Doncaster Council has backed a ban on heather burning to save the region’s peat moors from being damaged for grouse shooting.

In a letter sent to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Mayor Ros Jones said that the environmentally-damaging practice, which is performed by shoot operators to engineer breeding habitat for red grouse, must end to help stop flooding in communities on the River Don.

It follows a voluntary approach to halting burning not proving successful, with grouse moors upstream in the Peak District continuing to set large fires on rare blanket bog during the last burning season, which ran from October to April.

Peatlands in the headwaters of the River Don contain important vegetation, such as sphagnum moss, which acts like a sponge to hold rainfall in the hills, which in turn prevents flooding. However, when burning is conducted the sensitive mosses are damaged, leading to large amounts of rainfall being channelled downstream.

Ros Jones, Mayor of Doncaster, has written to the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Environment, Rebecca Pow MP, ahead of grouse shooting season opening on the 12th August. She said:

“Doncaster was severely impacted by flooding of the river Don in November 2019, the headwaters of which are situated in Pennine peatland, including within the Peak District National Park. We therefore have a clear stake in the state of the uplands peat environment around the headwaters of the river Don, the health of which has a direct impact on the citizens of Doncaster.

“We expect therefore that Doncaster’s interests are best served by the proper restoration of upland peat areas, and as indications are that this would not involve managed burning, we would be expecting DEFRA to follow through on their commitment.”

The call for action comes just weeks ahead of the grouse shooting season opening on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ of August, although burning does not start again until the Autumn. Campaigners believe any future burning can be stopped by government intervention, with Defra having already committed to introducing legislation.

During the last burning season, Wild Moors, which monitors ecological damage on grouse moors, compiled more than 550 reports of peatlands being burnt by shoot operators across the county. This includes several in the Peak District which had previously told the government that they would stop.

Almost three quarters of peatlands in England are already damaged or degraded, Natural England has revealed, with burning being a key driver.

Subsequently, the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on environmental action, recommended the practice be banned to protect peatlands from further damage.

Luke Steele, Director of Wild Moors, said:

“It’s past time to put an end to the burning of rare peatlands for grouse shooting — a practice which degrades fragile ecosystems, releases climate-altering gasses into the atmosphere and worsens flooding in communities downstream from grouse moors like those in Doncaster.

“With burning continuing on grouse moors across Yorkshire, we commend Doncaster Council for giving its support for a burning ban to help save the region’s peatlands from further damage and protect communities from flooding.”

– ENDS –

Notes for editors:

  • Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s 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.
  • Research by the University of Leeds and others has found that grouse moor burning degrades peatland habitat, reduces biodiversity and increases flood risk.
  • A print quality photograph of burning in the Peak District, from the most recent season, is available to download here, with full permission granted for re-publication.

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