Multi agency task force successfully reduce deliberate grass fire numbers in Wales

The number of deliberately set grass fires in Wales has dramatically reduced since 2015 – with the Wales Arson Reduction Board crediting the collaborative approach of its multi-agency task force – Operation Dawns Glaw with the reduction.

Chair of the Wales Strategic Arson Reduction Board, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mick Crennell said:

"Following the unacceptable increase in deliberately set grass fires across Wales in 2015, the Wales Strategic Arson Reduction Board developed a new strategy that refocused efforts in the area and broadened the responsibility for arson reduction activity in Wales to a range of multi-agency partners.

"As a result of this partnership approach, we saw a significant reduction in the number of deliberately set grass fires across Wales, with a 47% reduction reported in 2016 compared to 2015 (Jan-May) – with most notably a 75% reduction in April 2016 compared to April 2015.

"Unfortunately, our provisional figures so far this year, show a slight increase of 6% for the same period compared to 2016 – in real terms this is around 70 recorded incidents more than last year. But to put this into context, this year has been significantly dryer than the same period last year. We have also seen significantly less rainfall during the early months of the year, compared to the same period last year – and as a result of a dry winter, we entered the control burning season with far dryer bracken, which was prime fire loading. More notable is the comparison of this year's figures with the 2015 figures, where the external environmental factors are more comparable and denote a 44% reduction – that's 940 less incidents of deliberately set grass fires in 2017 compared to 2015.

"We are convinced that engaging with young people through targeted interventions such as education initiatives, youth intervention programmes and high visual patrols has been key to our success. This type of incident can sometimes seem like a bit of fun to young people, but we've worked hard to highlight the potential risks they can post to members of the public, the firefighters who tackle the blazes and to those setting the fires.

"We will continue to work closely with our partners to educate and inform young people about the consequences of their actions so that we can continue to build on our success year on year".

However, despite their success, the task force is determined to continue in their efforts to reduce the number of grass fires in Wales, whether they be accidental or deliberate, and as we enter the summer months, the task force are reminding members of the public to be vigilant when out enjoying their country side and to be mindful of the dangers of small fires, such as barbecues, spreading and causing damage to agricultural land, crops, wildlife and property.

This year the task force have also focused their attentions on working with landowners and farmers throughout Wales to try to reduce the number of controlled burns which are either undertaken illegally (outside of the legal burn period), or accidentally get out of hand.  As a result of this work, the multi-agency task force held a bracken harvesting demonstration event in Builth Wells on Wednesday 14 June<x-apple-data-detectors://7>, in which they demonstrated innovative approaches to removing bracken and ultimately reducing fire loading.

Communities and Children Secretary Carl Sargeant said: "Deliberate grass fires can be devastating. They put human life at risk, endanger property and kill wildlife and livestock. But by working together so closely over the past two years, our fire and rescue services, the police, the Welsh Government and other agencies have achieved a dramatic reduction in the numbers of these fires. I thank them for their work and congratulate them on the success of operation Dawns Glaw so far. There is, however, more work to be done, and it is very pleasing to see the project moving on to work with farmers and landowners to reduce the number of controlled burns getting out of hand".

Corporate head of Prevention and Protection for Mid and West wales Fire and Rescue Service – and Chair of Operation Dawns Glaw, Mydrian Harries said:

"The increasing mass of bracken affects upland agriculture, negatively effecting upland tourism and threatens the quality of rural water supplies. It is also the major contributory factor for incidents of wildfires in some parts of Wales. As a task force we are currently exploring innovative approaches to removing bracken and the use of specialist hillside mechanisation could very well be an approach we look to support. Being able to utilise the equipment to cut fire breaks in the bracken would enable landowners to reduce the amount of dry hillside vegetation and ultimately reduce the risk of wildfires on their land".

Operation Dawns Glaw is just one of the focus areas of the Wales Joint Arson Reduction Group. As part of their determination to work collaboratively to eradicate all incidents of arson from Wales, the group have published their Wales Arson Reduction Strategy, which sets out a multi-agency approach to achieving a sustained reduction in the incidence of arson across Wales.

Deputy Chief Officer Mick Crennell added: "We have had considerable success in recent years and we are very proud of what has been achieved through a great deal of determination and hard work by all agencies involved.

"Our new strategy builds upon the knowledge and experience we have gained in recent years – we recognise the value of encouraging our communities to work with us to share responsibility and encourage a cultural shift across Wales so that arson is seen as socially unacceptable by all. We will take action to support this positivity and a lasting cultural change to create a Wales that we all want to live in, work in and to visit now and in the future".

As a result of an increase in deliberately set grass fires across Wales in 2015 (with numbers peaking in the Spring), the Wales Arson Reduction Board (SARB) tasked the Wales Joint Arson Group (JAG) with establishing a dedicated multi-agency task force to tackle the issue. The task force brought together a team of specialists from a range of key agencies to collectively assess deliberate grass fire activity and its impact in Wales and to also establish intervention measures to reduce and where possible, eliminate their impact on our communities.

Operation Dawns Glaw partners:
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Dyfed Powys police, South Wales Police, Gwent Police, North Wales police, Met Office, National Probation Service, Natural Resources Wales, Public Health Wales, Welsh Government and Welsh Local Government Association.

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