Fresh fires on moors at the weekend has seen frustration turn to anger in Saddleworth villages.

Here, KEN BENNETT, who has spend 18 months campaigning for more “boots on the ground” to protect the precious asset, gauges the community’s temperature ...


THE blackened heather and shrivelled grasses add to the growing, bitter legacy of another targeted attack staining these ancient hillsides.

Villagers are now openly talking of the “epidemic of arsonists” who are choosing new ground to set their fires.

On Sunday, nine fires were deliberately set alight within a few hundred yards of each other.... another eight acres of valuable moorland and wildlife lost at a site behind iconic Pots and Pans, the community war memorial.

The flames seared the raiders' arrogant and indelible calling card on the hillsides and outraged locals.

“It’s as if they are goading us and it’s not even summer time yet,” one disgusted Uppermill villager said, squinting at the ravaged skyline.

And Dr Andrew Taylor, chair of Greenfield and Grasscroft Residents Association and long serving member of Oldham Mountain Rescue Team, said: “It is distressing and infuriating. Another sunny weekend cannot pass without the anti-social arsonists coming out to play.

“Perhaps we can take some comfort from - and give some credit to - the changes that have taken place around the Dovestone area, whether feet on the ground or social media responses from the concerned and resourceful.”

But he warned: “The problem has not gone away - it has evolved and spread.

“The areas involved in fires have spread and enlarged, and photographic evidence suggest a highly mobile and determined assault on the countryside - possibly with increased mobility.

“Mountain bikes? Scrambler bikes? Three separate areas of multiple start points in a short space of time strongly suggest this.

“Can the response rise up to meet the challenge? The problems being faced have distinct similarities to those faced by the forces of law and order against terrorist activity.

“Thankfully not the murderous ill will, but certainly the evolution of the problem and the mobility of the enemy.

“An even higher level of commitment of money and staff, with a higher level of organisation - possibly from a newly formed group - is needed to even stay level with the problem.”

He declared: “We we need to be ahead if possible. That is not to criticise the actions already taken, but to see clearly even more is required especially on the detection and deterrent penalty aspects of the problem.

“Unless we monitor every acre of the countryside, high levels of detection and the risk of higher levels of penalty must be the next steps forwards.

“These changes would have to take place at higher administrative levels to ensure commitment of money and resources.”

Meantime, Dovestone WI are promoting a volunteer Countryside Marshal scheme with the slogan: "Don’t try to sort it - just report it.”

And over the hill, Kirklees Council have launched a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which banning fires, barbecues and other dangerous objects such as fireworks and sky lanterns, on Council, National Trust and Yorkshire Water-owned land.

Locally, Pam Byrne, a stalwart Oldham and Saddleworth Parish councillor, is liaising with Oldham Council to try to introduce a similar order to protect Saddleworth.

But she added bluntly: “The moors fires are arson and severe prison sentences are the consequences...

“We will find out who is starting these fires and they will suffer.”