Climate change: Moorland Association says controlled heather burning is crucial after Sheffield Council calls for total ban

The Moorland Association has warned Sheffield Council against advocating for a complete ban on moorland burning after it sent a letter to Government urging it to.

Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 11:54 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 1:17 pm

In the letter, senior councillors called for a complete ban on grouse moor burning following more than 30 fires near Sheffield in one week in October that prompted complaints about smoke pollution in the Loxley Valley.

The council called for the practice, which is done to make way for fresher heather that grouse reared for shooting feed on, to help tackle climate change and prevent flooding.

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Burley Moor, Wharfedale, West Yorkshire grouse moor burning. Sheffield Council has called for a complete ban on the practice over concerns about climate change and flooding but the Moorland Association says some controlled burning was crucial.

In a joint letter sent to the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, councillor Terry Fox, leader of the council, and councillor Alison Teal, co-operative executive member for sustainable neighbourhoods, wellbeing, parks and leisure, said: “Every fire set this season signals the Government’s unwillingness to protect the region’s carbon-rich peatlands and nearby communities from damage in the challenge to tackle climate change.

“As Defra has acknowledged, ‘burning is damaging to peatland formation’ and ‘makes it difficult or impossible to restore these habitats to their natural state’.

“Not only is peatland vitally important for the sequestration of carbon. Peat will hold close to 20 times its own weight in water. This makes it particularly helpful for Natural Flood Management, as well as providing a natural form of water purification.

“Burning moorland prevents peat restoration and therefore increases the risk of flooding in Sheffield.

Grouse moor burning. Sheffield Council has called for a complete ban on the practice over concerns about climate change and flooding but the Moorland Association says some controlled burning was crucial.

“The practice of moorland burning must end entirely for the health and protection of nearby communities, and the commensurate benefits of carbon reduction for the planet.”

But the Moorland Association said some managed burning was important to help to prevent and limit the spread of summer wildfires.

A spokesperson for the Moorland Association said: “Deep peat is protected and restored by members of the Moorland Association. Our members are at the forefront of peatland restoration in England.

“The equivalent of more than 33,000 cars’ worth of carbon emissions is being removed from the atmosphere each year by this work. We have already delivered 60 per cent of the UK government’s target for peatland restoration in the uplands by 2025.

“Globally rare heather moorland is a fire prone ecosystem and climate change is exacerbating the risk of summer wildfires, which generate huge temperatures and burn into the peat.

“Controlled burning in the winter is a crucial tactic for moorland management which removes excess vegetation but does not affect the underlying peat.

“Natural England reports that less than three per cent of emissions from peatlands in England are from controlled burning. Managed burning helps prevent and limit the spread of summer wildfires through the creation of firebreaks and reducing the burnable fuel loads.

“We must heed the lessons learned in other parts of the world on the importance of managed burning to reduce the vast carbon emissions resulting from wildfires.”

The Government introduced a partial ban on the burning in May but the Climate Change Committee recommended extending this to all peatlands.