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Liberal Democrat plan to ban heather burning risks dangerous wildfires

The Liberal Democrats have been accused of ignoring scientific evidence when it comes to moorland burning, following the release of their manifesto today.

The party has pledged to ban “routine heather burning” prompting criticism from rural campaigners who warn that such a move would have a major negative impact on biodiversity and risk dangerous wildfires.

Last year, the Future Landscapes Forum (FLF), a consortium of academics and upland management experts, found controlled burning improves biodiversity, enhances carbon capture and, most importantly, helps prevents wildfires by limiting the fuel load.

Cutting heather, rather than burning it in a controlled way, presents a considerable wildfire risk if the brash is not removed, the report suggests, as the dried debris can easily ignite, burning the underlying peat and releasing even more carbon.

In 2021, more than 100 firefighters were called to Marsden Moor to tackle a wildfire, which burnt for three days after it broke out on the evening of 25 April. The Countryside Alliance argued the devastating fire was the result of dry weather, irresponsible behaviour and the decision of the National Trust to stop managed burning on the moor.

Additionally, the Countryside Alliance argue controlled burning of heather on small areas of dry heath increases the diversity of heather age and structure, ensuring there is a mixture of older heather for protection and nesting, younger heather for feeding, and a fresh burn where regrowth is just starting.  This benefits not just red grouse, a species that is unique to the United Kingdom, but also many species of threatened ground nesting waders that share this habitat to breed. On moors managed for grouse shooting, ground-nesting birds such as curlew and lapwing - which are amongst our species of the highest conservation concern - are four times more likely to successfully raise chicks.

Adrian Blackmore, Director of Shooting at the Countryside Alliance said:

“It is disappointing the Liberal Democrats have chosen to ignore the available science and evidence on heather burning, an essential tool which improves biodiversity and minimises the devastating impact of wildfires. We will continue to speak directly to Liberal Democrat candidates ahead of the general election, warning them of the dangers of this policy and urging a rethink”.

A full analysis of the party manifestos will be made available shortly. 

Promoted by James Legge on behalf of the Countryside Alliance at China Works, Black Prince Road, London SE1 7SJ

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