Muirburn monitoring

4 Minute Read

Last week the RSPB announced that they were launching a new app to allow members of the public to report incidents of burning in the uplands. The purpose of this new initiative is to identify where burning is taking place, and RSPB hope to use the results to support their call for Governments across the UK to ban burning on peatland and to licence muirburn activities.

RSPB Twitter

RSPB are encouraging members of the public to report muirburn activities across the UK.

However, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) have been working with land managers and Gamekeepers in Scotland to help them record and monitor their muirburn activities since 2020.

Using the Epicollect5 App, the GWCT has developed a quick and easy method of recording fires that is already in use by land managers across Scotland. As well as recording fire ignition points, the App also gives practitioners the option to take a measurement of the peat depth to ensure that their burning activities comply with best practice standards.


The Eppicollect5 App can be used to record  ignition points and peat depth and can help build an evidence base and demonstrates best practice management.

One of the issues in using citizen science data is accuracy. The UK uplands are complex environments that exist as variable habitat mosaics. Often, dry heath, where heather growth is good and where burning would be acceptable, can be found amongst areas of blanket bog as well as exposed and eroded peat, which are broadly unsuitable for burning. The RSPB App allows users to choose their location by moving a pin around a digital satellite image map (or inputting a grid reference). Chances are that in most cases, someone is going to be observing from a distance (unless they are part of the burning team). As such, it is unlikely that the ‘fire location’ as recorded can be anything other than approximate.

The GWCT recognises the importance of muirburn as a vital conservation and land management tool. It is used by farmers and crofters, as well as wildlife managers and gamekeepers, for a variety of reasons including grazing improvement, habitat restoration and wildfire mitigation. However, there is also increasing evidence that muirburn conducted under controlled conditions (‘cool’ burns on longer rotations) can enhance carbon capture. Therefore, muirburn can be important for the environment and rural economies.

Muirburn Tool

Muirburn is vital conservation and land management tool which Is important for the environment and rural economies

Nevertheless, last year the Scottish Government declared its intention to licence muirburn activities, regardless of the time of year it is undertaken. Although the detail of such a licence remains to be seen, we can be confident that monitoring of muirburn activities will become an essential component for any estate wishing to carry out muirburn in future. It is difficult then to see the necessity for this new initiative led by the RSPB, at least in Scotland.

Expert Advisors

Our expert Advisors are working with land managers and gamekeepers to provide comprehensive muirburn plans which will become an essential component for any estate wishing to carry out muirburn in future.

In 2020, the GWCT launched its Muirburn Advisory Service, a bespoke service designed to support estates in developing and monitoring simple and user-friendly muirburn plans. The service offers a number of options. From providing mapping and monitoring of muirburn activities to developing more comprehensive muirburn plans, we can provide specialist advice to help evaluate and manage risk of harm to the environment and ensure that management complies with best practice and meets any statutory restrictions.

GWCT Scotland also run a best practice heather burning course. The next course will be on the 2nd of March 2022 in Angus. To book a place, please contact scottishhq@gwct.org.uk.

For support or advice with your muirbun activities, or for more information about the GWCT Muirburn Advisory Service, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our Advisors.

Hugo Straker, Head of Advisory, Scotland

Nick Hesford, Advisor, Scotland

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