A RESPECTED doctor and eco-champion is urging immediate action to protect frightened people and the environment in villages besieged by fires.

Doctor Andrew Taylor is chair of the influential Greenfield and Grasscroft Community Association and has been a member of Oldham Mountain Rescue Team for 44 years.

He is also operations director of a the country’s first hydro scheme based at Dovestone Reservoir.

Last year, with OMRT volunteer colleagues he spent gruelling days - including his 71st birthday - working alongside firefighters on the front line to quell the horrific fires which ravaged Saddleworth moor.

Last week, ahead of Easter holidays and the ensuing fires, Dr Taylor vowed the battle against ‘evil arsonists and dim witted barbecuers’ ravaging Saddleworth would continue.

And now in the wake of the nightmare Easter weekend scenario, he told me: “I was asked if there was a risk of fires in 2019 as we had in 2018. I said 'certainly’ the moors were there and the idiots would come. And they have.

"There must have been in excess of 25 local fires so far this year.

“Most of these have been set on purpose by arsonists. One was blamed on a barbecue - an act of crass lunacy in contravention of the country code and the dozens of signs on the way into the area.

During the interview Doctor Taylor was interrupted to take calls on fresh outbreaks of local fires including the blaze threatening houses of Uppermill itself.

“I was quoted recently as saying 'the battle continues'. It certainly does,” he said.

“Facebook is burdened down with an avalanche of responses. It is a true emotion-fest.

“It is rather pointless, but perhaps cathartic for their authors to display their sadness, anger, outrage and frustration.”

He went on: “We need a preventive strategy, followed by implementation, with all the necessary costs.

“Timing is vital - no time for committee discussions, electoral 'purdah' and general slow thinking.

“The damage to Marsden Moor is estimated at £200,000. A fraction of this spent on preventive measures seems to me to be a missed investment opportunity.

“The proverb 'a stitch in time saves nine' seems to be falling on deaf administrative ears.

“This is not a criticism of the fire service who have responded brilliantly, but the upper echelons of the other organisations who have influence in the area.

“Again, the staff on the ground of these organisations are working well beyond their job description, but like a valiant patrol against an advancing army, they are simply overwhelmed.

“All of them have primary duties which are not this.

“And it costs ... It costs the environment, the flora and fauna, turns carbon capture landscape into a carbon nightmare and even threatens public safety.

“Work done to improve the moors is lost; money spent rendered valueless.

“So even if prevention carries a heavy cost - it has to be worthwhile. And not 'after the election' or 'in next year’s budget'.. NOW. To quote Bob Geldof 'give us your ****ing money!'. And people. In the right quantity. And at the right time.

“Am I optimistic? No.”