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Alliance commends DEFRA Secretary’s announcement on heather burning

The Countryside Alliance has welcomed the recent statements made by Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey in regard to heather burning. At a recent DEFRA questions session, Labour MPs called for an outright ban of heather burning on moors, citing health concerns due to air pollution and environmental concerns.

Ms Coffey responded, assuring that heather burning is not the cause of air quality issues in the region, and said: “In terms of the wider measures that she talks about, we’re not seeking to ban elements – there are important practices that happen. But of course, these things continue to evolve.”

As the Countryside Alliance has long demonstrated, heather burning is an essential practice to prevent wildfires on grouse moors, which pose far more severe of a threat to air quality and the natural environment.

Adrian Blackmore, the Countryside Alliance’s Director of Shooting, explained: “The rotational burning of heather can help reduce the risk of damaging wildfires and the loss of carbon as a result of them. Large stands of rank and woody heather, like any other unmanaged vegetation, pose a major fire risk due to a significant build-up of fuel loads.”

Moors that do not permit heather burning exemplify this risk. The 2018 wildfire on the RSPB managed Saddleworth Moor– which had a no-burn policy – took three weeks to bring under control. Firefighters from seven counties fought the blaze, assisted by gamekeepers and neighbouring land managers in the Peak District. It was those gamekeepers from nine shooting estates from across the Peak District that were able to provide much-needed experience and specialist fire-fighting equipment. Some four-square miles of moorland were destroyed, and the environmental damage was considerable.

Those that call for bans to heather burning do not consider the wider environmental implications of doing so. Mr Blackmore said: “Grouse moor management has played a key role in creating and maintaining our upland landscape, preserving and improving heather habitat and peatland, sustaining some of our rarest plants and wildlife, and promoting biodiversity.”

He added: “It is because of their management that more than 60 percent of England’s upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest are managed grouse moors, and over 40 percent have also been designated as Special Protection Areas for rare birds and Special Areas of Conservation for rare vegetation under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.”

Fortunately, the Secretary of State recognises these benefits.

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