RESIDENTS and moorland managers have welcomed the launch of a new initiative to help combat spiralling wildfires which have ‘decimated’ local wildlife in Barnsley’s most rural spots.

The hills above the borough - particularly near Dunford Bridge - have experienced several major wildfires which have cost landowners around £500,000, according to a report into the blazes.
( A far-reaching public space protection order (PSPO) - which stretches from the Pennines to its furthest point at Dunford Bridge - came into force to prevent bonfires, barbecues, fireworks and sky lanterns, but now more measures have been taken to prevent a repeat of the devastating incidents in the hope that lessons will be learned from previous fires.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, added: “This scheme is primarily aimed at homeowners living near heaths at increasing risk of wildfire, it contains many common messages and lessons which equally apply to our precious upland heather moorlands.

“It is vital that moorland managers, homeowners and visitors do all they can to reduce the risk of wildfires, which not only cause a vast amount of damage to the local wildlife but also release significant amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

“When Caithness’s Flow Country caught fire recently it doubled Scotland’s carbon emissions for the six days that it burned and the fire brigade subsequently blamed the fire on a lack of precautions in allowing moors to become overgrown.

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“We encourage any homeowners adjoining any habitat that may be a wildfire risk - including heather moorland - to engage with this excellent initiative and to heed the practical advice provided.”

Local gamekeeper Richard Bailey, who was part of the team who helped combat the 2018 fires, also praised the initiative.

“We need to do all we can to reduce the risk of wildfire on our moorland,” he added. “Moorland managers are already helping to reduce fuel loads through ‘cool fires’ and cutting, when and where conditions allow.

“The 2018 fires release an estimated 26,281 tonnes of CO2 over the three weeks it burnt - that is equivalent to the annual emissions of 19,000 cars.

“If all the carbon stored in English peatlands were lost to the atmosphere as a result of wildfires it would release the equivalent of five years of England’s annual CO2 emissions, so it is in all of our interests to reduce the scale and intensity of wildfires.”
( Anyone caught flouting the PSPO - which is in place for a minimum of three years - will be given on-the-spot £100 fines or face prosecution through the court system if they opt against paying.
( There are exemptions for private residential areas but any land that has a public right of way or public access is included in the scheme.
( During last year’s spate of fires between Marsden and Dunford Bridge, which broke out on June 24 and saw firefighters scrambled in from Barnsley’s four stations, around 4,500 acres of land was decimated.
( Investigating officer Allison Gwynne, whose team has been working alongside neighbouring authorities including Barnsley, Kirklees, Tameside and Oldham, said: “Although recent years’ fires were the worst in living memory, moorland fires are not uncommon. They take place every year, and there’s strong evidence to suggest that the vast majority are the result of thoughtless behaviour.
( “I believe the PSPO, used alongside education and information, helps us to significantly reduce the number of fires. They not only cause large-scale destruction but also needlessly endanger people and put a strain on already stretched services.
( “Last year’s fires could so easily have resulted in tragedy. It was only the tireless efforts of so many firefighters, soldiers and others - as well as a hugely impressive community response - that ensured no lives were lost.”