In late February 2003 an uncontrolled muirburn, on a scale unprecedented in recent years, occurred in the west of Assynt.
The main burn ran for nearly 10 km. It took a dog-leg route from north of Lochinver (NC0924), north-east to the edge of Loch Beannach (NC1326), and then north-west to the edge of Loch Poll (NC0930). There were other smaller pockets of burn as is inevitable in these circumstances.
After some discussion Assynt Field Club approached Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot) in December 2003 for grant-aid. The grant would be used to help fund a project aimed at investigating the impact of muirburn on the vegetation and wildlife of the parish.
The proposed project had three main elements:
a. Information gathering
b. Field survey and monitoring
c. Future practice
In January 2004, Scottish Natural Heritage replied. They were happy to offer £4000 of grant-aid to the Field Club towards the costs of the project. Contributions in kind were subsequently made by members of the Field Club and other interested parties.
As a result fieldwork on the project commenced early in 2004. Robin Noble undertook most of the information gathering. This included detailed mapping of the boundaries of all identifiable areas of recent muirburn. Over the summer of 2005 Viv Halcrow undertook vegetation surveys of six sites straddling burn boundaries. For comparison Viv also surveyed a further one site which was an unburned juniper-rich area.
Other significant contributions were made by Dr Althea Davies and Dr Malcolm Bangor-Jones on the history of muirburn. Reay Clarke looked at the actual practice of muirburn. Significant contributions concerning the impact of muirburn on lichens and bryophytes were made by Dr Tony Fletcher and Gordon Rothero respectively.
Ian Evans supervised the project, and then edited the report.
Muirburn in Assynt Report and appendices
Muirburn in Assynt Report (155kb doc)
Muirburn Appendix 1 – Grant Application (4.5MB pdf)
Muirburn Appendix 2 – Map of Burns (1.6MB pdf)
Muirburn Appendix 3 – Photographs by Robin Noble (23.2MB pdf)
Muirburn Appendix 4 – Summary of palaeoecological evidence for heathland burning: Ruigh Dorch and Glenleraig, Dr Althea Davies (1.2MB pdf)
Muirburn Appendix 5 – Notes on historical evidence, Dr Malcolm Bangor-Jones (2.1MB pdf)
Muirburn Appendix 6 – Notes on ‘The Heather Burning’, Reay D.G. Clarke (2.2MB pdf)
Muirburn Appendix 7 – Vegetation studies, Viv Halcrow (40.3MB pdf)
The following items do not form part of the ‘Muirburn in Assynt Project’ but are worth recording here
“Preventing Wildfires, learning from experience”
This additional item comes from a one day forum, with a series of presentations, which was held in Kinlochewe Hall on 6 March 2020.
The forum was jointly organised by Wester Ross Biosphere and Highland Environment Forum, and Assynt Field Club was represented by Ian M. Evans.
This is a link to a 70kB pdf file containing notes on each presentation.
‘Should we still be Burning Assynt?
Another item added to this page.
The Field Club’s indoor meeting on Thursday 16th November 2022 saw Ian Evans ask ‘Should we still be Burning Assynt?’
Burning is a traditional way of managing the Assynt landscape, dating back to the Iron Age. However, we now appreciate that it reduces soil fertility, destroys biodiversity, prevents the natural regeneration of woodland and contributes significantly to climate change. Surely the time has come to stop burning?
This is a link to Ian’s presentation which was recorded during the live Zoom transmission.