Burning Away Blanket Bog
Research by both RSPB and University of Leeds has conclusively shown the substantial negative environmental impact of heather burning – a technique deployed to boost red grouse numbers – over blanket bog. The practice degrades this rare habitat, altering the vegetation structure to such an extent it is no longer able to host peat-forming flora, such as sphagnum moss and cotton-grasses. Altered soil processes interfere with hydrology which, coupled with an absence of plants which would normally act as sponges, means the bog does not absorb water or carbon as efficiently. This increases run-off rainfall by significant levels, a factor which contributed towards the devastating floods which hit the region last Boxing Day.
Rivers are also polluted with boosted levels of carbon and peat leading to discolouration which is costly to clean. These damaged ecosystems also fail to support certain specialist wildlife, for example causing a decrease in populations of dunlin and riverine biodiversity.
Draining Precious Habitat
However, on Ilkley Moor it is not only the estimated 100 hectares of burning conducted each year which poses a threat to blanket bog. Whilst considerable effort is being made by the
Council and conservation volunteers to block up moorland grips, the grouse shoot has dug a line of shooting butts, complete with new drainage, into a sizeable area of blanket bog. Vehicles are also driven across these sensitive areas to convoy shooting parties between grouse drives. In at least one area this has caused visible tyre damage and erosion to the peat.