Many of you will know that much of the North West Highlands of Scotland has been burning. Vast areas have been set alight by man. ‘Arson!’, some cry. However, the truth of the matter is that they are focused on giving nature a helping hand. This process is known as Muir-burning and it occurs in Scotland every year between October 1st and April 15th. Any later burns are outlawed in order to protect ground nesting birds such as grouse and, on occasion, Golden Eagles.
The people who start these fires are usually gamekeepers and hill farmers. They aim to burn the very tough grasses and the old straggly heather on the hills. This allows for young shoots to pop up which are both sweet and succulent. Grouse, deer and sheep find this sort of grazing much better. These animals are therefore healthier and more able to stand up to the elements when things get tough.
It should be noted that not all of the heather is burnt. Most of it is left long so that birds have shelter to nest and hide in. So in June if you look at managed moorland you will see a patchwork quilt type of landscape. Long heather, short heather, long heather, short heather – usually in long strips or big squares.
Ticks are another reason why the muir-burning occurs. If it didn’t occur then the tick population would boom. This would make the lives of the sheep and deer a misery as ticks can transmit deadly diseases to both of them.
Usually the landowners in an area will team up to help each other burn the hillsides safely. But sometimes fires can get out of control or, on peat, continue burning underground. This can result in dramatic and dangerous wildfires which easily have the potential to kill anything living in the area. Sometimes the fire brigade will be called in to help bring the fires back under control.
So when you next see a hillside alight in a Scottish spring bear in mind that you are probably witnessing the careful management of the land. However, if in doubt it’s always better to give 999 a call just to be safe.
As the pictures show, muir-burning is often a beautiful process to watch. Seeing bright orange flames against a blue spring sky is a memorable event. All three of our lightweight worsted wool spring scarves have at least some flash of red or orange in them. They can be purchased here: http://www.malcolmmowats.com/collections/all