by Ed Rowlandson

Yesterday, Wednesday 18th November, moorland burning was once again debated in the House of Commons. The Countryside Alliance briefed MPs in advance of the debate on this important issue. 

The MP for Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake, held a Westminster Hall Debate on what she described as a 'destructive practice'. Ms Blake's contribution, parroted many contested arguments, claiming that moorland burning damages biodiversity, worsens water quality and increases flood risk. 

Those speaking in defence of moorland management were also present in the debate, and in greater numbers, than those who seek a burning ban. Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, made a powerful case for burning. He argued it was essential to help preserve fragile habitats. He warned that if left unmanaged, these habitats would turn to scrubland and increase the risk of wildfire, as seen on Saddleworth moor. 

Sir Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough, called out the RSPB for their campaign against grouse shooting that ignores the contribution it makes to the countryside. Sir Edward spoke on how the RSPB has deliberately attempted to confuse controlled burning with uncontrolled burning - an important distinction. He also recognised, and paid tribute to - the important work that gamekeepers do. 

Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, again raised how moorland management is about burning heather not peat, a distinction that Labour members refused to recognise in their contributions. In that respect he was concerned that this debate was not on burning but on the 'cheap politicisation of our countryside by those who are more interested in ideological and identity politics than they are in protecting our communities.'

Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, highlighted the economic contribution that shooting makes to the UK economy and how related land management enriches the UK's biodiversity. 

The DEFRA minister, Rebecca Pow, in her responses to the various contributions said that she had read the latest dossier from the Uplands Partnership that explores the validity of the research on burning. However, despite having done so, the Minister said that DEFRA recognise 'on balance and in general, in the UK the burning of vegetation on blanket bog moves the bog away from its original wet state, and risks vulnerable peat bog habitats becoming drier and turning into a heathland habitat.' Mr Shannon asked if the Minister would work with the Countryside Alliance in developing policy on this issue, in which the Minister made it clear that the Government would work together with those who manage the land. We hope the Minister will continue to engage with us and continue to explore the science and research.

You can read the full debate here and our briefing here

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