Brambles and nettles are to be encouraged to grow in a bid to prevent fires being lit in a local woodland by teens.
The near 20 acres of Ladywell woods around Inveralmond Community High School in Livingston has been plagued by deliberate fire raising since April, with more than 20 fires reported.
As a result dozens of now dangerous blaze-damaged trees will have to be felled, a deputation from Woodland Trust told this month’s meeting of Livingston South Local Area Committee.
The Trust manages Ladywell and several other woods in Livingston and West Lothian. There has been deliberate fire damage in other woodlands in the area over the spring and summer but Ladywell is the most badly damaged.
Suzie Saunders and Daniel Aitken, who is the assistant site manager for West Lothian, told the committee about the work of the Trust in the county.
Mr Aitken stressed that planting programmes had been disrupted by the fire-raising and long-term strategies had been adopted to deter fire-raisers.
He told the committee: “Fire is not going away. It’s a recurring issue. Fires are often lit or relit where people can see fires have been before, and often there are problems with the peaty soil smouldering.”
The Trust has carried out a health and safety survey of the damaged areas and said a full report of costs and the number of trees damaged would be passed to the committee.
“We are having to fell the damaged trees and adjust our work programme to address these high target areas,” said Mr Aitken
One way of deterring future fire raisers is to replant the woodland with different species.
Mr Aitken explained: “Wilful fire-raising tends to happen in areas that are clear and easily accessible. It doesn’t happen in the areas where there are lots of brambles, nettles and ferns. More ground cover. People don’t sit on damp shrubbery.”
Fires have been lit where there are dense coniferous trees such as spruce and pine.
The Trust plans to replant these areas with broadleaf trees such as birch, alder and oak which opens up the forest floor to sunlight and encourages the growth of brambles and shrubbery.
The Trust has had to postpone other works and added that the work in Ladywell is a considerable long-term investment. “We are playing a long game here. Nothing happens quickly with trees,” added Mr Aitken.
The Trust has been liaising with the fire service and also engaging with local youth, carrying out litter picks and trying to raise awareness of the importance of the woodland and the need to protect it.
George Anderson, a spokesman for the Woodland Trust, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We are indebted to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for containing these blazes.
“They do education sessions with young people and we have agreed that Woodland Trust staff might contribute to these in future.”
He added: “Livingston benefits so much from having lots of trees and woods so it’s really sad to see them being so badly abused.
“We have had a hot dry summer and there is always a risk a localised fire could take hold and destroy whole woods, and ultimately people’s houses.
“The hot summer may be over but now we have bonfire night on the horizon. It is important for the safety of the community and the health of the environment that this spate of fires stops.”