Monday 10 May 2021

#060 Peak District PSPO wildfire prevention order

On 16th April 2021 the High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) implemented a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to make the use of any flame generating device illegal within public areas of the Peak District National Park.

Link to HPBC PSPO Wildfires

This action has been prompted by an escalating incidence of wildfires which have been started by careless, ignorant or willfully destructive use of fireworks, disposable BBQ's and Chinese lanterns. These have been the most publicised and predominant causes of wildfires reported in the media, along with arson.

Credit: Peak District National Park

Over the years there have been many appeals and attempts to educate the public about the dangers and consequences of using disposable BBQ's on tinder dry moorland. At many entry points to access land there are conspicuous signs warning of the fire danger and stating no lighting of fires. Along with so many moorland fires in the past couple of years seen on television news, its hard to believe that anyone can be genuinely unaware of the causes of this problem.

Link to: BBC - Drone footage of moorland fire aftermath captured by Holme Valley MRT

Its an issue which has obvious consequences for wildlife and our natural environment. The grasses and sphagnum which grow on top of peat do suffer from drying in prolonged periods of drought. This spring, with the exception of a few very wet days, has been very dry. So when rain falls as a deluge rather than consistently, water flashes off the top before having time to soak into the underlying peat. 

This is where the real problems start for firefighters dealing with uncontrolled moorland fires. If the fire also burns downward into dry peat, then the fire can burn underground and unpredictably erupt in different locations. Even after the original area has been extinguished and dampened down.

Credit: Peak District National Park

There is also a financial cost to wildfires. Yes, the fire brigade is funded by public money. But every time they are called out to a moorland fire (either set by malicious intent or ignorance) it uses up this public money in time and equipment. As well as taking up resources which are better kept in readiness for saving people's lives. Manchester Evening News reporting in April 2019 on the Stalybridge fire:

"The National Trust, which provided a helicopter to dump water from above, at a cost of £2000 a day, believes that £360,000 which was spent to restoring a habitat on the moor has been lost"

Link to: Manchester Eveining News - The True Cost Of Moorland Fire

Then there's the cost of restoring the moorland. The most recent fire on Marsden Moor this April is estimated to have cost £200,000 in damage and resources. All due to the thoughtless use of a disposable BBQ.

Link to: The Oldham Times - Conservation chief fears a 'summer of hell'

Credit: Manchester Evening News

But, if there's no danger to life, homes or property, why not just let the fire burn itself out and save all that money on putting it out? 

What is perhaps not as well known is that blanket bog, the thin layer of vegetation on top of peat, is highly effective at extracting carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. As older plants are replaced with fresh growth, they decay into peat locking away the CO2. Scientific studies of blanket bog have shown that, for an equivalent area, it is more efficient than rainforest at holding CO2. But when it is set alight, the greenhouse gasses are released back into the atmosphere.

Therefore, this special but delicate environment is of crucial benefit to us all in buffering the effects of climate change resulting from the activities of a growing global population.

Link to: Peak District - Counting the climate change cost of moorland fires

"But, I'm a responsible person and only light my BBQ at the roadside"
"But, I only light my campfire on stony ground"
"But, I use a gas stove and always away from ignition sources"
"But, I would only use my device in wet, wintery, conditions"

While some of these may sound like reasonable exceptions. The PSPO includes all flame generating devices, including gas stoves. So, unfortunately, as is the way of the world and the law in the UK, the rest of us pay the price for the actions of the few. The price in this case is a fixed penalty notice of £100 for being in breach of the order. Or fine of £2000 of the case goes to court (ref: Derby Telegraph 29th April 2021 )

It seems like enforcement of the PSPO will be a case of being caught in the act. Or at least caught without a reasonable excuse of possession. Making it, absolutely rightly, extremely difficult to justify having a disposable BBQ or Chinese Lantern about one's person while walking up onto Kinder, for example. 

