Access land in the Yorkshire Dales could be closed this weekend if the fire risk rises any further.
Firefighters tackle a moorland blaze
The Fire Severity Index issued by the Met Office stands at level four – high – for the whole of the national park. If it rises to level five – exceptional – an automatic closure of right-to-roam areas will be imposed. Walkers will still be able to use rights of way across the land, but must stick to footpaths and bridleways.
Authorities today issued a plea for walkers to take care to reduce the risk of starting wildfires, which have a devastating effect on flora and fauna, as well as posing a risk to safety.
Prolonged warm and dry weather during May, with low rainfall, has led to moorland drying out. The forecast is that the Fire Severity Index will rise to level five tomorrow for large parts of the Dales, as far north as Hawes, right down to the southern boundaries of the national park.
Only the north-eastern corner, around Mallerstang and Swaledale, is expected to stay below the exceptional risk level, though by Sunday it is likely these too will be within the closed area. The rain forecast earlier in the week for bank holiday Monday now looks likely to fizzle out as it moves north, with fine weather persisting in the Dales, so fire risk will remain.
Alan Hulme, ranger services manager for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “What this would mean is that walkers would be asked to use only public rights of way and would not be able to roam wherever they want to in parts of the national park identified on maps as being open access land.”
He said that, in these dry conditions, moorland fires could spread very quickly and could be devastating to the landscape and its wildlife, and especially, at this time of year, to ground nesting birds.
“We obviously want people to come and enjoy the Yorkshire Dales over the bank-holiday weekend, but we would urge them to do what they can to help us prevent a fire from breaking out,” he said.
“Visitors should avoid lighting fires on or near the moorland and should not discard cigarettes, matches or glass bottles.
“If they see a fire, they should report it quickly to the fire service so that they can take appropriate action.”
Jonathan Foster, station manager for North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “It’s extremely important that visitors to the countryside take special care to prevent fire.
“We attend a number of serious fires on moorland every year, and most of these can be prevented. Moor fires are difficult to put out and can sometimes burn for weeks.
“This is a huge drain on our resources and causes untold damage to the countryside.”
During the period of exceptional fire risk, walkers and all those taking to the outdoors in the Dales should: avoid lighting any fires or barbecues on or near the moorland area; put out smoking materials carefully and take all litter, especially glass containers, home with them; dial 999 and inform the fire service immediately if they come across a fire.
The Fire Severity Index for the whole of England can be seen on the Open Access website.