The Muirburn Code

Listen

Recommendations

1. Identify situations where burning should not be carried out ("fire-free" areas)

  • Sites traditionally used for nesting by all bird species that are specially protected.
  • Any areas within a 1/2 mile of nesting golden eagles, after the end of February.
  • Woodland, woodland edges and scrub, except where burning is used by trained and experienced staff as part of woodland management, to encourage native woodland expansion, or to benefit woodland game or wildlife. Moorland fires should not be allowed to spread into established stands of mature trees, even when sparsely stocked, or into recently replanted or naturally regenerating areas of native trees and shrubs ( Figs. 1 - 3). You should seek advice from Scottish Natural Heritage before carrying out muirburn near to any area of native oak, tree birches, aspen, Scots pine, willow or juniper.

Fig. 1. An upland birch woodland expanding by natural regeneration. Moorland fires should not be allowed to spread into this sort of situation.

>Fig. 1. An upland birch woodland expanding by natural regeneration. Moorland fires should not be allowed to spread into this sort of situation.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 2. Muirburn should not be allowed to spread into regenerating Scots pine on moorland adjacent to Caledonian pinewood.

Fig. 2. Muirburn should not be allowed to spread into regenerating Scots pine on moorland adjacent to Caledonian pinewood.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 3. An example of moorland juniper, including regenerating juniper, accompanied here by some Scots pine trees. Moorland fires should be strictly limited in this sort of situation.

Fig. 3. An example of moorland juniper, including regenerating juniper, accompanied here by some Scots pine trees. Moorland fires should be strictly limited in this sort of situation.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

  • Blanket bogs and raised bogs on deep peat (more than 0.5 m - about 20 inches - deep), unless heather constitutes more than 75% of the vegetation cover ( Figs. 4 - 7).

Fig. 4. Blanket bog should be avoided. Do not burn areas with bog pools and where bog mosses are abundant. In this illustration the bog mosses are the yellow green, ochre and red patches at the edge of the pool.

Fig. 4. Blanket bog should be avoided. Do not burn areas with bog pools and where bog mosses are abundant. In this illustration the bog mosses are the yellow green, ochre and red patches at the edge of the pool.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 5. Some types of blanket bog are a mixture of heather and cottongrass, particularly at higher altitudes and in the east. Bog pools are not always present and bog mosses are not always very obvious.

Fig. 5. Some types of blanket bog are a mixture of heather and cottongrass, particularly at higher altitudes and in the east. Bog pools are not always present and bog mosses are not always very obvious.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 6. Blanket bog often has much less heather and appears more "grassy" but cottongrass and bog mosses are usually abundant.

Fig. 6. Blanket bog often has much less heather and appears more grassy but cottongrass and bog mosses are usually abundant.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 7. In some parts of the north-east, blanket bogs can look very different due to the abundance of lichens, but bog mosses are still abundant.

Fig. 7. In some parts of the north-east, blanket bogs can look very different due to the abundance of lichens, but bog mosses are still abundant.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

  • Peat haggs and other areas with exposed peat (Fig. 8).
  • Where the soil is eroding, or if there is less than 5 cm (2 inches) of soil over the underlying rock (Figs. 9 10).
  • Summits, ridges and other areas which are very exposed to the wind, where the vegetation grows as a more or less prostrate, and sometimes sparse, mat in which the heather perpetuates itself by rooting from creeping stems ( Fig. 11). Most likely to occur above 300 m (1000 feet) in the north-west to above 600 m (2000 feet) in the south-east, and in very exposed areas at lower altitudes near to the coast or where the wind is funnelled through a pass.

Fig. 8. Avoid areas of exposed peat. Erosion can be exacerbated. Also, the peat is more likely to ignite, creating a damaging and difficult to control fire.

Fig. 8. Avoid areas of exposed peat. Erosion can be exacerbated. Also, the peat is more likely to ignite, creating a damaging and difficult to control fire.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 9. Avoid burning where the soil is very thin. The soil itself may be consumed by the fire and, even if not, regeneration of the vegetation is often poor in such dry, freely draining, situations.

