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Moorland Fire on Blackstone Edge

West Yorkshire is a diverse landscape of towns, villages, countryside and moorland. The moors are host to wildlife, are a natural store of global carbon and a leisure hotspot for walkers, fell runners and bikers.

The Pennine Moors covering Kirklees, Calderdale and parts of Bradford contain Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), the highest National Protection Designation and highest European Nature Conservation Designation.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has a statutory duty to protect the moorland environment and is a member of the South Pennines Fire Operation Group made up of local councils, landowners, Fire and Rescue Services, Yorkshire Water, United Utilities, Pennine Prospects and Natural England. The group coordinates protection activity within these areas.

What is a Wildfire?

Wildfire is an uncontrolled and unplanned spread of fire in an open area of typically grass land or upland moorland. Wildfires can be unpredictable and burn quickly and furiously, requiring a lot of valuable resources and time.

Moorland fires can be costly to both the agencies involved, wildlife and the surrounding communities. Protecting these beautiful but fragile uplands is a priority for all.

Environmental and Economic Impacts

  • Nature – the moors are home to a variety of wildlife, they are internationally important for birds (such as the golden plover, curlew, lapwing, twite, red grouse, ring ouzel, merlin and perigrin falcon), blanket bogs, heather, crowberry, bilberry and moorland grasses. Wildfires devastate nesting ground and the vegetation birds feed on.
  • Leisure – The moors are the venue for a wide variety of leisure activities, 6 million people are within commuting distance of the West Yorkshire moors and can enjoy walking, biking, horse riding and running – all of which is threatened when areas are burnt and the landscape becomes an unpleasant scene to enjoy.
  • Property – Any property within close proximity to the moors can be put at risk.
  • Agriculture, sport and the rural economy – The moors are extensively used to graze sheep and for sporting purposes such as grouse shooting. The moors look the way they do because they are managed for these activities. Grouse shooting and sheep farming contribute to the local economy by providing employment for a significant number of people. Wildfire can have a devastating effect on people’s jobs and livelihoods.
  • Flood Management – Increasingly, the uplands are playing their part in reducing flooding in the valleys below, where most of us live. Moors can reduce runoff, acting as sponges to soak up water. Grip or ditch blocking slows down runoff and creates wetter areas on the moors. After a wildfire, the water runs off quickly causing flash floods and taking vital soils and peat with it, leaving bare slopes and causing even more and longer lasting damage.
  • Pollution Control – Slopes which are exposed after a wildfire allow runoff to increase and, in turn, the amount of pollution suspended in the water that flows off the moors and ends up in our rivers and reservoirs is increased. Airborne pollution is also released by large moorland fires and the smoke can have serious effects on people’s health over a wide area.
  • Carbon Sink – Moorland areas are even better than woodlands at storing carbon dioxide (CO2), the gas that contributes to the world’s climate change. It is estimated that Britain’s peat bogs store the equivalent of 10 times the country’s total CO2 emissions. When these peat bogs are damaged by pollution, overgrazing or fire, they start leaking CO2 instead of storing it.*

*Information from ‘Moors for the Future’

Controlled burning on moorland is permitted between 1st October and 15th April each year. The moors have been managed by game shooting estates to produce patchworks of different aged heather on which grouse thrive. It is used by farmers to improve grazing and in conservation management to control vegetation and hopefully prevent the spread of wildfire (Heather and Grass Burning Code 2007).

Case Study

In April 2010 after a long dry period, a wildfire at Ovenden Moor caused some untold damage.

The fire started on 30th April, raged through Ovenden Moors and was finally extinguished on 9th May. The wind conditions and humidity resulted in this furious burn, severely damaging rank heather, white grass, some forestry and peat. Numerous fire engines and specialist appliances were used to tackle this blaze, alongside the resources of South Pennines Fire Operations Group.

The social and environmental impacts of this fire were vast; leaving behind much long-term damage as detailed below and the financial costs in excess of £3.5 million;

  • Helicopter use cost
  • Tractor use to access areas and transport water cost
  • Grouse loss
  • Lost shooting for 10 years
  • Lost production of electricity due to wind farm being shut down
  • Ogden reservoir off line for water production, the costs cannot be identified
  • Damaged peat will never recover
  • Damaged forestry at Ogden water will take years to re – establish
  • It was estimated that the land would require a 20 years recovery time
  • An estimated 30 grouse nests were lost and there were approximately 10 eggs per nest

The fire fighting resources committed meant sufficient cover had to be maintained to attend other major incidents, which can often result in fire fighter fatigue.

How can you help?

Below are some simple steps you can take to help protect the wildlife and moors;

  • Clear up and take your rubbish home after picnics
  • Observe all signs and notices – they are there for a reason
  • Follow the National Trust Countryside Code
  • Don’t leave glass bottles. Not only can they hurt people and animals, but they can magnify the sun’s rays and start a fire
  • If you notice anything suspicious report it by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or through the moor watch website at
  • Never throw lighted cigarette ends onto the ground, or out of the window of vehicles or trains. Always ensure that they are completely extinguished and disposed of responsibly.
  • Never be tempted to light a fire in the countryside and only barbecue in authorised areas

Anyone who is found to have started a fire deliberately which destroys a site of special scientific interest could be fined up to £20,000.

Moorland Safety (662.81kb)