Muirburn code

Fire is one of our oldest and most powerful land management tools. But controlling it requires planning, skill and experience.

Gorse bushes and grasslands are sometimes burnt, but the burning of heather will be best known to most people.

Trees and some other plants perish in fire, but some, such as heather, can regenerate after fire. Heather moorland is burnt to provide fresh growth for game and livestock.

The aim should be to create a mosaic of heather patches of different ages. This provides grouse with short fresh growth and longer heather nearby in which to shelter. Variation in vegetation structure also suits deer and livestock. Wildlife like birds, insects and reptiles, can also benefit from appropriate, well-managed muirburn.

Muirburn guidance

Muirburn is guided by the Guidance document for Muirburn Code which sets out both the law and good practice relating to muirburn. The code is supported by supplementary information.

It aims to ensure that when muirburn is carried out, it:

  • is in the right place
  • avoids damage to sensitive habitats and ecosystem services
  • doesn’t lead to wildfire

The standard muirburn season runs from 1 October to 15 April inclusive in Scotland. This is mainly to avoid harm to the many moorland birds that nest in spring as well as reptiles coming out of hibernation.

Areas with thin soils or steep slopes, should not be burnt as this can increase the risk of soil erosion. Woodlands and wetlands, for example, should be avoided. Woodland can benefit from fire only in very special circumstances: it may help to prepare a good seedbed and thus promote woodland expansion.

To avoid over-grazing and trampling damage, heather patches burnt to provide fresh growth for deer and sheep shouldn’t be too small in size. They shouldn’t be too large either, as they will then lack variation in structure, and habitats that shouldn’t be burnt will be burnt along with those that should.

Muirburn Practitioner Foundation Course

There is now a Muirburn Practitioner Foundation Course which is a Lantra accredited course.  The course includes e-learning and practical elements both of which are assessed. 

Peat concerns

Bogs can be damaged by fire. There is particular concern about the risk of fire getting into deep peat, which might then burn uncontrollably.

NatureScot takes the view that the risks and uncertainties are such that burning on bogs is usually best avoided. Encouraging the development of wet, moss-rich areas reduces the risk of wildfire affecting bogs.

Research into the impacts of fire on bogs continues.

Find out about the valuable role of peat in carbon management.

Find out more

Cutting of heather as an alternative to muirburn: NatureScot Information and Advisory Note No. 58

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