Fig. 9. Avoid burning where the soil is very thin. The soil itself may be consumed by the fire and, even if not, regeneration of the vegetation is often poor in such dry, freely draining, situations.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 10. Avoid burning where past erosion has produced thin soils with much exposed bedrock. Burning will exacerbate the loss of soil.

Fig. 10. Avoid burning where past erosion has produced thin soils with much exposed bedrock. Burning will exacerbate the loss of soil.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 11. Where the vegetation grows as a short mat, due to wind-exposure, do not burn or allow fires to spread into such areas. The heather often has a paler, slightly greyer, colour compared to heather growing in more sheltered situations.

Fig. 11. Where the vegetation grows as a short mat, due to wind-exposure, do not burn or allow fires to spread into such areas. The heather often has a paler, slightly greyer, colour compared to heather growing in more sheltered situations.
© SNH, Cairnsmore of Fleet

  • Steep hillsides and gullies (Fig. 12). Hillsides with a slope greater than 1 in 3 (18 o) are best tackled only by experienced and skilled staff, while slopes steeper than 1 in 2 (26 o) are best avoided.
  • Areas where bracken is present, except where there is a commitment to control any bracken spread into the burnt area should it occur (Fig. 13).
  • Uneven-aged heather where there is already a self-perpetuating, intimate mixture of short and tall heather bushes (Fig. 14).
  • Tall vegetation at the edge of watercourses, other than where a watercourse is the only practical type of firebreak (Fig. 15).
  • Any other areas identified as fire-free in management agreements, for example, with Scottish Natural Heritage, or Historic Scotland, or as part of an agri-environment scheme agreement or Rural Development Contract.

Fig. 12. Fires should not be allowed to spread onto steep slopes or into gullies.

Fig. 11. Where the vegetation grows as a short mat, due to wind-exposure, do not burn or allow fires to spread into such areas. The heather often has a paler, slightly greyer, colour compared to heather growing in more sheltered situations.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 13. Bracken can spread into burnt patches if regeneration of other vegetation is slow or weak.

Fig. 13. Bracken can spread into burnt patches if regeneration of other vegetation is slow or weak.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 14. Burning will provide little benefit where there is already an intimate mixture of short and tall heather.

Fig. 14. Burning will provide little benefit where there is already an intimate mixture of short and tall heather.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 15. Where possible, avoid burning taller vegetation at the edge of watercourses.

Fig. 15. Where possible, avoid burning taller vegetation at the edge of watercourses.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

2. Plan where and how to carry our burning well in advance

  • Only burn outside fire-free situations and where heather or bell heather is an important or dominant component in the vegetation. Land managers may be able to claim grant aid for muirburn costs under Rural Development Contracts, administered by the Scottish Government Rural Payments & Inspections Directorate ( SGRPID). You can obtain further details from your local SGRPID office.
  • Burn only where heather is greater than 20 cm (8 inches) tall, but avoid allowing the heather to become much taller than 30 cm (12 inches) if outside fire-free areas.
  • Determine the total amount to be burnt each year according to the rate of growth of the heather.
  • Ensure there are sufficient firebreaks (Figs. 16 - 19). Firebreak width should be at least 21/2 times the expected flame length.

Fig. 16. An example of a hill track and a green grass strip used as firebreaks. Snow banks, wet flushes, previously burnt patches with little regrowth of vegetation, can also be used.

Fig. 16. An example of a hill track and a green grass strip used as firebreaks. Snow banks, wet flushes, previously burnt patches with little regrowth of vegetation, can also be used.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 17. Previously burnt strips can be used as partial or complete firebreaks, depending on the regrowth of vegetation.

Fig. 17. Previously burnt strips can be used as partial or complete firebreaks, depending on the regrowth of vegetation.
© P & A Macdonald, SNH

Fig. 18. Cutting or swiping can be used to create firebreaks, though these should not be relied on completely. They should be cut immediately before the fire is lit so that the cut material does not have time to dry out.

