By Rob Steemson
As in many regions of the world, wild fires in the countryside are projected to become more prevalent in the United Kingdom as temperatures rise and droughts become more frequent.
Experience in recent years of both small and large vegetation fires that have occurred across various parts of Britain have increasingly putting extra pressure on the Emergency Services and those that care, work and look after this important landscape.
However, and specifically on Dartmoor, for the last twenty five years certain things have been put quietly into place within a local partnership. Over the last two years this partnership has widened its approach and during 2019 further good pragmatic progress has been made in
drawing up a comprehensive Dartmoor wide
Wild Fire plan.
The central and higher parts of Dartmoor National Park contain moorland which is called the Forest of Dartmoor. However it is not a wooded forest but is Dartmoor`s largest piece of open Common land, consisting of 11,000 hectares and covers some of the most inaccessible areas.
For many years the Forest has been in various agreements with Natural England which aim to safeguard the environment, history and landscape of the area.
The current agreement includes the ongoing necessity for a locally partnership based wild fire action plan. One of the key practical ingredients
has been the acquisition of quad based fire fogging units that the Commoners use to help put moorland fires out with. There has also been a local facility arranged to call upon helicopter assistance.
This well-developed local partnership involves the Duchy of Cornwall as landowner (Duchy), the Forest of Dartmoor Commoners Association
(FDCA), Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service (DSFRS), Ministry of Defence (MOD), Natural England (NE) and the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA).
In 2017, after seeing large fires occur in the north of England various owners of the
home commons were concerned about how their land might fit in to a Dartmoor wide fire plan and asked for a meeting with particular
agencies which included the Dartmoor Commoners Council (DaCC).
This, in turn developed and formed the Dartmoor Fires Partnership which has the aim to get an all embracing fire plan for all commons and access land with ongoing agency and individuals. It also supports work already in progress by DNPA and DSFRS that is presently determined within the current Forest of Dartmoor Fire Management Plan.
For the last three years some classroom type training with Commoners has been arranged by DSFRS to explain who, what and how they operate on a Wild Fire call out. This has enabled approximately eighty commoners annually to be formally called out to assist in the event of any wild fire incident overseen by the Fire Service.
Earlier in 2019 at one call out on the south moor both fire fighters, Rangers and commoners’ training was fully tested. Feedback from the incident highlighted the importance of having a consistent supply of clean water and the problems of attempting to draw water from Dartmoor streams.
Soon afterwards the Forest of Dartmoor Partnership became aware of the loss of any local helicopter provision and it was agreed to spend the saved funding on two new trailers to ferry water held in jerry cans to the fire fronts.
At the end of November 2019 a practical Wildfire Awareness training day was organised by the Fires Partnership group which provided an
excellent opportunity for landowners, Rangers and commoners to meet with firefighters.
The Fire Service, via its incident command unit, were also able to demonstrate the required Health & Safety procedures and the specialised kit they have whilst the recently purchased trailer units were also on show for the first time. This enabled around 60 commoners across the moor to be involved with any call out during 2020.
For Commoners who were unable to attend the November training day, two other classroom-based evenings have been arranged for 2020, on 29th January at Tavistock Fire Station from 7pm – 9pm and on 5th February at Okehampton Fire station 7pm – 9pm.