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Positive Signs from a Managed Muirburn in Skye

Published Wednesday, 27th February 2013 in SAC Consulting news


Other parts of Scotland may be sodden or snowbound but on Skye the early spring weather has been good enough to allow many land managers to begin muirburn earlier than usual.

A recent event, organized by the Portree Office of SAC Consulting, offered crofters, deer managers and others a chance to discuss the issues surrounding the controlled burning of heather with an expert from Scotland’s Rural College.

Researcher and lecturer Dr Alistair Hamilton, has particular experience of muirburn in the North-west Highlands and understands the value.

“Well managed muirburn, when done with due regard to environmental impacts and in line with the regulations, can be a very positive management tool in promoting new growth and conserving the species we associate with our moorland habitats”. He says.

“However fewer crofters now carry out muirburn and in some areas a build-up of old vegetation can lead to more severe summer wildfires which can have an impact on wildlife habitats as well as burning peat and releasing carbon”.

The event at Penifiler Common Grazing near Pottree was funded by Scottish Government. The site had been nominated by the Skye Deer Management group and 11 local crofters and group members attended. The muirburn in the area had been well managed, showing no damage to the Sphagnum moss layer and with excellent heather regrowth benefitting wildlife and grazing.

In his demonstration Alistair Hamilton stressed that fire and grazing are both important tools in habitat management. He emphasised the importance of planning and identifying areas to burn, fire breaks, access points for assistance – as well as liaising with neighbours and copying your plan to the local Fire Brigade. Forward planning like this contributes to better executed muirburn, with the backup of a plan to follow if you require more assistance. There were useful tips on which beaters to use (mesh head versus more traditional rubber mat), and appropriate equipment and clothing to wear for fire control.

Alistair also discussed timing. At present all muirburn on Skye happens in spring, but burning   in the autumn can work equally well on the island. It can offer more flexibility for getting work underway, for example using autumn to create the firebreaks for more extensive spring activity. However he reminded everyone that in some circumstances, for example promoting tree growth, it may be more appropriate to reduce grazing and stop muirburn altogether.

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