Fig. 18. Cutting or swiping can be used to create firebreaks, though these should not be relied on completely. They should be cut immediately before the fire is lit so that the cut material does not have time to dry out.
© Lorne Gill, SNH

Fig. 19. A swiped firebreak used in conjunction with other methods increases the efficiency of a fire control squad.

Fig. 19. A swiped firebreak used in conjunction with other methods increases the efficiency of a fire control squad.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

  • Consider cutting or swiping as an alternative to burning (Figs. 20 - 21), but only where the ground is not too rocky, wet or inaccessible for safe use, and where the vegetation, soil or any archaeological remains will not be damaged by the machinery. It is much less hampered by the weather and there is no fire risk to neighbours' property.
  • If using swiping to create firebreaks, or as a substitute for burning, avoid creating squares. These do not maximise the amount of "edge" between short and tall heather, which is one of the main reasons for burning, and they can be visually offensive and detract from landscape value.
  • Limit the area within your muirburn plan to suit resources of time, labour, equipment and funds.

Fig. 20. Heather which has been cut rather than burned.

Fig. 20. Heather which has been cut rather than burned.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 21. The same area as in Fig. 19, showing good regeneration after five years.

Fig. 21. The same area as in Fig. 19, showing good regeneration after five years.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

3. Prepare thoroughly, before any burning is undertaken

  • Join your local Rural Fire Protection Group. These exist in many areas, and provide a formal arrangement for landowners, managers and the Fire and Rescue Service to co-ordinate their resources and provide mutual assistance if fires escape control.
  • Seek further information or training if you cannot predict flame length, fire intensity, rate of spread, and other aspects of fire behaviour, or are unsure about fire control techniques.
  • On Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Scottish Natural Heritage should be informed. If muirburn is listed as an 'Operation Requiring Consent' you must apply for and obtain consent from SNH in advance of burning (Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004).
  • On scheduled monuments, (archaeological sites and monuments of national importance) contact Historic Scotland's Inspectorate about any necessary permissions if you are planning to use wheeled vehicles, any form of ground disturbance is anticipated, or if you have other concerns that the works proposed could damage a monument.
  • Produce a written fire plan and copy this to your local Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Make sure you have an emergency plan and will have back-up help available, contactable by radio or mobile phone, on the day when burning is to be carried out.
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (S.I. 2306, Reg. 4 and 5) stipulates that all equipment should be fit for purpose. Ensure fire lighting and fire control equipment is the safest and most effective available.
  • Make sure that there is both sufficient variety of fire control equipment ( e.g. beaters of various types, high pressure "fogging" spays, etc.), and spares, to cope with changing conditions, breakage or equipment failure (Figs. 22-26).

Fig. 22. Make sure fire control equipment is ready and in good working order before commencing burning.

Fig. 22. Make sure fire control equipment is ready and in good working order before commencing burning.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 23. Swiping a firebreak, and laying a temporary foam barrier, immediately before fire lighting, can assist fire control.

Fig. 23. Swiping a firebreak, and laying a temporary foam barrier, immediately before fire lighting, can assist fire control.
© SNH, Cairnsmore of Fleet

Fig. 24. Make sure there is a sufficient number and variety of beaters, scrapers and other fire control equipment to keep control of the fire even if conditions change.

Fig. 24. Make sure there is a sufficient number and variety of beaters, scrapers and other fire control equipment to keep control of the fire even if conditions change.
© SNH, Cairnsmore of Fleet

Fig. 25. A fire being extinguished as it reaches a swiped firebreak reinforced by a foam barrier.

Fig. 25. A fire being extinguished as it reaches a swiped firebreak reinforced by a foam barrier.
© SNH, Cairnsmore of Fleet

Fig. 26. A high pressure water jet can be useful for wetting down vegetation to reinforce a firebreak, and for extinguishing hot spots during fire control.

