As part of the annual practical management work programme for the Birsay Moors at this time of year we are meant to complete some muirburn. However, often the Orkney weather has other ideas…
But the window of lovely settled weather we have had opened up a chance for us to get out on to the reserve and start some fires!
For me anyway at first, the idea of setting fire to a nature reserve seems wrong (well more to the cautious Scot in me it seems quite rash) but then the inner pyromaniac in all of us takes over (some quicker than others I might add) and the enjoyment of the day takes over.
After what I’ve now written or if you were anywhere close to the Hillside Road on the Birsay Moors on Monday or Tuesday this week you would be forgiven in thinking that we set the whole place alight. As the winds were so light, smoke hung over Lushan for some time after the fires were out and it was fairly atmospheric generally, with the smoke lying tight over the hills.
However, we were only lighting small controlled fires, to create a mosaic of different ages of heather through the moorland. It was ideal conditions, a few days without rain to allow the moor to dry a bit, then light winds on Monday and Tuesday allowing slow, easy to control burns.
Over the last ten years, when the weather allows, there has been controlled fires in the area around the Burn of Rusht which has created a patchwork of habitats. This provides areas that suit voles, grouse and hen harriers (and plenty of other species) all in a relatively small area.
Staff and volunteers over the two days completed 19 small fires, which was very satistfying, as we were unable to complete any muirburn in 2012 or 2011. And of course it was great to be out in the sunshine with the backdrop of the West Mainland behind us.