A hill fire which burnt through most of the night last night (Monday 30 March) appears to have been deliberately set, despite a recent warning to suspend muirburn during the COVID-19 epidemic.

The hill at Bogach, near Bruernish in north Barra, was seen to be burning from about 10pm last night and is this morning blackened and smoking.

Scottish Land and Estates last week (25 March) issued an appeal to land managers not to undertake muirburn (controlled burning of heather) during the Covid-19 pandemic, to help ensure there is no chance for any additional strain on public services.

The coming fortnight, leading up to end of the season on 15 April, is usually the busiest time for muirburn. But even careful risk assessment is not enough to prevent a fire getting out of control and needing emergency services to be called out.

Tim Baynes, director of moorland at Scottish Land and Estates said: “We are urging land managers not to undertake any more muirburn for the rest of this season.

“Even though the risk of the fire getting out of control is very small, we want to be absolutely 100% certain that there is no additional call on the fire or ambulance service and the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Muirburn is a strictly regulated and essential tool to manage moorland and has many benefits including enhancing biodiversity and conservation. Putting back a muirburn programme will have consequences, so I urge land managers to keep a record of muirburn foregone because of the current situation, and any impact that has on wildlife and biodiversity.”

Muirburn is the traditional way to manage moorland and has been practised for centuries, resulting in the Scotland’s renowned purple heather landscape.

Barra residents acknowledged that last night’s fire did burn itself out and did not put any property at risk, but still questioned the sense of setting fire during the current emergency.

One resident commented: “No need for it in this year’s climate. Hopefully it puts itself out and doesn’t need the intervention of volunteers that should be able to stay at home like the rest.”

Another said: “We are in the middle of an emergency – think we should be prioritising as a society.”

Pictures show the fire last night (Barrabuddie NonMac) and the hill this morning (Katie Mairi Mackinnon).