Fig. 26. A high pressure water jet can be useful for wetting down vegetation to reinforce a firebreak, and for extinguishing hot spots during fire control.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

  • Those carrying out the burning should be trained in the use of the equipment.
  • All staff should be trained in safe procedures and should use personal safety equipment ( e.g. face visors to BS2092/BSEN166, leather gloves, fire-retardant overalls - Fig. 27).
  • Teams carrying out burning should have a first aid kit and at least one of the team should have first aid training.
  • Ensure that additional fire suppression assistance will be available when burning vegetation where there is much purple moor-grass ("blow grass" or "flying bent" - Fig. 28). Burning scraps of straw and dead leaves from this grass can be lifted in the updraught from the fire and can start new fires.

Fig. 27. Heat-resistant face visors, leather gloves, and fire-retardant, high visibility, overalls make fire control safer and more comfortable.

Fig. 27. Heat-resistant face visors, leather gloves, and fire-retardant, high visibility, overalls make fire control safer and more comfortable.
© Forestry Commission Technical Development Branch

Fig. 28. Burning where there is much purple moor-grass ("blow grass" or "flying bent") requires care, and additional assistance should be on stand-by.

Fig. 28. Burning where there is much purple moor-grass (blow grass or flying bent) requires care, and additional assistance should be on stand-by.
© SNH, Cairnsmore of Fleet

4. Undertake burning in a safe and professional manner

  • On the morning of the day of burning, or the previous evening, inform adjoining proprietors by telephone of your muirburn plans for the day.
  • On the morning of the day of burning, telephone your local Fire and Rescue Service and provide details of the location (including Ordnance Survey map grid reference) and extent of intended burning. At the end of the day let them know when all fires have been extinguished.
  • Do not burn if the weather is unsuitable for safe and controlled burning. Obtain weather forecasts as close to the time of burning as possible.
  • Do not burn when it is too dry, that is, when the moss and plant litter on the ground surface has completely dried out.
  • Do not burn if the wind is too strong, that is, wind speeds greater than about 15 miles per hour or 6.7 m/22 feet per second at eye level (a forecast wind speed of Force 4 or greater). When the wind is too strong, taller heather stems thrash about continuously and even the shorter, more sheltered heather stems are in continuous motion.
  • Do not burn if the flames are likely to be longer than 3 m, or about 10 feet (Fig. 29). Whether this occurs or not will depend on the combination of fuel load and weather conditions.

Fig. 29. The flames here are about 1.5 -2 m long. Fires with flames longer than about 3 m are dangerous and difficult to control.

Fig. 29. The flames here are about 1.5 -2 m long. Fires with flames longer than about 3 m are dangerous and difficult to control.
© D. B. A. Thompson, SNH

  • Do not allow the width of individual fires to exceed 50 m, or about 165 15 feet (Figs. 30 - 31).
  • Do not burn uphill on steep slopes (Figs. 31 - 33).
  • Do not burn unless you know how, and where, the fire will be extinguished.
  • Avoid back-fires, or only use with extreme caution, where there is peat, to reduce the risk of irreversible damage to the vegetation and underlying peat.
  • Ensure that workers are supervised so that they do not suffer from heat exhaustion.

Fig. 30. An example of good practice where burnt strips and patches do not exceed 50 m in width.

Fig. 30. An example of good practice where burnt strips and patches do not exceed 50 m in width.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 31. An example of bad practice where burnt patches are much wider than 50 m. Also, fires have been burnt without proper planning or control, without firebreaks, uphill on steep slopes and where there are thin soils.

Fig. 31. An example of bad practice where burnt patches are much wider than 50 m. Also, fires have been burnt without proper planning or control, without firebreaks, uphill on steep slopes and where there are thin soils.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 32. Good practice in steeper ground is to burn across and down the slope. Note how sensitive gullies, and areas of thin soil, have been avoided.

Fig. 32. Good practice in steeper ground is to burn across and down the slope. Note how sensitive gullies, and areas of thin soil, have been avoided.
© Angus J. MacDonald, SNH

Fig. 33. A fire burning uphill widens as it progresses. A large, and out of control, uphill fire produces a characteristic burn pattern.

Fig. 33. A fire burning uphill widens as it progresses. A large, and out of control, uphill fire produces a characteristic burn pattern.
© Lorne Gill, SNH