A wildlife biologist who runs Bear Grylls-style bushcraft courses in the Highlands has apologised after causing a wildfire which scorched almost 30 acres of land.
Longtime outdoors-lover Leon Durbin confessed he was “mortified” at his blunder which is thought to have killed countless small animals, insects and ground-nesting birds as well as destroying young trees, heathers and bushes.
The fire started after Mr Durbin, who runs Wildwood Bushcraft in Lochailort, had a garden bonfire, which got out of control and spread to undergrowth and trees.
About 25 firefighters, plus local residents, battled to extinguish the flames which threatened to spread to nearby houses last Monday.
In a statement, Mr Durbin apologised and said: “This has been the greatest regret of my life”.
Flames threatened £1m homes on shores of Sound of Arisaig
Five fire crews were assisted by residents from the 30 or so homes, some costing more than £1million, which lie hidden from public view among the trees and bushes of the estate on the Lochailort to Glenuig side road.
“It’s devastating to know I have had such a damaging impact on the environment which I love.
Early last week, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service issued a warning about the “very high risk” of wildfires across the country.
One angry neighbour questioned why Mr Durbin had lit the fire on “one of the hottest and windiest days of the year”.
“Given his knowledge of nature and the elements, he in particular should have known better,” they said.
‘The fire must have killed off lots of small mammals and ground nesting birds as well as leaving a large chunk of the landscape scarred black with burned bushes, trees, heathers, grasses and flowering rhododendrons.”
Among the Roshven residents who worked to extinguish the fire was millionaire Scots business entrepreneur and author Angus MacDonald, his wife Michie and his son Archie.
Mr MacDonald jun, whose girlfriend Tilly also helped, said although the flames did not threaten their home, they had watched as they got “nearer and nearer” some of their neighbours.
The 30-year-old praised the community for coming together, with two locals even using their quad bike as a water carrier.
He added: “We didn’t have the proper gear but are now going to buy long-handled flame beaters plus water-filled back-packs with sprinklers attached.
“It was absolutely exhausting work for us.
“It was a great community effort.”
Bushcraft survival instructor ‘devastated’ by impact of bonfire
A fire service spokesman said: “We were there for several hours and a lot of locals joined in to help us which was very welcome. There were multiple sources of fire. I understand it was an out-of-control garden bonfire that started things off.”
Mr Durbin runs wilderness survival school Wildwood Bushcraft with his wife Alison, and has released a statement apologising to the community.
The outdoorsman – who has a PhD in animal ecology from Aberdeen University and taught students about eco-tourism at UHI – said he had “misjudged” the conditions when he had the bonfire.
He said: “Words cannot express how extremely sorry, upset and mortified I am about the hill fire which started while I was burning pallet wood in my garden.
“It’s devastating to know I have had such a damaging impact on the environment which I love. I have been in contact to offer my sincere apologies to other landowners and neighbours affected.
‘The situation is is particularly hard as I teach responsible fire-craft as part of my job and in a 16-year career have always been extremely careful and had no problems.
“Just this once I misjudged the conditions while working in a home setting. The surrounding vegetation was green and I thought I could manage the fire.
“However, sudden gusts and the dryness of the wood meant the situation got out of control unbelievably quickly.
“I know this cannot make up for my mistake but I will do whatever I can to help the habitat to regenerate.
“This has been a massive lesson for me and the biggest regret of my life. Finally, I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to the fire service and neighbours who did an amazing job helping to stop the blaze.”
Mr Durbin estimated that between 900-1400 birch saplings were scorched, but noted most would have grown so close together that they would have self-thinned before maturing in any case.
A previous version of this story suggested the damaged area covered 100 acres, that thousands of trees were killed by the fire, that the flames came “within a few feet” of several £1 million-plus homes and that Mr Durbin has a Msc in Ecotourism. We are happy to have clarified these details.