Burning heather on fragile blanket bog is set to be restricted on northern England’s grouse moors under new legislation announced by the Government today.

The tighter rules will mean that grouse moors will no longer be allowed to routinely set fire to heather, to engineer game bird breeding habitat, on some of the country’s most ecologically-sensitive sites.

DEFRA has said that there is consensus that burning of vegetation on blanket bog is damaging to peatland formation and habitat condition. It makes it more difficult or impossible to restore these habitats to their natural state and to restore their hydrology.

Environmental campaigners have welcomed the tighter controls on burning as progress, but warn that they do not go far enough because burning on shallow peat (less than 40cm depth) will still be permitted. This is despite an urgent need to restore shallow peat to its healthy, deeper state to help tackle climate change by locking carbon into the ground.

Luke Steele, Director of Wild Moors, said:

“England’s grouse moors are woefully under regulated so we welcome today’s announcement that burning on fragile blanket bog will no longer be routinely allowed in many areas.

However, it is clear that the legislation does not go far enough given it fails to end burning on degraded shallow peatlands, which need restoring to their healthy, deeper state. In the midst of a climate emergency there is no justification to allow fires to be set on any carbon-rich peatlands.

Grouse moors have started over 660 fires on peatlands in Yorkshire alone since 2018, according to new research published by Wild Moors. Of those burning incidents 23% were identified as being on deep or mixed peat and 75% on shallow peat, with the latter being exempt from the new rules.

According to Natural England, 580 million tonnes of carbon are stored in peatlands and about three quarters of them are visibly damaged.

In addition to carbon being released when the peat layer is set on fire, researchers at the University of Leeds have found that biodiversity and water sources are heavily impacted by burning.

Luke Steele adds:

“We look forward to engaging with the Government to ensure that the new rules addressing grouse moor burning on fragile blanket bogs are robustly enforced.”

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Notes for editors:

  • Wild Moors campaigns to free up moorland for conservation from exploitation for grouse shooting. By working with society, companies and government to create change, we secure effective protection for wildlife, habitats and local communities.
  • Broadcast quality footage and print quality photographs of burning are available to download here, with full permission granted for re-publication.
  • Research showing the number of burning incidents on Yorkshire’s grouse moors was collected by Wild Moors throughout the past two burning seasons (October 2019 – April 2020 and October 2020 – present) and is presented in a table available here.

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