01 July 2011>
A multi-agency project that aimed to tackle the incidence of deliberately set grass fires in the Bargoed has been deemed a great success, after the number of fires in the area over the six-week duration of the project reduced by almost a quarter.
The six-week long Project Bernie was unveiled by the Safer Caerphilly Community Safety Partnership earlier this summer – it aimed to reduce the number of deliberate grass fires in the Bargoed area using social marketing techniques, education and enforcement to tackle the issue.
Over the six-week Project Bernie period, which was a particularly dry period, there was a substantial 22% reduction in the number of deliberate grass fires in the Bargoed area of Caerphilly county borough.
Superintendant Jon Burley, Chair of the Safer Caerphilly Community Safety Partnership said, "Project Bernie was a wonderful example of the types of results that can be achieved when a number of different agencies work together towards a common goal".
He continued, "This excellent initiative was based on the principles of education, diversion and enforcement, and by working hard in each of these key areas, we were, as one team, able to make a real positive difference".
Throughout the project (which coincided with a recent two week school holiday), hundreds of local youngsters got the opportunity to take part in a number of diversionary activities. These included becoming a 'Firefighter' for a day, 'bush craft' survival skills, learning how to design and create a piece of fire themed art and sports activities, including training sessions with the Newport Gwent Dragons.
Group Manager and Head of Community Safety and Partnerships for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Rob Morris said, "The people responsible for starting these types of fires need to understand that the fires severely damage much of the countryside surrounding their communities and they are putting lives in danger as it can take us a few minutes longer to respond to incidents in the towns and villages of Caerphilly county borough if we are on top of a mountain tackling a forest fire".
He continued, "Project Bernie has proven a huge success in tackling this criminal and anti-social behaviour providing very pleasing results. Through effective partnership, the Safer Caerphilly Community Safety Partnership has made tremendous progress in challenging this form of behaviour and attacks of arson".
Caerphilly County Borough Council's Community Safety Wardens and Countryside Rangers also joined forces with officers from Gwent Police and South Wales Fire and Rescue Service in a series of high visibility enforcement patrols in and around the Bargoed area.
Throughout the six-week period, the team of Community Safety Wardens patrolled for a total of 805 hours, confiscated 133 items of alcohol, made seven anti-social behaviour referrals and issued 22 verbal warnings.
The council's mobile CCTV van was also deployed on 24 occasions throughout the project.
Cllr Rob Gough, Cabinet Member for Public Protection at Caerphilly County Borough Council said, "Project Bernie is all about creating a permanent behavioural change, and changing the mindset that setting grass fires on the side of the mountain is socially acceptable. It most certainly is not acceptable, and I hope the many activities organised throughout the duration of the project, coupled with the awareness raising in the local Bargoed community and the enforcement patrols has gone some way to changing these attitudes".
Project Bernie came about following a pilot initiative in Rhondda Cynon Taf last year, which generated similarly pleasing results. The South Wales Fire and Rescue Service were recently awarded a national Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) award for their work on Project Bernie last year.
Project Bernie uses 'Bernie' the cartoon sheep as its logo, together with the strapline 'Grass is green, Fire is mean'.
For further information on the project, please visit www.bernie.uk.com
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