbits?”