Dartmoor has been going up in flames in recent days – in an environmentally friendly way and much to the delight of various ground nesting birds like skylarks and grazing livestock.
It's all part of the age-old art of swaling – the notified controlled burning of overgrown heath land and clearing the ground of dead vegetation so that new growth can appear. The swaling period is from October to the end of March on Dartmoor.
Various commoners' associations, particularly in the last week, have been out and about on the moors swaling – the legal controlled burning is undertaken by commoners' associations and it falls within their ESA (environmentally sensitive area) agreements or other agreements with Natural England. The Dartmoor National Park Authority supports the process by providing signs, and Rangers assist whenever possible. The agreed chosen sites are then notified to various agencies in compliance with the Heather and Grass Burning code. Each site will have pre-planned cut fire breaks or have other natural boundaries like tracks or walls to facilitate safe extinguishment. Throughout the duration of the swale commoners will be in attendance appropriately equipped.
Within a partnership arrangement the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service whenever possible undertake a roving inspection of known planned swales and liaise with the commoners and National Park Rangers.
This year swaling has been deemed more important than ever on the moors because fewer grazing animals have been released on the highland commons over recent years, resulting in the extra growth of plants such as gorse and bracken.