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National park wildfire plan ‘fraught with risk’ says SGA

The SGA calls the Cairngorms National Park’s strategy non-existent and claims it relies too heavily on gamekeepers ‘bailing them out’.

The Cairngorms National Park’s (CNPA) wildfire plan is not credible, says the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA). Muirburn professionals have accused Cairngorms leaders of not having a reasonable wildfire blueprint in place to keep people safe, despite having the 20 years since the park was established to do so. 

The SGA, whose members have assisted fire crews at wildfires nationwide, says the park’s blueprint to tackle major blazes is “nonexistent”. It claims the plan is overly dependent on a presumption that, should a large wildfire start and run out of control, local gamekeepers and land managers will “bail them out”. 

Cairngorms leaders’ “creeping attempts” over recent years to restrict muirburn have led to resentment and tensions with resident land managers within the park. As a result, the SGA believes the park’s wildfire strategy is fraught with risk. With such a dangerous volume of vegetative fuel to burn in certain areas, the SGA believes it is not fair to expect their members to attend every emergency. 

These comments come as the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s Fire Management consultation closed last week. A potential blanket byelaw restriction on muirburn, when fire danger warnings reach a certain level, has further strained relations between park leaders and land managers. SGA chairman Alex Hogg said: “The park’s wildfire plan seems to rest on the shoulders of the Fire Service, helped by gamekeepers and land managers. Without full cooperation, realistically, what is the park’s plan B?

“The government body Forestry and Land Scotland won’t train and equip staff to attend fires outside of their own forests and have said so in recent meetings. Conservation or NGO [non-governmental organisation] landowners, with the exception of Wildland, don’t have the equipment or skill to help. The NGOs have tried to put roadblocks in the way of professionals undertaking controlled burning at every step of the way, so they won’t help,”

A spokesman for the CNPA said: “The park authority has been seeking views on an open consultation and we’re delighted that over 1,500 people have responded so far. All the responses will be analysed before a recommendation is made to the board in June.” 

Last year, keepers assisted the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service at large fires at Cannich, and Daviot and in 2019, 48 local gamekeepers, with specialised equipment, helped extinguish the Moray fire, which burned for 44 square miles over 17 days.