The launch of Scotland’s new Muirburn Code by Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham recently poses opportunities and challenges for the land management sector.
Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) Scotland has been part of the process of discussion around the new Code that places the traditional and necessary management tool of muirburn, the burning of heather and grass, in a Scottish Government policy context.
The new Code makes it clear that muirburn continues to have a role in stimulating new growth of moorland plant species such as heather and blaeberry that benefit, sheep, deer, grouse and hares. The issues that land managers who use this centuries-old technique now face are how to incorporate this with the Code’s clearly defined interest in soil and water management.
Dr Adam Smith, Director of GWCT Scotland 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. 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.
NFU Scotland’s Ian Wilson said: “With the recent revision of the Muirburn Code we would like to take this opportunity to remind famers 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.”
A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, added: “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.
“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.”