Extreme dry conditions pose huge threat to countryside
A combination of dry weather, human folly and bureaucratic delay has created the conditions for catastrophic fires not just in the uplands but throughout the British countryside.
Extreme dry conditions have cereal crops being harvested in the dark to reduce the risk of fire. However, farmers also found themselves tackling fire hazards resulting from public behaviour.
As well as the usual perils, farmers have also had to tackle the threat from sky lanterns. Farmer Martin Stone, from Bingley in West Yorkshire, said: “I found 11 sky lanterns in the meadow. The hay was dry, in rows and ready to be baled on one of the hottest days ever, in very dry conditions. If the hay had caught fire from the lanterns with their bamboo frame and wire – both hazards in themselves – the wind would have quickly spread it to other fields full of hay as well as our building half full of hay and machinery.”
In the Peak District, open access land was closed in order to reduce the risk of fire. However gamekeepers still found themselves tackling campfires and disposable barbecues. As has frequently been the case, the RSPB reserve at Dovestones was particularly hard hit, as were areas around the Lady Bower reservoir.
While dangerous behaviour by members of the public was the immediate cause of the fires, moorland managers also pointed to bureaucratic delay and bad policy as part of the problem. In some areas land managers are able to conduct controlled burning at their discretion, however in recent years increasing numbers of burns have required consent from government agencies and these have been slow in coming.
This delay has prevented controlled burning being used to reduce the fuel load. A spokesperson for the Peak District Moorland Group said: “Unfortunately calls for vegetation adaption consents from many land managers seems slow to be put into practice by authorities, so we could be heading into a perfect storm of potential devastation.”
In Norfolk, the ‘Wild Ken Hill’ rewilding project was hit by a severe blaze leading Norfolk Fire and Rescue service to declare a major incident.