The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation is extremely proud of its gamekeeper members on Saddleworth Moor. There is no doubt that our moorland gamekeepers, where fire has raged for more than three days, are extremely courageous heroes.
The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation is extremely proud of its gamekeeper members on Saddleworth Moor. There is no doubt that our moorland gamekeepers, where fire has raged for more than three days, are extremely courageous heroes. They were one of the first to respond to this catastrophe on this wonderful area of heather moorland, which is home to some of our most spectacular wildlife. It was their knowledge, experience and expertise that has helped to gain control of the flames on this spectacular landscape.
Today, as the fire starts to subside, we caught up with one of the keepers to gain his insight on this dreadful event.
The fire started on the moor on that terrible Sunday night. James Crowther, a gamekeeper and farmer from the Upper Wood Estate was one of the first to respond with his brother Chris, Richard Birch, a fellow keeper, and another farmer. He said, “I have never seen anything like it. It was devastating.”
But the tinder dry conditions meant that early the next morning, the fire was increasing in force and spreading and the fire crews started to arrive.
James said, “We realised that the fire was again taking hold and was getting out of control. By Monday evening it was starting to become a losing battle. We were dealing with 20 foot flames and the extremely dry conditions, together with the rank heather, which was almost waist height meant that flames were spreading rapidly. At one stage, we were all engulfed in the smoke and just could not see anything. You just could not breathe.”
As the fire spread more than twelve keepers from 10 estates worked tirelessly together on Arnfield Moor, which is managed by the RSPB and owned by United Utilities. By 6.00 pm Monday evening as more fire crews arrived, the fire, fanned by gusting wind started to really taken hold and thousands acres of wonderful heather habitat was engulfed in flames to the horror of all those working together with fire crews to extinguish the burning moor.
“I just could not believe my eyes,” explains James. “Everything in front of us was just devastated and the flames kept bursting through. It was heart-breaking. I could hear female grouse calling their chicks from within the thick smoke. We were seeing the burnt remains of golden plover, curlew, grouse and deer. There was so much destruction and we were all doing all we could but the fire was ferocious.”
For over three days the exhausted keepers worked tirelessly alongside fire services, Peak District National Park wardens, RSPB wardens, farmers other volunteers and the military.
James said, “We were meeting regularly with the fire chiefs to assess the situation. We were in the fortunate position of having in-depth knowledge and experience of the moor and it was acknowledge by United Utilities that our expertise and equipment in this tinder dry environment, had made a difference.”
Today, James reports that the worst is over and it is hoped that the fire is gradually being contained. “We are all heart-broken about this catastrophe. For those of use that work on the moor, this is our life. For people like my fellow keeper, Richard Birch, whose estate was in the line of fire, he has lost everything. It is going to take absolutely years to recover our precious heather moorland and the important wildlife that it is home too. Words cannot describe our feelings at the moment.”
Liam Bell, Chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation is full of praise for the keepers who put their own lives on the line to fight the fire. He said, “No-one can imagine what our courageous moorland gamekeepers, firemen and Army personnel have been going through for the past few days and nights on Saddleworth Moor. As usual, gamekeepers were among the first to respond to the disaster and they, together with a number of equally brave farmers and graziers became the front line; trying to contain the fire using their specialist equipment and knowledge of the ground. The scale and ferocity of the fire, caused no doubt by the exceptionally dry conditions is unprecedented. Moorland keepers have never been more on edge and concerned about wildfires, and the fire risk has never been higher. Our thoughts are with our precious wildlife, our moorland communities and our farmers and gamekeepers who depend on these unique moorland habitats for their future survival.”
Richard Bailey, a gamekeeper from the Peak District Moorland Group, who was also involved in trying to extinguish the fire on the burning moor said, “The scale of this fire was staggering, and the damage to the Moorland wildlife and unique habitat is unimaginable. As a community, we all rallied around and worked together as a team, irrespective of who manages the site, it’s what helped us get through this devastating wildfire. There’s lots of speculation about the cause and that is a matter for police and fire service investigation in due course, the priority at the moment is to get it out. The reason that this fire burned so fiercely and took such a large area is the prolonged dry period and extreme heat, questioning the heather management regime should come once it’s out and we have had plenty of rain.”
Notes to editors:
The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NG)) represents the gamekeepers of England and Wales. The NGO defends and promotes gamekeeping and gamekeepers and works to ensure high standards throughout the profession. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation was founded in 1997 by a group of gamekeepers who felt that keepering was threatened by public misunderstanding and poor representation. Today, there are 13,000 members of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation. www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk