Arsonists turn up heat on harvest

Field fires can have devastating effects, says the CLA's Claire Wright.

Field fires can have devastating effects, says the CLA's Claire Wright. - Credit: Alison Tracy

Harvest is now getting into full swing, with the rumble of combines across Suffolk and Essex signalling the busiest time of year for our farmers.

Remains of a large barley crop field fire

Remains of a large barley crop field fire

While their immediate attention will be on beating the weather and getting the corn carted and the straw baled as quickly as they can, the CLA is advising to them to consider the fact that there is a spike of fires around harvest time, writes CLA East regional adviser Claire Wright.

These often-deliberate blazes can burn for days at a time and occupy fire and police service personnel when they could be attending an emergency elsewhere.

Such fires destroy important material used in arable and livestock farming and can spread rapidly, threatening buildings, livestock, machinery and potentially human lives. The cost to farming businesses can easily run into thousands of pounds.

Stacks often have to be located next to tracks or roadways to allow lorries access, but this also allows access to people who wish to set fire to them. This is a message that is being reiterated by Suffolk police, with Rural and Wildlife Crime Officer PC Mark Bryant advising that, wherever possible, there should be fewer, more isolated stacks with increased security which could include restricting access to farm tracks.

CLA East Regional Adviser Claire Wright

CLA East Regional Adviser Claire Wright - Credit: Archant


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In order to beat the arsonists, farmers are advised to: remove hay and straw from the field as soon as possible, if it has to be left overnight consider blocking access routes to it; stack bales away from buildings that house livestock or have chemicals, machinery and fuel stored inside; keep bales out of view from public roads or rights of way if possible; and split large stacks into smaller ones at least 10 metres apart.

If members of the public see anyone acting suspiciously near straw stacks then they should report the incident to police by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency.

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There is also a concern that an upsurge in sales of Chinese lanterns over the holiday period may also put straw stacks at risk, while also posing a threat to standing crops.

A Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report estimated that between three and eight million lanterns are sold each year, while a study by Kent & Sussex Fire Service found that even when they are not showing a flame a lantern’s fuel cell can still show a spot temperature of 230°C.

If one of these flying bonfires were to land in a tinder-dry field or on a straw stack then the farmer could be facing a very costly blaze that would not only endanger his business, but potentially human lives too.

There is also the real threat the remnants of the lantern could be cut up and end up in silage eaten by cattle, which would cause the unfortunate animal to suffer a slow and agonising death. I hope that if you’re considering lighting a lantern as part of a celebration event this summer, you will consider the serious risk to rural businesses, wildlife and the environment your actions will pose. Essentially, you will be releasing a flying bonfire with absolutely no control over where it lands.

I am looking to collect evidence of damage caused by sky lanterns across the region to help lobby Government for a ban. Those who have experienced problems with them falling on their land or property should email me at claire.wright@cla.org.uk, call 01638 590429, or address tweets to @CLAEast.

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