BONFIRES should be completely banned in a Helensburgh woodland on safety grounds, according to a fire brigade chief.

But David McGaughey from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service recognised that a total ban on all fires in the town's Duchess Wood would be very difficult to police.

Concerns over the risk of fires spreading were raised at a meeting of the wood's management committee in Helensburgh this week – following numerous reports of hill fires across Scotland during the dry weather of late April.

The Duchess Wood Local Nature Reserve Committee – which includes representatives from Argyll and Bute Council, which manages the area, and the Friends of Duchess Wood – heard this week that while some organised groups are allowed to stage fires at the upper Helensburgh woodland, there is concern at the risk of even a responsibly-lit fire being able to spread.

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Picnic tables have also been damaged as a result of disposable barbecues, and metal plates being installed by the Friends of Duchess Wood to help solve the problem.

Mr McGaughey also suggested locating fire beaters and metal bins in the woodland to try and further fight the issue.

Speaking at the committee's meeting on April 30, the group's chair, Councillor Lorna Douglas, said:  “I have had an email from one of the Friends committee as somebody had been lighting a fire and there was concern as to what would happen.

“I don’t think you can get a fire engine across to the woodland, and it is a valid point to raise.

“A lot of people [making fires] would think that they were going to be responsible, but what if it gets out of control?”

Friends secretary Martin Grafton said: “Branching Out [a mental health project which uses the wood as an education resource] have fires, and are pretty diligent about ensuring they are put out before they vacate the wood. But there have been other people.

“When I was walking around a couple of weeks ago, an adult had a small fire where the bridge goes, and I had a word.

“They are what I would class as responsible people, but fires as part of vandalism are less controlled.”

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He then asked whether fires should be allowed in the wood at all.

Mr McGaughey replied: “In an ideal world you would say no, but how do you police that? It is a very difficult one to police.

“Is it worth putting some signage up? Is there an area we could designate where people could sit and make a fire?

“I don’t know what sort of condition people leave it in – is it like Balloch Park, where people expect you to clean up after them?

“The number of bags of rubbish that the guys took out of Balloch Park recently was disgusting.

“If you were going to put stuff in bins, ideally they would be made out of metal – at least if there is a fire in those, it stays within the bin.

“A wooden bin would sit better in the wood, but if a fire was in one of those, it could spread.

“It is very hard getting the message across within the woods, and locating some beaters around it would not be a bad idea.

“Responsible people might think they are doing fine, but all it takes is a bit of wind for a fire to spread.

“Will signage be read by the people we are concerned about? Probably not. But it is not going to do any harm.”

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Stewart Campbell from the Friends of Duchess Wood added: “All the main signs say ‘no fires’. The other problem has been use of tables for barbecues which have resulted in all of our tables being damaged, so we have put metal plates on two of them.

“We have had no experience of any people using these yet.”

Mr Grafton then asked what the rules were in relation to fires at the Duchess Wood, and expressed the opinion that banning them, but allowing some to take place, was an inconsistent approach.

Mr McGaughey said: “The general approach has been no fires, but we have had them ourselves to dispose of brash and rhododendron.

“We have recognised it is impossible to stop the tables being used, and the best way to minimise the damage is to put metal plates on them.

“It is best we have an overall ban but we can allow exceptions to it for practicality.”