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Young people help devise campaign to put out grass fires

25 March 2010

With the Easter holidays approaching, a new two-week project devised with the help of experts from Cardiff University’s Business School and groups of teenagers from Rhondda Cynon Taff will be getting underway in an attempt to reduce the number of deliberate grass fires in a South Wales valley.

Each year, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service fight a huge number of deliberate grass fires which traditionally scar the South Wales valleys. The Easter holiday period usually sees the biggest increase in the number of deliberately set grass fires in the Rhondda Cynon Taff area, in particular Tonypandy.

In a bid to deter the number of young people deliberately starting grass fires in the Tonypandy area, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service has turned to social marketing experts at Cardiff Business School to help develop a unique approach.

Named the ‘Bernie’ project, the social marketing campaign uses a cartoon sheep (Bernie) as the project logo and ‘grass is green, fire is mean’ as the project strap line. It was developed following in-depth focus groups involving young people in the same age group as the target audience, through an advisory panel of young people, interviews with other key stakeholders, and using existing data to better identify patterns of behaviour.

Dr Sue Peattie, Lecturer in Marketing at Cardiff Business School said: "This approach goes beyond just raising awareness on the dangers of deliberately setting grass fires. It is about stepping into the shoes of the target audience, listening to them, understanding them and deciding the most appropriate action. Social marketing focuses more on understanding why young people are engaging in such behaviours in the first place and devising multi-faceted interventions to address these issues.

"For example, our nine-month intensive research found that young males in their mid-teens were more prone to start grass fires deliberately and, usually as a result of boredom, a desire for experimentation, thrill seeking, peer pressure, and a lack of enforcement. Based on this, we were able to develop diversionary tactics which look to alleviate these feelings."

The Bernie social marketing programme, which runs from 27th March - 11th April will focus on three main areas including better enforcement, increased community awareness and diversionary activities for young people during the Easter holidays such as becoming a Firefighter for a day; learning how to design and produce a piece of fire related graffiti art; making pottery; writing a song and recording a CD; and learning ‘bush craft’ survival skills - all of which is designed to educate and ‘deter’ young people deliberately setting bush fires.

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service will also provide a high profile presence in areas where there is a high level of grass fires to deter young persons from deliberately setting grass fires; and there will be high visibility media messages raising local community awareness of the harm caused by grass fires on bill boards, street stencils, posters and flyers.

Andy Marles, Chief Fire Officer, South Wales Fire and Rescue, said: "Deliberately set grass fires are extremely unpredictable and can spiral out of control within minutes. The social marketing ‘Bernie’ project is an innovative and new approach to addressing a major social problem. Cardiff University and our other partners have provided us with critical direction, guidance and advice on this new concept."

Dr Sue Peattie says: "From the outset the aim has been to devise a community-led campaign and one that will instil a sense of ownership and value among the young people in Tonypandy. We hope that this project will deliver the kind of community cohesion which will see a significant drop in grass fires over the Easter period."

The Bernie project, which also includes a dedicated website ( and Facebook page (Bernie South Wales) has been fully developed as a result of a partnership between South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, the Forestry Commission, Cardiff University, Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT) Community Safety Partnerships, South Wales Police, RCT Trading Standards, Communities First, Probation Services, RCT Close Circuit Television and E3.


For more information contact:

Lowri Jones
Communications and Public Relations Division
Cardiff University
T: 02920 870 995