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Scotland: Muirburn


The Muirburn Code

The latest edition of the Muirburn Code came into force in 2017.  This brings the Code up to date to reflect the current legislation, regulations and provides up to date guidance.  Scottish Natural Heritage is now the lead organisation for muirburn in Scotland.


Features of the Muirburn Code:


​​Muirburn Code Website​​​​​​​​​​. The main source of the Code is the dedicated website:, but it is also available to download as a PDF from this website, and also from the Muirburn Licensing page of the SNH website.  The format of the Muirburn Code may be developed, and links to other information updates, but the main content has been produced with a view to changes not being required, unless there are changes to regulation, legislation or guidance.

Supplementary Information.  The latest version of the Code was published with Supplementary Information. The intention is that the range of this information is expanded to meet the needs of practitioners and updated with new information as this comes available.  This information could include such information as sources of equipment, more details about fire science, and advanced muirburn techniques.

Out of Season Licences​​​​​​​​​​. A licensing system to allow burning out of season for specific purposes was introduced by the Wildlife and Natural Environment 2011 Act.  A licence will only be granted in exceptional purposes in relation to the stated purposes of: conserving, restoring, enhancing or managing the natural environment, for research or for public safety, and.  See Muirburn Licensing


September Muirburn Trial​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

The possibility of extending the muirburn season into September is being considered. The justification for this would be to take the pressure of the more sensitive period at the end of the muirburn season, when some moorland birds are likely to have started nesting.  September could also be a good time to burn, as the conditions on the hill can be better at the end of the summer.  This makes it easier to entice people out to help with the work.


There is no information about the possible benefits or impacts that might arise from such an extension and the September muirburn trial has been set up by SNH to gather data. In 2012, eight estates were identified and a monitoring protocol was agreed.  However, wet weather in September only allowed 3 estates to carry out any burning. The original plan was to carry out baseline monitoring of trial plots before any burning took place and then monitor the plots every two years.


The results of the trial are due to be published during 2018.

Burning under the Scottish Rural Development Programme

This programme is now closed to new entrants, but those in the scheme are required to draw up a muirburn plan before carrying out any burning under the SRDP.


Guidance about the detail that must be included in the plan is available on the Muirburn & Heather Swiping page of the SRDP website.  This introduces the curious requirement for fires to be no more than 20m wide.  As far as we are aware this is not based on evidence and appears to be a regulatory whim.  The introduction of a heather-swiping season that ends on 15 April, each year, is also not based on any regulation or legislation.  The links to the Muirburn code and its Supplement are now out of date (Jan 2018).


The Moorland Grazings on Uplands & Peatlands option refers to the Muirburn Code for guidance about how to carry out muirburn, but also refers to the restriction on the width of muirburn strips to 20 metres.  This is at odds with the guidance Muirburn Code, both the printed, 2011 version and the revised, 2017 version.

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