Wildfire at Turvin Road, Cragg Vale, looking towards Blackstone Edge, West Yorkshire (Charlotte Weightman)

Wildfires Highlight the Vulnerability of the Diverse and Valuable South Pennines Habitat

More than 60 firefighters tackled a moorland wildfire above Cragg Vale, West Yorkshire, on Tuesday, May 7th 2013, in the second large fire in the area in just three days.

Following  incidents of large damaging wildfires on the moorland above Littleborough, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, and Cragg Vale over the Bank Holiday weekend in 2013 the South Pennines Fire Operations Group (FOG) warned of the danger posed by wildfires, which can strike anywhere in the South Pennines, to endangered wildlife, farm livestock, valuable habitat and human health.

As good weather both dries out the peatland and encourages more people into the countryside the likelihood of wildfires increases. 'Spring is a real danger period for moorland wildfires, which is why the partners working together through FOG, including firefighters and landowners, are asking members of the public to be extra vigilant when out in the countryside. 

The negative impact of wildfires across the moors is widely recognised, including the economic impact on farmers through the loss of grazing. The loss of habitat and the effect that these fires have on nesting birds, such as the endangered twite, can also clearly be seen but in addition we want to highlight the hidden dangers; the pollution, the release of carbon into the atmosphere, and the impact on people’s health.' Danny Jackson (FOG chairman).

Between October 1st and April 15th some controlled burning by landowners takes place, but a fire started outside of these dates is a wildfire and any person caught starting one can be prosecuted for arson.

Robin Ward, Wildfire Officer for the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the message was clear: 'Please be very careful when you are out on the moors. Dispose of any glass bottles and cigarettes in a responsible manner and remember to use your barbecue at home rather than on the moors. 

If you see a wildfire please report it through the 999 service giving its location as precisely as possible. And we would also ask people to report anyone acting suspiciously. 

Until recently moorland fires were seen as a low priority but now the uplands are recognised as being as valuable as bricks and mortar. If the peat burns it can be very difficult to extinguish and these fast moving fires in off-road locations can be tiring for firefighting crews and resource intensive, which means that we may be stretched if fires occur elsewhere.'

Established by rural regeneration company  Pennine Prospects, FOG brings together representatives from the three fire services of the area, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire; the area’s water companies Yorkshire Water and United Utilities, as well as private estates; the six South Pennines local authorities and Natural England.

'Through the FOG partnership landowners can see how the fire services operate and how they can assist when dealing with a wildfire. They know the areas well and have their own specialist equipment, such as all-terrain vehicles, as well as additional human resources to tackle fires. We are firefighting together.' Robin Ward.