Northumberland County Council is warning visitors of the risks of wildfires as the visitor season begins to warm up.
As part of its Live it. Love it. Leave it unspoilt campaign with Visit Northumberland and other partner organisations, the council wants to welcome people to the county but also remind people to act responsibly.
Aside from reminding people of the problems caused by inconsiderate parking, litter and dog mess, another concern is campfires and barbecues leading to wildfires – especially as temperatures are set to increase in the next couple of weeks.
In the past 12 months, there have been around 120 fires relating to barbecues and campfires, as well as eight wildfires.
As lockdown restrictions ease and the weather starts to improve, there are worries these numbers will increase if people don’t respect the Countryside Code and take care to put out cigarettes carefully and avoid lighting fires and barbeques.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer, Paul Hedley: “Human error is by far the biggest cause of wildfires. 2020 was a record year for wildfires despite the long period spent under a national lockdown. Wildfires are a big problem because they cause considerable damage to our wildlife, natural environment and local communities. It can take many years for an area to recover from a wildfire.
“Wildfires also put significant pressure on the emergency services, particularly in remote areas that aren’t easily accessible. We often need to send a large number of crews and fire appliances to these incidents, which pulls resources away from other areas.
“In recent years we have seen a number of wildfires in Northumberland and around the UK which have been started by barbecues and campfires that have not been fully extinguished. The person who lit the fire has long left the area and the smouldering embers have later taken off and led to a wildfire.
“Our message is clear. Please don’t light barbecues, even disposable ones and don’t bring fire pits or build small fires, however insignificant you may think they are. Please don’t risk it.”
Margaret Anderson, Senior Ranger at Northumberland National Park added: “During the spring and summer months, when there can be long periods of sunshine and low rainfall, the ground is very dry and the risk of wildfires are high.
“Barbecues and campfires can burn deeply and reignite long after you’ve gone home and broken glass can cause a fire to start during sunny periods. It’s really important to remember not to use barbecues or light campfires and to take your litter home. We know that access to the countryside is important for people’s mental and physical wellbeing but we ask visitors to be responsible and considerate.
“The experiences people have and the memories they make in the National Park can last a lifetime. Let’s make sure we care for these unique and special surroundings today so that future generations can continue to enjoy them for years to come.”
John Queen, wildlife conservation manager at Linhope Estate in the picturesque Breamish Valley said: “Thankfully it is a very small percentage that cause harm with BBQs and campfires at around 1-2%, however, let’s say we have roughly 10,000 visitors per year that’s 100 potential wildfires.
“We definitely want people to visit but they must be equipped with knowledge on proper conduct. That minority who does visit in the really hot weather can do a lot of damage. The countryside is a great place to visit, but it’s also a haven for wildlife and a working landscape upon which many people make their livelihood, so we ask that visitors are respectful and follow the codes of country practice to keep themselves and everyone else safe.”
Greg Gavin, Northumberland County Council’s Head of Neighbourhood Services, added: “The forecast for the coming days is warmer and drier weather and that, combined with half-term holidays, means our coast, countryside and villages are all expected to be busy.
“While we’re looking forward to welcoming all our visitors we’d just remind people to behave responsibly so everyone can enjoy all that Northumberland has to offer.”