THE SENTENCING of a man locked up for setting a fire on Ilkley Moor comes as wildfires reach record levels.

Already this year the UK has seen 135 moorland wildfires - nearly double the number seen in the whole of 2018, the previous UK record.

On Thursday 20-year-old Mohammed Zulkifl was sentenced to 27 months in a young offender's institution for setting one of three fires to ravage Ilkley Moor on April 20.

"Matters like this may become more regular as climate change continues to bite, no matter the cause," remarked Bradford's most senior judge, Jonathan Durham Hall.

Although Zulkifl's fire was small and extinguished quickly, overall almost 20 acres of the moor were damaged in at least three blazes to take hold that day.

According to the Moorland Association, 50,000 acres of moorland have been destroyed by wildfire since January 2018 - significantly more than the 30,000 acres torched in the whole of the preceding decade.

Moorland Association director Amanda Anderson said: "Wildfires caused by arson are deliberate acts of environmental vandalism. They release thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases poisoning our planet, incinerate local wildlife and vegetation, and risks human health and even life.

"This case highlights the devastating consequences of uncontrollable wildfires on our moors. Zulkifl deserves his custodial sentence."

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service deputy chief fire officer Dave Walton said: "We very much welcome the sentence given to Zulkifl and hope it acts a a deterrent to others. Moor fires are hugely dangerous to people, animals and property and they require a huge resource from WYFRS to tackle.

Chief Inspector Mark Long of Bradford District Police said: "We hope this outcome sends out a message that anyone who endangers the lives of others by starting a fire deliberately is likely to go to prison."

Arson is not the only fire threat to the moors - less than 24 hours after the Ilkley blaze, firefighters were back in action on Marsden Moor tackling another massive blaze, this time caused by a barbecue.

In the wake of April's fires, Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale councils jointly adopted a public space protection order (PSPO) banning all fires, including barbecues, Chinese lanterns and fireworks, on publicly accessible land.

Bradford Council executive member Cllr Alex Ross-Shaw said: "We have seen in recent years the damage that fires on moorland can do, which is why we have a PSPO banning all barbecues and fires on moorland in the district.

"Wildfires are not only dangerous, but one barbecue, carelessly discarded cigarette or thoughtless campfire can have a devastating impact on both the natural environment and the local economy."

Zulkifl's trial heard an impact statement from Natural England highlighting the ecological damage posed by wildfires.

"In some cases, where peat soils are burnt away, along with the seed source, it is unlikely that natural regeneration will occur unaided leading to costly programmes of vegetation restoration," they said.

"Without restoration further soil erosion is likely to occur, leading to long term damage and even destruction of this nationally and internationally important habitat."