The devastating fire on Howden Moor in the Peak Park, which destroyed more than 200 acres of heather moorland last week, is a reminder of the considerable damage to wildlife and the environment that can result from the combination of careless behaviour and tried and tested management practices being ignored by a few land managers.
The fire, which it is believed was started by a portable barbecue, was attended by 10 fire crews, whose vehicles were unable to get anywhere near the scene. The only firefighting vehicles to successfully do so belonged to the shooting tenant of Howden and neighbouring moors that are managed for grouse shooting.
After the fire services left at dusk with the fire still burning, it was the Peak District’s gamekeepers that remained overnight to keep the fire under control. Had they not done so then, according to one expert on the ground, some 8,000 acres of heather moorland could have been destroyed.
It was also those same gamekeepers who also managed to save a known hen harrier nesting site that had been used since 2003, from being destroyed by the fire.
The controlled, cool, burning of heather, creating firebreaks, and maintaining tracks to allow access onto moorland can all help in the prevention and control of wildfires, and they are common management practices that are carried out by responsible land managers, especially in areas where cutting of heather is an impossible alternative.
Whilst the damage might not have been prevented, it might certainly have been further contained had the tenant been allowed to do so on Howden.
One thing is certain, without the gamekeepers and privately-owned specialist firefighting equipment, we could have been looking at nothing short of an ecological disaster.
Chief executive, Countryside Alliance