“If you have a particularly dry summer, things are drier and there are more fundamental fires, burning for longer periods of time…”
Phil describes his work for the Countryside Service in South Wales and the challenges of tackling arson and fires in the hills, particularly when they have dry summers.
Phil Griffiths: I’m Phil Griffiths. I live in Caerphilly and I work in a countryside service for the council and I’ve been asked to talk about the effects of drought really. Since I’ve moved here, it’s probably two thousand seven, two thousand eight, we had a pretty dry summer and we’ve got several reservoirs, mainly up in the top of the valley, in the heads of valleys, that used to feed the steel works in Ebbw Vale, and other ones that were basically balancing ponds for collieries and the like, none of which are used anymore but the reservoirs are still there and they’re fairly full. Back in sort of two thousand eight, Welsh Water had to come to British Steel, as it was at the time, to draw water off all of their reservoirs because basically the rivers were running too dry and there wasn’t enough drinking water going round, as I understand it. So, you know, we do have issues with water supplies, despite being in Wales and it being particularly wet most of the time. When it is dry, it tends to be drying out very quickly, because the nature of the valleys are steep and water drains out fairly quickly and it’s matter of the capacity to hold enough water to see us through. But, perhaps one of the issues we have, other than the bio diversity effects of lack of water in rivers and ponds and that, is the dryness of the sort of carbon matter on the mountain sides, particularly bracken. We have lots of problems with illegal burning, usually started maliciously on mountainsides, where they burn the bracken in. Usually April that takes place, so the local fire brigade are usually exceptionally busy at that time of year, so there’s a couple of initiative that we’ve got going. One of them is called, aptly, Project Bernie, which is a combination of the council, the fire brigade and the police, where we go around schools and various other places to try to educate young people not to start these fires, which are completely devastating to the wildlife to the area, but are also a direct threat to people’s homes and houses because houses go right up onto the side of the mountain and, if the wind’s blowing in the wrong direction, the fires go towards the houses. So there’s a threat to human life on that. And it’s become such an issue that there’s now actually, I think we call that the landscape crime toolkit that’s being worked up across three local authorities, where again, we work with the police on three issues. Off-road motorcycles or off-road vehicle use, illegal tipping and arson. And it’s arson again that perhaps the issue with drought on this. You have the bracken fires early in the year but, if you have a particularly dry summer, there’s again more carbon matter around on the side, things are drier and they are more fundamental fires. They tend to burn for longer periods of time and can be more difficult to control in some ways so we’re trying to put an end to that through education and direct action through prosecutions and the like, when people are caught.