NO MOOR FIRES! Councils introduce new legal powers to prevent moorland fires

Published Friday 29 September 2023 at 12:42

Three local councils along with Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service have joined together using legal powers to protect the environment and prevent wildfire devastation on moorland.

A Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) for parts of Darwen, Bolton and Chorley is in force to prevent devastation to wildlife and reduce the risks of wildfire on the moors.

The PSPO will ban any activities on moorland that carry a significant risk of causing wildfires – such as lighting barbeques, building or lighting campfires or camping stoves, lighting fireworks, or setting off night-sky paper lanterns.

Breaching the PSPO is a criminal offence and could result in a fine of up to £1,000.

Councillor Jim Smith, Executive Member for Environment at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said:

The Darwen moorland wildfire in May 2020 – that was caused by a disposal barbecue – had a huge impact on local wildlife. Over 300 breeding birds were killed, endangered species were destroyed and the natural habitats for other species were also ruined. We know that the majority of people enjoy our moorland public space responsibly, and these people won’t be affected by this PSPO. Together with Chorley and Bolton Councils, we are adopting this PSPO to prevent the small minority of individuals from committing anti-social behaviour with fire on our moorland that can cause serious devastation for our wildlife and habitats.

Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton and Chorley councils have all adopted the PSPO, which applies to public open space – this means any land or premises within the PSPO Restricted Area where there is no public access or right of way.

It does not prevent residents living in the PSPO restricted area from, for example, enjoying barbeques or setting off fireworks in their own gardens.


The wildfire spreading across the moors

The wildfire in 2018 spread across the moors causing devastation

The PSPO will last for three years and organisations and individuals can apply for an exemption if they need to light a fire for a community event where they will be given written consent if they are able to meet the rules and regulations.

A person will be guilty of an offence if they breach the prohibitions within the Prohibition Area, without first obtaining written consent from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

Geographical area of the PSPO over three areas

The geographical area of the PSPO over three areas

General Purposes Group Chair for Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF), Chief Superintendent Wendy Bower said:

Public Space Protection Orders are, in some instances, vital for keeping our communities, environment and wildlife safe from damage caused by humans. By putting in steps to prohibit activities that could cause wildfires, such as open flames, barbeques and camp stoves, we are able to mitigate and reduce the risks. Councils, Fire and Rescue Services and the Environment Agency have worked collaboratively with colleagues in Greater Manchester to protect our moorlands and beautiful open spaces, enjoyed by thousands every year, so that they may continue to be enjoyed for years to come. A breach of a PSPO is serious and a criminal offence, so I would encourage residents and visitors to check the council website ahead of any trip to educate themselves on the new rules. By working together and adhering to these, we can dramatically reduce the risk of wildfire and environmental devastation, protecting our communities and eco-system simultaneously. Thank you to all of our partners who continue to go above and beyond to keep Lancashire a safe place to be, visit and work.

 Councillor Peter Wilson, Deputy Leader of Chorley Council, said:

We are so lucky in Chorley to have vast areas of natural beauty to enjoy, and it is so important that we have measures in place to protect them. We have seen first-hand the devastation fires can cause which have lasting effects on our habitats and environment.  I’m pleased that all partners have been able to come together to put this Protection Order in place and that this area will now be safeguarded against fire risk in the future.

Moorland fires are difficult to control. At the time of the Winter Hill fires in 2018, over 100 firefighters and more than 20 fire engines were tackling the blaze, supported by soldiers, volunteers from local mountain rescue teams and a helicopter from United Utilities.

Cllr Sue Haworth, Bolton Council Executive Member for Regulatory Services, said:

Wildfires on our moorlands are a danger to the public and to the natural environment which includes animals and birds. These fires can devastate farmland, cause air and water pollution, release large amounts of greenhouse gases and have a huge impact on residents, communities, businesses and tourism. Bolton Council formally consulted on implementing a Public Space Protection Order to reduce fire risk on our moorlands, and I am pleased that over 90% of responders strongly support taking this action.

Liam Wilson, Group Manager Prevention at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, said:

Most wildfires in Lancashire are caused by human action including inappropriate use of disposable barbecues and campfires. They cause widescale destruction to our fragile moorland which can take decades or longer to recover. Local communities are exposed to significant risk from smoke plumes and impacts upon drinking water quality, not to mention the cost to the landowner of replacing damaged infrastructure. Lancashire knows only too well the devastating effects of wildfires following a fire on Winter Hill in summer 2018 which destroyed 18 square kilometres of moorland. Fighting these wildfires is also extremely resource intensive and we have worked closely with members of the Lancashire Fire Operations Group to prevent them from occurring. We fully support the PSPO and will continue to work with our partners to protect Lancashire’s countryside so it can be enjoyed safely by all.

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