Plea to forest visitors to exercise extreme caution to avoid wildfires

Visitors to the countryside are being urged to exercise extreme caution following the devastation caused by the Cannich wildfire in the Highlands
The Cannich wildfire is thought to be the biggest seen in the UK.The Cannich wildfire is thought to be the biggest seen in the UK.
The Cannich wildfire is thought to be the biggest seen in the UK.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) made the plea as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) and neighbouring land owners continued to tackle the blaze, which burned through more than 30 sq miles of scrub and woodland, creating a 12-mile plume of smoke which was picked up from space by NASA satellites.

It is thought that it could be the largest recorded in the UK, and while its exact cause is not yet known it has been associated with wild camping.

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Alex MacLeod, FLS north region manager, said: “Many people are enjoying being out in the countryside to enjoy the hot weather but the lack of rain recently has made much of the countryside tinder-box dry.

“Camping stoves are clearly recommended as being a better option than campfires but when the weather has been as hot as it has, and the ground is as dry as it is, neither are advisable. Regardless of how it started, this particular incident is a sobering reminder of how easily and quickly a wildfire can take hold and become a major problem.

“Visitors need to be aware of their surroundings and their actions, take extra precautions and extreme care. Dealing with incidents like this places unnecessary pressure on the emergency services, puts people’s safety at risk, and destroys habitat – which causes extreme distress to the wildlife that was here.

“It’s difficult to say what the extent of the damage is but we know it affects a significant area.”

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A similar incident also took place in Tentsmuir Forest recently, when a campfire started a wildfire that was attended by SFRS crews from three areas. Access issues required that helicopter assistance was needed.

The call for extreme caution comes less than a month after FLS launched its ‘Protect Scotland’s Wildlife’ campaign, that urges forest visitors to be more mindful of the negative impacts their activities could have on wildlife and the environment.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the unintended consequences - even harm - that can be caused to wildlife and the environment by people participating in activities in Scotland’s forests and wild places, without taking sufficient care.

A survey carried out prior to the launch found that just over 2 in 5 (41%) hadn’t considered the impact of lighting fires, or even that collecting deadwood off the forest floor for a small campfire, can disturb delicate environments and ecosystems.

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Colin Edwards, FLS’s national environment manager, encouraged people to visit Scotland’s national forests and wild places, but asked people to be mindful of the potential for causing disturbance and harm when they’re out and about.

He said: “The forests are not there just for us. The land that we manage is also home to many thousands of species, some of which are rare or threatened with extinction.

“That’s why we’re simply asking everyone to behave appropriately and cause minimal disturbance, especially in spring and early summer when there are many young animals and birds in the forest.

“None of us set out to deliberately cause harm but sometimes it can be thoughtless behaviour that can cause problems that then ripple out.

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“Help us to protect what we’ve got, before it’s gone and always follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code - ‘leave no trace’, take responsibility and don't linger if wildlife is disturbed by your presence.”

Campfires are strongly discouraged at any time of year and in any location.

If camping stoves are used at any time, they should be situated away from tents and other camping gear and away from dry underbrush and grass. Ideally they should also sit on a level, non-flammable surface and be made as stable as possible using rocks (where possible) or other support.