Andy Wightman MSP secures immediate (temporary) muirburn ban

Further to this afternoon’s post (here) outlining Andy Wightman’s proposal to seek a temporary legislative ban on muirburn in Scotland for the duration of the Coronavirus lockdown – he was successful!

After welcoming Scottish Land and Estate’s call for a voluntary halt to setting the moors alight, Andy pointed out that some landowners had ignored the call and were continuing to light fires on grouse moors. He also pointed to the latest wildfire danger assessment published this morning by the Scottish Wildfire Forum which rates the danger of wildfire in the coming week in parts of southern and eastern Scotland as ‘VERY HIGH’ and ‘EXTREME’ (see here).

[Muirburn, photo by Ruth Tingay]

Andy’s amendment was challenged by Murdo Fraser MSP (Conservatives) who claimed, falsely, that there was no evidence of continued muirburn in Scotland (he must have missed this and this) and that even if there was (which there was/is), it still didn’t necessitate legislation because, he argued, that the muirburn season would practically be over by the time the legislation is enacted anyway. He ‘forgot’ to factor in the additional two weeks between 15-30 April during which muirburn may continue at the landowner’s discretion.

Andy came back at him and argued that all he was seeking to do was give some legislative power to Scottish Land and Estate’s call for voluntary restraint.

Minister Mike Russell provided support for Andy’s amendment and said that if burning was continuing it needed to stop now.

The amendment was put to the vote and it passed 59 to 17.

This means that when the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill (Emergency Bill) gains royal assent (and thus becomes an Act), all muirburn must stop. If anyone continues to light fires on grouse moors (or indeed on any land covered by the muirburn section (23) of the Hill Farming Act 1946) they will be breaking the law and could face prosecution.

Judging by the hysteria being generated by some within the grouse shooting industry this evening (including predictably abusive attacks on Andy’s character and integrity), you’d think that muirburn had been banned forever. If only! However, the reality is it has only been banned for the remainder of this season (up until 30 April). This is emergency legislation and thus it doesn’t ban muirburn for all time. Currently, the legislation bans muirburn for the duration of the Coronavirus crisis (the Bill provides this is currently 30 Sept but with power to extend by six months). However, it’ll provide useful food for thought for the Scottish Government as we continue to wait for its response to the Werritty Review on grouse moor management.

Instead of attacking Andy, who was simply making full use of the democratic process, those critics should be looking at those estates who ignored last week’s call to stop burning…’s thanks to them that the legislation passed with such ease!

Well done, Andy and the Scottish Greens – this is a fantastic result!

The transcript and voting record of this amendment can be read here: amendment 53_debate and vote

34 thoughts on “Andy Wightman MSP secures immediate (temporary) muirburn ban”

  1. A wonderful result – well done Andy! Do you know when this emergency bill is likely to gain royal assent? as presumably the burning can and will continue in earnest until then.

    1. Not sure – as it’s emergency legislation it might be a different procedure to normal.

      Yes, up until Royal Assent it is still legal to burn, although given the call for restraint any further evidence of burning won’t do the grouse shooting industry any favours whatsoever, at exactly the time the Scottish Government is considering its response to Werritty.

  2. Brilliant! We should all be very, very, wary of the abuse of emergency legislation here and abroad, but given all that has been said and not done on the subject of burning in both Scotland and England we should take this as a genuine advance that moves the regulatory debate forward.

  3. I hope that Royal Assent is purely a legal term ‘cos if a royal really has to agree to it then we are stuffed!
    Well done and thank you Andy.

    1. The Bill will receive assent. No Bill has been refused assent in over 300 years. Usually the Governor General will sign on behalf of the Queen.

