You are quite right to state that ‘Tinderbox Britain’ should stay on red alert for wildfires (23 July). Every summer – particularly when conditions are as warm and dry as they have been this July – moorland wildfires are a common occurrence, and gamekeepers are on high alert for signs of smoke or anything that could spark a fire. This includes campfires, portable barbecues, or even discarded glass bottles.
This year (to 5 July) there have been 288 recorded wildfires in the UK. This compares to a total of 143 in 2020, and 237 in 2021. Clearly, numbers are on the rise. These recorded wildfires must meet various criteria, such as covering an area of one hectare or more, requiring the services of four or more fire appliances, or needing attention for six or more hours. These are serious events.
The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation have been working alongside other organisations to develop a new training program, supported by Defra, which is designed to consolidate knowledge, skills and understanding of vegetation fires – including wildfires. This is a huge step forward and we are delighted that Defra have recognised the importance of educating those involved in wildfire management on the correct practices. It is also very welcome that Defra recognise the important role that gamekeepers play in wildfire control. Keepers have a wealth of knowledge of both prevention of wildfires and extinguishing them, through decades of experience passed down through generations. They are also the ‘eyes and ears’ on the moors and tend to be some of the first on the scene at wildfires.
We work closely with the fire services, including West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue mentioned in the article. Fire services are, understandably, far more used to dealing with house and domestic fires which require different control methods to grass or moorland fires. With that in mind, Fire and Rescue Services often choose to join keepers when they are undertaking prescribed burning so they can gain experience of these types of fires.
A culture of increased fire awareness in the UK – as suggested – is vital if we are to protect both the public and our natural resources from the future threat of wildfires.
Chairman, National Gamekeepers' Organisation