by Adrian Blackmore

A recent investigation into burning on peatlands that allegedly found numerous breaches of Defra’s new burning regulations that came into effect on 01 May 2021 resulted in widespread media coverage both nationally and abroad, with calls from the RSPB for a complete ban of all burning and the licensing of grouse shooting. As it turns out, the investigation would appear to have been fundamentally flawed, with misinformation and unsubstantiated accusations being spread to push forward a politically driven agenda against grouse shooting and its associated management. Whilst such behaviour and tactics may have come to be expected from Greenpeace and Wild Moors, the other two organisations involved in the investigation, it is unacceptable from the RSPB.

Using satellite monitoring, mapping data for protected areas and deep peat, and the RSPB’s new App for reporting burning on peatland, the three organisations recorded 1,726 fires during the last burning season, of which 221 supposedly took place without a licence either in a protected area or on deep peat. 79 or those recorded incidents were reported by the RSPB, with Dr Pat Thompson, its senior policy officer for the uplands, claiming that: ‘It is clear from the evidence we have collected that the new peatland burning regulations in England are not working and that burning is still taking place at a massive scale on peatland vegetation and inside protected sites’. His repeated call for a complete ban on burning and for grouse shooting to be licenced followed. 

However, it now appears that the investigation failed to find any conclusive evidence of illegal activity, and that their claims are nothing short of being a gross misrepresentation of the facts. Much of the material used by Greenpeace was provided by Wild Moors, the organisation headed by Luke Steele, an animal rights extremist who has in the past been convicted of several offences and sentenced to 18 months in prison for harassment. He is an individual renowned for spreading misleading and inaccurate information. One of the moors on which fires had been ‘reported’ between October 2021 and April 2022, which included drone footage and eyewitness accounts of fresh burn scars over peat, had not carried out any burning on deep peat since 2018, and neither had any burning taken place on shallow peat since April 2021. The information provided was therefore totally false, but this was not going to stop Greenpeace and the RSPB from going ahead with their sensationalist claims, despite them having been made aware of this.

Whilst there should have been no cases of illegal burning taking place, of the 221 fires that supposedly took place either on deep peat or in a protected area, Defra / NE are understood to be looking into just a handful of incidents to determine whether the new regulations had been breached. But that would not be a story that would generate the national and international media coverage sought by the ‘investigation’. An investigation that has been found to be seriously wanting; as has the RSPB. 

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