York Council’s leadership 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 (DEFRA), Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of the Council, 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 Ouse.

It follows a voluntary approach to halting burning not proving successful, with grouse moors upstream in Nidderdale and the North York Moors continuing to set large fires on peatland during the last burning season, which ran from October to April.

Peatlands in the headwaters of the River Ouse 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.

Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of York Council, has written to Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, George Eustice MP, ahead of the grouse shooting season opening on 12 August. He said:

“With hundreds of fires deliberately started on Yorkshire’s iconic moorlands this season to engineer game bird breeding habitat, the Government must act to protect the upland environment.

“The continued burning on moorland in Nidderdale and the North York Moors damages peatland hills, which are intended to serve as a flood barrier keeping downstream communities safe. Due to the damage caused the increased run-off waters are now being channelled downstream further increasing the risk of disastrous floods taking place.

“A ban on this ecologically destructive practice, is vital in order to protect our environment, wildlife and communities. We urge you to commit to delivering on this Government’s promise before the grouse moor burning season opens in less than three months, to ensure our local communities, wildlife and environment is protected from any further harm.”

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, Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, which monitors ecological damage on grouse moors, compiled more than 550 reports of peatlands being burnt by shoot operators across the county.

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 York.

“With burning continuing on grouse moors across Yorkshire, we commend York Council’s Leadership 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:

  • 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.
  • Research by the University of Leeds and others has found that grouse moor burning degrades peatland habitat, reduces biodiversity and increases flood risk.
  • Broadcast quality footage and print quality photographs of burning in Nidderdale and the North York Moors, from the most recent season, is available to download here, with full permission granted for re-publication.


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