Controlled Fire

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Controlled burn

Managing Gower Commons through burning

Fires on common land

Any controlled burning of the commons is done solely by the commoners and land owner in liaison with the fire service. No-one else is authorised to have fires on the commons. If you see a fire contact the fire service immediately.

Controlled heather and grass burning is an important traditional management practice. Burning removes much of the old dead grass and woody plants. The ash created returns nutrients to the soil. This encourages a fresh new growth of vigorous and nutritious vegetation for livestock, moorland game and wildlife.

Governance of common land burning

The burning of common land is governed by the Heather and Grass Burning Code. The Code can be downloaded as a guide which provides information on when and how to safely plan and carry out a controlled burn within the framework of burning legislation and good agricultural practice.

Follow the Commons Code. Do not use camp fires, portable barbecues or any other sort of ignition that can start a grass fire which will threaten wildlife, grazing, livestock, the public and property.

Illegal and uncontrolled fires

Illegal, uncontrolled fires on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) can attract fines of up to £20,000 in the Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine in the Crown Court. 4721 hectares of the Gower Commons are designated as SSSIs.

If you are in doubt about a fire you have seen on the Gower Commons, please call the Fire Brigade. If it is a controlled burn they will already be aware of it.

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Heather and Grass Burning Law

From the Heather and Grass Burning Code for Wales 2008

  • Burning is allowed only between: 1 October-31 March in upland areas and 1 November-15 March elsewhere. At other times under a licence that may be obtained only in very specific circumstances.
  • The burning of heather, grass etc. must not commence between sunset and sunrise.
  • Sufficient people and equipment must be on hand at all times to control the burn.
  • All reasonable precautions must be taken to prevent injury or damage to persons, animals and adjacent property.
  • At least 24 hours but not more than seven days notice of intent to burn must be given in writing to the owners or occupiers of the land concerned and persons in charge of adjacent land. This should include dates, time, place and extent of the burn.
  • All proposed burns outside designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) must have a valid Burning Management Plan (BMP) which is available for inspection by Welsh Government officials on request.

Dangers of uncontrolled fires

Uncontrolled fire wastes the emergency services’ time and resources and can be counterproductive to the management of the Gower Commons. Problems can be caused such as:

  • Land slumps
  • Loss of crucial vegetation for grazing and a reduction in grazing quality
  • Destruction of peat layers leading to soil erosion
  • Encouragement of fire tolerant and invasive species such as gorse, bracken and purple moor grass
  • Damage to property
  • Harm to ground nesting birds
  • Destruction of wildlife habitats

If you see a fire on a common, dial 999 and ask for the Fire Brigade.

Other relevant legislation

  • Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) it is also illegal to intentionally kill, damage or destroy any protected bird species, their eggs or nest (while in use or being built).
  • Furthermore, for specially protected species listed on Schedule 1 of the Act, it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb birds while nest building or at or near a nest with eggs or young. A similar general requirement (protecting nests as well as birds, eggs and habitats) applies under the Birds Directive. Burning when birds are known to be nesting in an area could constitute deliberate or reckless disturbance.
  • It is unlawful to carry out burning on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) without consent from the Countryside Council for Wales if burning has been notified as an “operation likely to damage” [Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981].
  • It is unlawful to burn in a way which damages a Scheduled Monument. [Section 2 of the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Areas Act 1979].
  • It is unlawful to burn in a way likely to cause injury, interruption or danger to road users. [Section 161A of the Highways Act 1980].
  • All equipment must be fit for purpose. [Regulation 4 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998].
    It is unlawful for burning operations to endanger anyone, including the public. [Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999].
  • It is unlawful to cause emission of smoke which is prejudicial to health or causes a nuisance. [Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990].