Link to: Wording of the PSPO

The devil is almost always in the detail. Section 4 b of the order states:

"...the following is prohibited: Using any article or object which causes a naked flame and thereby poses a risk of fire without the prior written consent of the Borough Council"

'Written consent '- if (however unlikely) written consent was given to use a regulated flame device such as a portable gas stove for example. It's safe to say the Borough Council wouldn't grant this without significant indemnity and insurance in case something went wrong and the cost of this ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Never mind the public vilification and ensuing reputational damage.

The PSPO is scheduled to remain in effect for 3 years, with the possibility of extending it beyond this period. It also remains in effect irrespective of season or ground conditions. 

How did we get to a situation where the law has to be applied as such a blunt tool? I've no doubt that the PSPO has the full support of the National Trust, Peak District National Park Authority and the Fire Brigade. For years, these agencies have been at the forefront of putting out and putting right the consequences of wildfires set by people. 

You only have to look back at this guidance poster from 2005, produced by Derbyshire Fire And Rescue Service to see how appeals for moderation and consideration have been long been ignored. But as Dominic Cummins' 30 mile drive to Barnard Castle (to test he was well enough to drive!) during Covid conspicuously illustrated; Human behaviour is very good at justifying how a particular rule doesn't apply because of special circumstances.

So, where do we go from here? I'm no doubt not the only person who is hoping that the PSPO brings about not just awareness, but compliance with respect to the usage disposable BBQ's and Lanterns. Such that they become unquestionably and universally seen as wholly inappropriate and unacceptable in the Peak District National Park. And all other fragile environments like SSSI's (Sites Of Special Scientific Interest) etc.

While being very conscious of being seen to bleating special circumstances. I don't know what the incidence of fires caused by small portable gas stoves is, although I venture to say that due to the device having a controllable, regulated flame (and semi-enclosed in the case of Jetboil types), it is far less than than open fire BBQ's. Perhaps a degree of tolerance and refinement of the PSPO wording regarding small portable gas stoves, used in appropriate context, may be officially forthcoming in time. So that Mountain Leaders and other hill professionals can lawfully train clients in hill skills. Thus, in the future, hill users can act with informed responsibility.

Meanwhile, what alternatives to portable gas stoves (such as Jetboil) are available to hikers wanting or needing some hot food on a long day's trek?

Perhaps the easiest, cleanest and most environmentally conscious way is to take a decent flask that will keep water hot for several hours. Then, add it's contents to a dry rehydration type meal. There's obviously going to be an element of compromise here compared to freshly boiled water in that:
  • The rehydration time is likely to be longer
  • The resulting meal is not going to be as hot
  • Some meals / brands may work better than others, requiring experimentation
  • But, this might still be better than a cold cheese sandwich

Another method is to use a flameless chemical heater. These sometimes come with RTE (ready to eat meals). Simply place the RTE meal pouch inside the chemical heater pouch and add a quantity of water. A heat generating chemical reaction takes place, making steam inside the pouch and transferring energy into the meal. At least that is what's supposed to happen, but I have a rather hit-and-miss experience with these. They are good when they work but there are a number of downsides:
  • You need to use a very precise amount of water
  • Even then the reaction might not get properly going
  • The chemical and manufacture residue can't be particularly great for the environment
  • Increased potential for waste packaging on the moors if not taken home and properly disposed of
  • RTE meals have significantly fewer calories compared to dry rehydration meals ref my blog test: #018 Hill Food On Test

For all my Ranger Expeditions guided walks which include on-route refreshments (Peak District 3 Peaks Challenge / Edale Skyline / Kinder Scout Summer Sunrise Breakfast Special) we use flasks with  hot water (boiled remotely) along with pre-packaged sandwiches and other food. In our traditions of helping our clients journey with maximum enjoyment of their experience and the surrounding environment.

Also demonstrating our support for the Fire Service and Peak District National Part Authority in the mission to halt the blight of wildfires.

Monday 3 May 2021

#059 An East Africa trilogy

International travel in any form is still uncertain. At the time of writing Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania are all on the Covid red list. It seems the possibility of journeying in East Africa is still some way off. Indeed, I was surprised to see that Namibia, one of the least densely populated countries on earth, is on the list too.

