Scottish Water joins calls to prevent wildfire damage

Scottish Water is raising awareness of the risk of wildfires to help to protect both the environment and water supplies.

By
Mark Dowie
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 7:00am
Scottish Water joins calls to prevent wildfire damage

The country’s public water services body is working with the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to prevent potentially devastating outbreaks.

There have been at least 12 wildfires in the past five years on land owned and managed as water catchments covering thousands of hectares in different parts of the country.

About 70% of Scotland’s public drinking water supply has its source in approximately 525,000 hectares of peatland and moorland.

Wildfires can be very damaging to the natural environment, ecology and wildlife, such as nesting birds, voles, frogs and insects.

As well as the potential impact on wildlife habitats, wildfires can burn valuable carbon stores – trees and peatland – releasing greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere and losing their ability to capture carbon.

The damage to peatland is of particular concern given the long timeframes it takes to recover.

In addition, the de-stabilisation of peatlands near watercourses and ashes from wildfires which get into water sources such as reservoirs, can lead to changes in raw water quality, including changes in taste.

David Anderson, a catchment liaison officer in Scottish Water’s land management team, said: “We are seeing a dramatic increase in wildfires with the traditional wetter areas experiencing longer, drier periods than normal. And we are seeing wildfires in areas not normally associated with wildfires.

“Fires have the potential
of setting peat on fire which can burn for long periods of time, possibly for a week or more.

"If this happens, it can destroy the carbon capture properties of a healthy bog or moorland.”

Deputy Assistant Chief Officer Bruce Farquharson, SFRS’s wildlife lead, said: “In my view, the changes are due to climate change and weather conditions creating very dry fuel for fires, and due to there being more people in the countryside.

“Wildfires are incredibly dangerous and unpredictable and very challenging for firefighters and people should never start a fire unless they can extinguish it and should call the fire service as quickly as possible if they can’t.”

“Through partnership working, we are striving to ensure that Scotland’s natural resources and rural communities are protected from the devastating impact of wildfires, as well as preventing them from happening in the first place.

“Providing easy to understand and good quality information to those who work in, live in and visit the countryside on the risks that exist in relation to fire, how they can prevent fires from happening, and how to mitigate the impact of fire, is key to this work.”

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