Grouse moor burning season closes with prospect of ban

New figures showing the shocking scale of grouse moor burning across Yorkshire have been released by a wildlife organisation as the season officially closes today.

Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors (BBYM) has compiled more than 550 reports of the county’s heather moorland being burnt — an ecologically-destructive practice performed to engineer habitat for grouse which are shot for sport — since the season opened on October 1.

Environment minister Zac Goldsmith has promised to outlaw the practice, saying that a voluntary approach to stem moorland burning has not worked, with government advisors from the Committee on Climate Change recommending legislation be introduced within the year.

Luke Steele, Spokesperson for Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, said:

“Voluntary efforts by the government to dampen down grouse moor burning have gone up in smoke with hundreds of fires deliberately started on Yorkshire’s iconic moorlands this season to engineer game bird breeding habitat.

“On top of driving vulnerable wildlife from its moorland home, burning on sensitive peatland degrades ecosystems, releases climate-altering gasses into the atmosphere and worsens flooding and wildfire risk.

“The lack of progress on the ground demonstrates the urgency with which the government must act to protect the upland environment. Any shortcomings in the promised rule changes could leave legislation open to abuse.”

Dramatic drone footage published by BBYM accompanying the figures (video here, photos here and here) shows several of the large fires raging in the North York Moors National Park, where 317 of the burning incidents were recorded over five months.

There is a risk that the government’s promised rule changes may not capture these moorland fires because of differences in peat depths. This is despite environmental scientists warning that shallower peatland must be restored to its healthy state to tackle climate change, alongside deeper peatland being protected from immediate harm.

Blanket bog and moorland of mixed depths was also burnt on 151 occasions across the county in direct contravention of a government agreement to protect the threatened habitat from harm. This includes 5 fires on Meltham Moor, West Yorkshire, where more than 200 hectares of rare blanket bog was damaged in a major blaze last month when grouse moor burning got out of control.

Luke Steele added:

“It makes no sense that the government is making unprecedented investment in restoring degraded peatlands as part of the £640m Nature for Climate Fund whilst these valuable habitats continue to be set ablaze by grouse moors on its watch.

“Any continuation of the practice flies in the face of a major new study released by DEFRA in recent weeks showing that burning moorland is the worst intervention for restoring peatland.”

Three of the largest landowners in Northern England — Yorkshire Water, United Utilities and the National Trust — have already permanently ended routine heather burning by grouse shooting tenants on the 34 moorlands which are owned between them.

– ENDS –

Notes for editors:

  • Grouse moor burning season, which involves shoot operators setting fire to heather moorland to engineer breeding habitat for game birds, lasts from 1 October until 15 April.
  • Research by the University of Leeds has found that grouse moor burning degrades peatland habitat, releases climate-altering gasses into the atmosphere, reduces biodiversity and increases flood risk.
  • Burning figures published by Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors were compiled through its monitors attending live burning sites, reports made by members of the public and satellite photography showing burning in action.
  • Broadcast quality footage and print quality photographs taken this burning season are available to download here with full permission granted for re-publication. Additional images from different parts of the county are available on request.

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