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Scientists and practitioners criticise ‘dangerous’ attempts to ban controlled burning on heather moorland

The Future landscapes Forum, a group of academics and experts with specialist knowledge of the management, ecology, functioning, and fire risk associated with heather-dominated landscapes in the UK, has today published a position statement expressing their growing concerns that the debate about managing heather moorlands, including on peatlands, is neither properly informed nor evidence-based, leading to dangerous policy decisions that ignore the positive social and ecological effects of controlled burning.

These decisions disregard a large body of evidence showing that controlled burning can support wildfire prevention, carbon capture, and improve biodiversity. Moreover, the risks and impacts of alternatives like cutting or no vegetation management remain largely unknown, and are often ignored. There is ‘no clear scientific consensus to support a blanket ban against controlled vegetation burning on heather moorland’, and ‘policy decisions are being influenced by special interest groups who regularly ignore or distort evidence in order to outlaw the practice’.

The debate around managing heather moorlands has become derailed by an undue focus on the issue of driven grouse shooting, leading to highly reductive arguments against controlled burning being presented as scientific consensus by influential individuals and organisations. Indeed, they are so preoccupied with the issue of grouse shooting that they ignore all the evidence in favour of controlled burning and the risks of the alternatives, especially considering the devastation impact of wildfires. There is currently insufficient evidence to say that cutting, rewetting, or a cessation of vegetation management are always better at reducing the risk of wildfires, capturing carbon, and maintaining biodiversity. On the contrary, the existing evidence is that controlled burning can often contribute to all these important aspects. The position statement can be read here.

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