Environment campaigners are warning that Yorkshire’s moors are no longer acting as effective flood barriers for the region following decades of burning for grouse shooting.

It comes as Yorkshire counts the cost of the third major floods to have hit the region in seven months, with torrents of rainfall having flowed from the Pennine Hills into communities over the weekend.

Healthy moorland acts as a natural water store by absorbing vast quantities of rainfall in the peatland. However, heather burning — a practice used by grouse moors to engineer game bird breeding habitat — has severely damaged the soils and vegetation, leaving them unable to perform this function.

The current burning season — which lasts from October to April — could be the last time that moorland burning is legal as the government has pledged to ban the practice and is developing legislation to stop it.

Luke Steele, Director of Wild Moors, said:

“There is only one way to manage moorland for grouse shooting and that’s through burning away and damaging precious peatland habitat at the expense of our region’s natural flood barrier.

“Efforts by the government to reign in grouse moor burning have failed to deliver a meaningful results for our region’s communities most at risk of flooding, with large fires continuing to be set on the moors above Airedale and Calderdale only last week.

“The government must make good on its promise to end grouse moor burning to ensure our region’s peatlands are protected and natural flood barrier restored.”

Zac Goldsmith, minister for the environment, has said voluntary initiatives to prevent burning have failed, and tweeted last month: “One way or another this needs to stop.”

There has been no timeframe published for when the government will introduce legislation, although the Committee on Climate Change, which advises Westminster on environmental matters, has recommended that it should be done within the year.

Despite this, evidence captured by Wild Moors in Airedale and Calderdale (available here) shows large-scale heather burning continuing just days before flooding hit the valleys, further demonstrating that voluntary agreements continue to fail.

Luke Steele adds:

“Despite the government making clear that grouse moor burning has to end to restore Yorkshire’s peatland flood barrier there has been no reflection of this on the ground. It is clear that legislation is desperately needed.”

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