If we can't go to East Africa then we shall continue to bring it home, to savour the flavours and evoke cherished happy memories.

I'm a big fan of my local Peak Bean coffee roasters

Recently the folks at Peak Bean have obtained several excellent new lines from East Africa to create single bean roasts. So, with a grind of the coffee mill, the heady aroma of my cafetiere and a swoosh of the Aeropress. We continue in the spirit of previous stories. 

Peak Bean single origin East Africa trio

Along the western boundary of Uganda, rise the Rwenzori mountains. The massif was formed by a mountain building up-thrust of the earth's crust three million years ago, creating peaks towering five thousand meters above sea level. From the Stanley Glacier you can see over a seemingly unbroken sea of broccoli green canopy into the Congo basin. Meltwater draining along wild montane rivers irrigates the lower slopes of the Rwenzoris, going on to feed the tributaries of the magnificent Nile and fill the great African lakes. 

In the foothills live the Bakonzo people. This is coffee country. The Rwenzori's are known as the rainmaker, which along with the equatorial climate, go to producing high quality coffee cherries. 
A few years ago I led a World Challenge school's expedition to Uganda. It wasn't my first time in the Rwenzori range, but the pleasure of returning to trek through this reservoir of biodiversity and abundance was undiminished. Our local guide introduced us to subsistence farmers who were spreading out their crop of coffee cherries to dry under the sun. At this stage, the coffee bean and its flavour is hidden away inside the fruit. Roasting comes much later in the process.

A few of us made a trip into town for supplies we could not source in Kilembe. Allowed me to revisit the Margherita Hotel and relax for a while on the sunbaked terrace with a maji ya tonic. The previous time I had sat there, on a different expedition, I had watched an electrical storm of such proportions it may have been sent by the Bakonzo deity Kithasama. 

The evening's golden light had been prematurely extinguished by ominous stacks of cloud. A bright flash, my irises rapidly contracted, silhouetting a marabou stork in a nearby tree. Then the briefest moment, before the hotel lights tripped out and a boom of thunder followed by a rolling rumble as Kithasamba beat his drum in anger. Large rain drops hammered the corrugated metal terrace roof with deafening ferocity, but I was none the less grateful for the shelter. And a cool bottle of Nile Special pilsner, while relaxing deep into a wicker chair.

The day starts early in East Africa. The the elliptical orbit of the earth and tilt of it's axis has little effect on sunrise and sunset times in equatorial regions. People are normally up and about at first light to make the most of the cool morning. Measurement of time on a Swahili clock reflects this consistent routine of life and tradition. 

The numbers on a Swahili clock are opposite to those shown on a English clock. Meaning Swahili time is 6 hours different. So, whereas in Britain we might wake up at 06:00 in the morning. In Kenya this is 00:00. Or, if we arise at 07:00, this would be 01:00 in Kenya. Although with sunrise in Kenya around 00:00 Swahili time, this might be considered to be wasting the light of the day.

My wristwatch alarm buzzed as the purple hues of morning tinted the light in of my room. As part of a acclimatisation build up to the Safaricom Marathon (now called the Lewa marathon) I was staying with a tour group in the Aberdare Country Club. I splashed some cool water on my face, pulled on my trainers and headed down to join the other runners. Biscuits, coffee and juice had been laid out for a little pre-training energy. 


Led by our local run guide, we did a few light stretches and set off at an easy jog. At around 2000 metres above sea level a slow start was necessary. Walking around the grounds I hadn't felt any difference, but now, moving with more purpose, the altitude was noticeable. The Country Club, originally built as a homestead, is now a heritage property. Set in it's own wildlife sanctuary, ungulates graze and browse on the vegetation enriched by the humid climate and volcanic soil. On mist free days, Mount Kenya is a dramatic presence on the horizon.

photo: Stu Westfield

The training run went well. We passed by a herd of grazing zebra, who raised their heads to see what we were before carrying on with their grazing. On the return, warmed up and pushing ourselves a little more now, several giraffe ran parallel to us. We kept a very safe distance away of course, as those legs looked awfully long, muscular and powerful from our much lower perspective. We could hardly believe what a treat this had been and animated conversation about the experience continued well into the morning. 

