Burning away precious peatlands
Britain’s peatlands are a crucial lynchpin in the fight against climate change, storing as much carbon as all the forests in the UK, Germany and France combined. Grouse moors severely damage to these important habitats by burning the heather-clad hills on which peatlands are located in order to cultivate younger, more nutritious shoots for game birds to eat. This industrial practice degrades sensitive peatland ecosystems, releases climate-altering gasses into the atmosphere, depletes biodiversity and contributes to flooding in communities downstream from grouse moors.
Despite consensus that grouse moor burning damages peatlands and makes it more difficult for them to be restored, use of the harmful practice has continued to escalate. Wild Moors recorded over 700 incidents of burning on grouse moors in Yorkshire alone during the 2020-2021 season, an increase by almost a third on the previous season. This intensification has resulted in burning becoming the largest driver of poor habitat condition in England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Subsequently, only 4% of England’s upland peat is in favourable condition which is converting these important habitats from carbon stores into carbon emitters.
Draining fragile moorland ecosystems
Peatlands are drained through large ditches being dug into the fragile habitat to make them more suitable for grouse breeding. By converting ancient wet bogs to a dry habitat dominated by heather, a ready supply of food and shelter is provided for grouse being reared for shooting.
Drainage has been found across a fifth of all peatlands, leading to them rapidly losing stored carbon and contributing to the decline of peat-forming sphagnum moss. But where drainage is reversed to re-wet peatlands, not only does it help restore vegetation and habitat, but also slows the run-off water from upland peat by up to 75% to help prevent flooding.
Grouse shooting highways built into the hills
Vehicle access tracks have been built across sensitive upland habitats to convey shooting parties across grouse moors. These roads, which proliferate moorland landscapes, cause considerable damage to the underlying peatland and can lead to significant changes to the ecosystem. This includes by causing the degraded peatlands to act as a source of carbon emissions, increasing the amount of water which runs off the moor and removing important nesting habitat for threatened breeding birds such as dunlin, curlew and lapwing.