by Countryside Alliance

The debate over the use of controlled heather burning as a key element of moorland management continues to be polarised, with opposition to the long-established practice often citing 'science'. That science is now nearly a decade old. 

A review of research from 2013 - 2020 carried out by respected scientists has now found that the conclusions of the previous science are out of date and cannot be regarded as a safe basis for policy decision-making today. This is particularly important given that the Government is currently developing a strategy for peatland. 

The Uplands Partnership, which compromises leading countryside organisations, including the Countryside Alliance, has produced 'Peatland Protection: The Science, four key reports', which collates the latest scientific findings. This dossier is highly significant in that it strongly recommends that any policy discussions should take cognisance of the latest research. In summary the findings indicate that:

  • Conclusions from previous science are now out of date and not safe to be used in policy-making
  • A more coherent policy framework is required, which would include integrated adaptive trial designs and monitoring the impacts of different types of management to provide more robust evidence.
  • Heather burning can have a positive effect on carbon capture. 
  • Burning does not cause water discolouration.
  • Environmentally important Sphagnum moss recovers quickly from low severity 'cool' burning. 
  • The loss of controlled burning in the USA led to declines in bird life and wildfires.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from controlled burning are relatively insignificant compared to emissions from wildfire, or indeed severely degraded lowland peatlands used for agriculture.

A copy of the dossier can be read here.

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