Later, enjoying my recovery, drinking a kahawa bila maziwa on the verandah, a family of warthog peacefully mowed the grass on the lawn, all in a line as if given instructions for the task.

Kilimanjaro, beloved by trekkers and Chaga coffee growers, is a superb mountain. It's also the highest freestanding mountain in the world. The region produces some of the finest beans, from which Peak Bean produce their Tanzania Yetu Tamu AA single bean roast. After the exertions of climbing Kili, why head to central Moshi and take a moment at the famous Union Cafe to watch the world go by. Perhaps accompanying your drink with a mandazi to replace some of those calories left on the hill. 


Overlooked by her bigger sister, in any other location Mount Meru would be top of the bucket list must do experience. Just sixty-something kilometers apart, from each peak on a clear dawn, you can see the other. Standing at 4556m Meru is lower in altitude, but it's still a big mountain, with several distinct ecological zones to trek through on the way to the summit.

Being just that bit taller, Kili is one of the trilogy of glaciated African peaks (Mounts Stanley and Kenya being the other two). All are losing their glaciers at a rapid rate due to climate change and this is impacting the coffee growers with less consistent water run off and unreliable seasons. (ref: BBC report: The people under threat from a melting glacier )

With the current rate of loss, it's predicted that in only a few decades time there will be none of Hemmingway's Snows Of Kilimanjaro left to see.

Kilimanjaro summit & the remnants of the southern ice field

Both Mount Meru and Kili were created as the plates of eastern branch Great Rift Valley separated. The further north you travel the more recent the volcanoes have been formed. Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Masai Mountain Of God, having had a recent eruptive phase, casting a fresh layer of fertilising ash across the Ngorongoro Conservation area.

Mount Meru, the attractive bridesmaid to Kili, missed out being been a lyric in a 1980's chart topping pop song. Although, sorry folks, Kilimanjaro doesn't actually rise above the plains of the Serengeti. The nearest savannah is in Kenya. But then 'Kilimanjaro rising above the plains of the Amboseli' isn't quite such iconic a reference. If you're looking for a mountain which does overlook the Serengeti, then Loolmalasin, in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is a closer candidate. But it doesn't trip of the tongue nearly as well. So I guess we'll have to forgive Toto in taking a few geographical liberties for the sake of their art.

On expedition, the coffee you'll probably become acquainted with is instant Africafe. It's an acquired taste, a much more bitter offering what you may be used to. But at at least it doesn't taste like gravy browning like the instant coffees in the UK. Some of the stuff on supermarket shelves should be presented as evidence at the Old Bailey for crimes against coffee!


Mount Meru is a complete African mountain experience in a nutshell. Its slopes lay within the Arusha National Park which is locally known as Little Serengeti. Our trek in through savannah was accompanied by an armed ranger as buffalo are commonly sighted along with zebra and giraffe. Leopard are rumoured to be resident too, but they are shy and elusive. We saw thousands of pink flamingo feeding upon cyanobacteria algae at the Momela soda lakes. Up higher, the vegetation is dominated by forest, home to colobus and blue monkey. Then transitions to upland heath, before saving the best until last.

Mount Meru summit - photo: Stu Westfield

For me, summit day on Mount Meru is one of the finest trekking routes in the world. Around 7800 years ago the summit collapsed, sending lahar mud flows as far as Kilimanjaro. This left Meru a broken caldera, with a magnificent ridge trek to the summit. Below ancient lava flows cover the floor of the caldera and a ash cone, 'son of Meru', is nature's finale in this most epic of landscapes.

Safari njema

Stu Westfield
Expedition Leader

Are you considering or planning to trek Kilimanjaro, Mount Meru or more widely in East Africa when global Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted? Ranger Expeditions UK guided challenge walks are excellent training for steady paced, full days on the trail.
I have also guided expeditions, worked with NGO's and travelled in many areas of East Africa.

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