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9 Jul 2018

Help us to avoid wildfires

Written by Ben Dolphin, Ranger at Mar Lodge Estate
A destructive wildfire in Glen Luibeg (Mar Lodge Estate) in 2014
A destructive wildfire in Glen Luibeg (Mar Lodge Estate) in 2014
Wildfires pose a real danger to our properties, wildlife, visitors and residents, but we can all help to minimise the risk by observing a few basic guidelines.

As lockdown measures ease across the country, the expectation is that we’re likely to see a large increase of activity across Trust sites. With the summer months also approaching, this combination of dry grounds, rising temperatures and outdoor activity can lead to an increased risk of wildfires.

We work in partnership with many different bodies across the country to ensure the risk of wildfires is identified and reasonably controlled, which improves safety for all our visitors, properties and surrounding estates. Here, we provide some advice and guidance for those wishing to visit our places, which can also help us to reduce the risks.

A destructive fire in Glen Luibeg (Mar Lodge Estate) in 2014
A destructive fire in Glen Luibeg (Mar Lodge Estate) in 2014

Camp fires

Scotland’s access rights are outlined in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which clearly states:

Never light an open fire during prolonged dry periods or in areas such as forests, woods, farmland or on peaty ground or near to buildings or in cultural heritage sites where damage can be easily caused.’

Many of our Trust places are underlain by peat and/or covered in woodland, but our rangers still encounter numerous camp fires during periods of prolonged dry weather. Almost without exception, those fires have been constructed within a small ring of stones or boulders, because there is a widespread perception that this will contain a fire by stopping it from spreading outwards. This is not the case. A fire also burns downwards into the ground, especially if the soil is peaty or woody. It can then burn and spread underground long after it has gone out on the surface and can easily reignite days later. This is what we believe happened in Glen Luibeg on Mar Lodge Estate in 2014, when a weekend campfire reignited three days later and burned a large remnant of Scots pine woodland.

Fire ring by the Dee – stones won’t stop a fire from burning down into the ground
Fire ring by the Dee – stones won’t stop a fire from burning down into the ground

Dousing a fire with a few bottles of water or letting it go out by itself simply isn’t sufficient to extinguish it. In the past our rangers have had to dig over and douse campfires with up to 20 litres of water because the soil beneath the fire pit has been hot to a depth of between 10 and 20cm. And even when the fire has been completely extinguished, the scar it leaves behind is a conspicuous blight on a natural landscape where ‘leave no trace’ should be the overriding principle.

Use a camp stove instead if you need to cook your food; however, you should never leave it unattended.

Barbecues

Depending on the vegetation nearby and how dry it has been, even having a barbecue could be considered irresponsible in some cases. Keep it well away from grass, gorse and heather, keep water to hand and never leave your barbecue unattended.

Scorched earth, from a disposable barbecue
Scorched earth, from a disposable barbecue

Disposable barbecues should never be placed in direct contact with the ground as they get extremely hot and can ignite the vegetation or soil beneath. Raise them off the ground by using rocks or stones, and take them away with you when you are finished. If you are going to dispose of them in a bin, make sure the barbecue is cold first.

Cigarettes and glass

Be very careful not to drop ashes or cigarette ends. Both cool down quickly but they stay hot long enough to set dry vegetation alight. Do not discard any glass bottles and be careful not to leave any broken glass behind, as these act as a magnifying glass for the sun and can start fires.


Scotland looks its absolute best in fair weather and we would certainly encourage as many people as possible to get out and make the most of it. So let’s make sure our cherished, beautiful landscapes are still there next year for us, and for our wonderful wildlife to enjoy. Stay safe!

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