  4. Can’t understand why Murdo Fraser is so enraged about converting a voluntary call into a mandatory call – presumably he therefore thought the voluntary call should be ignored? This is also worrying as I can see parallels with raptor persecution itself – since the current law is essentially powerless as a deterrent (e.g. video evidence from Cabrach) we are already effectively in a period of voluntary restraint, and as far as I can see the response among many has been to double down on persecution – vast catalogues of sat tagged birds taken out, as listed regularly on this site, and those just the tip of the iceberg. They had a chance, but one can only presume those carrying it out feel they remain free to do as they like until they are forced to stop…

  5. Hmm, Murdo Fraser. what a complete (fill in your adjective of choice).
    Well done Andy Wightman; only wish it were permanent.

  6. Well done Andy -it’s a vote for common sense and anyone who disagrees with the need to halt muirburn immediately is blind to the evidence-if only it was banned forever. Thank goodness we live in a democracy-otherwise we would be at the mercy of clowns who would be happy to set light to parched grouse moors and risk wildfires developing when the emergency services have far more pressing things to deal with!

  7. Really well done Andy and for all those folk who have the opportunity to walk the hills, keep an eye out for burning and if you see any then please report it on social media.. and the police when the ban is put in place. Let’s name and shame the estates that continue to burn the land

  8. It’s would be quite staggering that some people are complaining about this legislation, if these were not the same people that defend every other ill that intensive driven grouse shooting inflicts on society at large.

  9. Does this include crofters setting fire to the ,moors – we have already had two huge fires on Barra and S.Uist?

    [Ed: Yes, it does]

  10. Very well done Andy Wightman for raising this so successfully AND for making Murdo Fraser show his true colours. Very useful to keep pointing this fiasco out when Werrity gets more discussion. Voluntary restraint- no chance!

  11. It just highlights the fact that the fun-killers always prefer ‘voluntary codes/action’ – as suggested by their very own SLA – so that they can either: a) be used as a smokescreen (pun intended) for inactivity or b) simply be ignored with no penalties. Put anything on a legislative footing that may affect them and they squeal like a wild mammal in a fenn trap.

  12. I’ve a cleaned and nicely disinfected polymer Fiver says we’ll see photographs of muirburn on Scottish hills in the next 29 days.

    Fortunately for our case, they are their own worst enemies.

  13. This is wonderful news! Thank you Andy, and thank you Raptor Persecution Scotland for bringing us crucial news and making such a big difference.

  14. What a shame the Scottish government cant ban coal and wood burning stoves during lockdown. Where I live we are surrounded by selfish individuals who have them on constantly. And as we all know 70 per cent of outside air pollution gets in your house. So air purifiers on all day and night and I have to wear a mask to bed .
    When oh when is this Neanderthal practice going to be made illegal?
    Oh yes I know when we have a govt who has some guts and people are educated about the lethal crap that comes out of their chimneys.
    The tr e is NOTHING either eco or natural about wood burning. It is lethal to human health.

    1. At some time in our distant past, early humans learned to use fires. It may be true that cooking food allowed better growth and more available nutrient to those who did it, a distinct advantage. I suspect it also provided protection against predators. During the cold of the ice ages fire must have been of particular benefit. People survived, so it’s not absolutely lethal. Here’s a paper showing hearth dating in Oz…

  15. Has the Scottish Government ever undertaken a review of muirburn practices? They have a voluntary code but have they ever actually reviewed compliance? Surely this recent scandalous outbreak of disrespectful behaviour is a clear prompt that some form of investigation is needed. The random photo you have used to illustrate this article clearly shows huge areas of thin soils with rock at the surface…areas that the code says they should not burn. We all know areas of deep peat that they regularly burn. They burn into water courses and onto scree slopes.

    Maybe Andy W could be persuaded to push for an investigation?

    They can not be trusted with our environment.

    1. Yes – and look – all the areas being burnt seem to have an edge of cut heather around them to create a fire break to prevent the flames from spreading to the nearby heather. You can see the rim in the block which is recovering from an earlier burn. So it appears that the cut heather is the method of strictly controlling the spread of the fires! Funny how they do like to claim that the burning actually prevents fires but no mention of cutting!

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