Environment under threat as wildfire battle continues

Environment under threat as wildfire battle continues

04 May 2011

published by www.heraldscotland.com

UK — HUNDREDS of firefighters were yesterday continuing to battle wildfires that are threatening serious environmental damage to parts of the Highlands.

A blaze closed the A82 between Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum in Argyll for about two hours yesterday, leading to tailbacks in both directions.

Units from Lochinver, Scourie and Achiltibuie were still engaged at Inverkirkaig, which had been burning for more than 30 hours. Several families have already been evacuated from their homes as the fire was fought on four fronts.

The fire at Shiel Bridge had been scaled back to one appliance on a watching brief yesterday as was the fire at Torridon.

On the Balmoral Estate on Deeside, a helicopter was called in to water bomb the flames, which stretched across a 750-metre front, and estate workers from the royal family’s residence and other surrounding estates also helped. Fire crews managed to put out the flames just after 2.30pm yesterday.

Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service said there was “a continuing severe risk of further fires occurring” and added that the wildfires could quickly change direction.

The fires have raised serious concern for populations of ground-nesting birds, which face devastation. The Met Office has predicted rain, although not until tomorrow and forecasters said there would not be enough to relieve the very dry areas.

A spokesman for RSPB Scotland said the wildfires could not have come at a worse time. “We are in the thick of the breeding season and the Highlands and Islands contain some of the most important areas in Europe for ground-nesting birds – as well as some of our rarest and most cherished species,” he said.

He said ground-nesting birds, such as greenshank and lapwing, were establishing nest sites or already sitting on eggs.

“What is unusual this year is the prolonged dry spell so early. The consequences of these wildfires can be devastating, particularly for ground-nesting birds.”

Dr Richard Dixon, spokesman for WWF Scotland, said: “There are two sides to the fires. Some seeds are sensitive to fire and are activated by it. The other side is that at this time of year birds are nesting, or raising young, so the fires are coming at a bad time for them.

“Mammals such as deer and pine martens will be able to move on, but nesting birds can’t just up sticks and move their young to another location.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the ancient forest of Rothiemurchus near Aviemore narrowly avoided two fire disasters on Sunday.

The first fire was started on the banks of Loch An Eilean by a barbecue, despite the high fire-risk signs around the area. A countryside ranger was on hand to put it out quickly before he was called away to the second fire. That was brought under control after the head stalker called the fire brigade.

However, it damaged more than half an acre of Caledonian forest. According to the Rothiemurchus Estate the “wild campers” who started the fire had felled trees and hammered nails into them to build a shelter and left broken glass and batteries on the ground that caused even more damage.

Estate owner Johnnie Grant, said: “To light an open fire in or near a forest can cause lasting damage and is therefore irresponsible.

“If our team hadn’t acted as quickly or a wind had got up, the fire could have become quickly out of control and burned a very large area and we would be dealing with a very different situation today.

“Fire is the greatest threat to the forest and its wildlife. Once established it can take months to put out and the forest takes decades to recover from the damage caused.”

According to the Met Office, rain is expected in most parts of Scotland tomorrow with thundery outbursts due in the Highlands on Friday.

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