Well worth noting in brief that the burning season finished on Tuesday. Having kept a close eye on the ground on the Chayne and on the syndicate ground in Galloway since Christmas, I must report than in four and a half months of legal burning time, it would only have been possible to have a fire during one and a half days. These days were in the middle of February, and given that nobody normally expects to burn in February in these parts, they passed us by because we weren’t ready or organised.
We usually hold on until the last week of March or early April, but this year it has been a total washout. The burning weather has been there, but it was never sustained for long enough to actually allow for a fire. Three or four times it came so close, then a shower or thick cloud set the clock back again. With the exception of the last few days, the sunshine has been in short supply, so while it has been dry, grey and breezy, the warmth has been lacking.
With all the talk of global warming, it is worth mentioning that we in South West Scotland now have 23% more rain each winter than we did in the 1960s. Burning is less feasible than that it was, not only because of wet weather but also because our heather has suffered from neglect and there is always commercial woodland nearby. This means that even when it is warm and dry enough to burn, getting it done is a major job. Fortunately there are a good few keepers and shepherds who do still burn in Galloway, and it is vital to keep these skills alive. A major obstacle to burning in marginal areas elsewhere in the U.K. is when moorland managers lose touch with the skills necessary to manage a fire, and so even when the weather is right, nobody has the confidence or desire to get stuck in.
Up in Angus and down in the North Pennines, there are always good spots to burn with well managed fire breaks which can allow for a fire in almost any conditions, but in Dumfries and Galloway the actual legwork of organising and preparing for a fire is slow and involves part-time man power which is difficult to source at short notice when the forecast looks promising. All of these factors (and more) have an impact on the viability of burning in a marginal area like this, and while there is no doubt that a flame is the best way of managing heather, alternatives like cutting seem more and more viable after a winter that is as wet as this one just passed.