Firefighting partnership urges caution as the wildfire season approaches

Posted: 30.03.12

The battle against moorland wildfires is a challenge being met by a South Pennines partnership as landowners join firefighters to protect the uplands.

Despite the winter rain, early spring is a real danger period for moorland wildfires. The peat dries out and as more people venture into the South Pennines landscape for recreation, wildfires are more likely to happen. Between October 1 and April 15 some controlled burning by landowners takes place, but a fire started outside of these dates is a wildfire and any person caught starting one can be prosecuted for arson.

As Easter approaches the danger posed by wildfires becomes a central concern for the South Pennines Fire Operations Group (FOG) explained the group’s chairman, Danny Jackson: “The negative impact of wildfires across the moors is now being recognised. The loss of habitat and the effect that these fires have on nesting birds, such as the endangered twite, can clearly be seen but we also want to highlight the hidden dangers; the pollution, the release of carbon into the atmosphere, and the impact on people’s health. In the weeks following last year’s moorland fires there were reports of increased visits to the doctors because of smoke inhalation.”

Robin Ward, wildfire officer for the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the message was clear: “Please be very careful when you are out on the moors. Dispose of any glass bottles and cigarettes in a responsible manner and remember to use your barbecue at home rather than on the moors.

“If you see a wildfire please report it through the 999 service giving its location as precisely as possible. And we would also ask people to report anyone acting suspiciously.

“Until recently moorland fires were seen as a low priority but now the uplands are recognised as being as valuable as bricks and mortar. If the peat burns it can be very difficult to extinguish and these fast moving fires in off-road locations can be tiring for firefighting crews and resource intensive, which means that we may be stretched if fires occur elsewhere.”

Established by rural regeneration company Pennine Prospects, FOG brings together representatives from the three fire services of the area, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire; the area’s water companies Yorkshire Water and United Utilities, as well as private estates; the six South Pennines local authorities and Natural England.

Mr Ward added: “Through the FOG partnership landowners can see how the fire services operate and how they can assist when dealing with a wildfire. They know the areas well and have their own specialist equipment, such as all-terrain vehicles, as well as additional human resources to tackle fires. We are firefighting together.”

The cross boundary nature of the South Pennines has brought its own challenges as fire crews from one area do not necessarily know all the terrain. And so this working partnership has proved beneficial to all parties as Charlie Yorke, representative of private landowners, explained: “These are huge moorland areas, all off-road, and if there’s a fire the landowners are best placed to know the best way to approach it. Through FOG we are working on creating plans of the area: who owns what, who has the shooting rights and who are the people to contact. We are working well together.”

And hopefully this will also benefit the wildlife at risk, including the twite, which is an endangered species on the national red list. Fires during their breeding season can have a devastating impact said Charlotte Weightman, the RSPB’s habitat intervention officer for the twite recovery project. “In England the twite only breeds in the South Pennines and there are only about 100 breeding pairs in approximately 20 colonies so it’s crucial that they are not disturbed. Unfortunately last year four colonies were disturbed by wildfires.”

The negative impact of wildfires even damages the important archaeology of the South Pennines, including Bronze Age carved rocks, added Edie Jolley, Pennine Prospects FOG fire plans coordinator.

Yorkshire Water United Utilities Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council National Farmers Union
South Pennines Association Lancashire County Council Pennine Heritage Kirklees Council Calderdale Council
Bradford District Council Northern Rail Natural England Environment Agency The National Trust