The Government has today (16 February 2021) published new legislation to protect blanket bog habitats in England.
The new regulations, which come into force on 01 May 2021, will prevent the burning of any specified vegetation on areas of peat over 40cm deep on Sites of Special Scientific Interest that are also Special Protection Areas or Special Areas of Conservation, except under licence. However, the prohibition does not apply if the area of specified vegetation to be burned in one burning season is an area which has a slope of more than 35 degrees; or where more than half of that area is covered by exposed rock or scree, and in either case it is a single area of 0.5 hectares or less, or is on two or more areas within 5 metres of each other with a combined area of 0.5 hectares or less.
The Government has recognised that if moorland is unmanaged, there is a risk of wildfire which can cause significant damage by burning the peat, and that the possibility of these have grown due to climate change. The new regulations therefore allow a person to apply to the Secretary of State for a licence permitting the burning of specified vegetation on blanket bog that would otherwise be prohibited, and this may be granted where it is either beneficial or necessary for: the conservation, enhancement or management of the natural environment for the benefit of present and future generations; the safety of any person; to reduce the risk of wildfire; or because the specified vegetation is inaccessible to mechanical cutting equipment and any other method of management is impracticable.
Blanket bog is a landscape of international importance, and land managers will continue to work with Natural England to protect it. Although the Alliance did not believe legislation was necessary to achieve that protection, we are delighted that Defra has listened to evidence, and recognises the important role that controlled burning has to play both in preventing wildfires and for conservation, where other practices are not possible.
The new regulations can be read here.