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Farmer criticises SNH rewilding efforts fearing it will aid in spread of devestating wildfires

The raging wildfire extending between Knockando and Dunphail in Moray, Scotland.
The raging wildfire extending between Knockando and Dunphail in Moray, Scotland.

A land manager has warned rewilding advice from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) could aid in the spread of future wildfires.

Alastair Nairn, who has worked on land estates all his life, currently tends to his farm on the Glenlivet Estate. However, he has now raised concerns over the removal of natural grazing by animals leading to vegetation being exposed to assist in the spread of wildfire.

He has raised his concerns on the back of the influx of devastating wildfires in the north during the summer months, with one burning for four days in Moray, spreading across an estimated 27 square miles of land between Knockando, Dallas and Dunphail.

A helicopter assists at the scene of a wildfire at Paul’s Hill Wind Farm near Knockando, Speyside.<br />Picture by Jason Hedges

Mr Nairn said: “Well-managed vegetation is critical to ensuring wildfires cannot spread as freely as they are.

“SNH are encouraging rewilding and taking the sheep and deer off hills, but all this does is make it much easier for fire to spread.

“Rewilding is really allowing the vegetation to get out of control.

“Animals are part of the solution, not the problem.

“I really do fear that the voice of reason and common sense is being totally overlooked here and I fear it will only add fuel to the fire, so to say.”

Mr Nairn, who also sits on the Scottish Government’s Agriculture and Climate Change Strategic Group on behalf of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, has voiced his concerns after a single north wildfire in the Flow Country is thought to have released 174,000 tonnes of carbon, translating to around 6.2 days of the average greenhouse gas emissions for the entire nation.

The fire, which spread across an area of around 5,000 hectares of peat-rich land, took hold in May.

Mr Nairn added: “Land management has most definitely deteriorated over the years and is contributing to the rise in wildfires we are seeing nowadays.

“If you are rewilding land, you have got to expect that, if fire does break out, it is going to be very difficult to control.”

Andrew Coupar, SNH’s Habitats Manager, said: “Rewilding does not necessarily lead to an increased risk of wildfires occurring, as adjacent areas can be managed to have a low fuel load or sited to be bordered by natural firebreaks, such as rivers or wetlands.

“Restoring habitats can help stop wildfires in some cases as well.

“In the wildfire in Sutherland earlier this year, the areas which suffered the least were the wettest areas of bogs.

“Our peatland restoration programme is recreating such areas, helping to reduce the risk and spread of wildfire.”

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