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Regulation of heather burning on peatlands

Ahead of the Westminster debate on heather burning on Tuesday 23 January, the Countryside Alliance has published a Briefing Note for MPs.

The Countryside Alliance supports the continuation of controlled vegetation burning, conducted in accordance with best practice, as an option in moorland management.

There is no clear scientific consensus to support a blanket ban. Policy decisions must not be influenced by special interest groups that regularly ignore or distort evidence in an attempt to outlaw the practice, to further their own agendas.

The debate around managing heather moorlands has become derailed by an undue focus on the issue of driven grouse shooting, leading to arguments against controlled burning being presented as scientific consensus by influential individuals and organisations.


Rotational heather burning, also known in Scotland as ‘muirburn’, on shallow peat and dry heath is done to increase the diversity of heather age and structure. It is an essential tool for moorland managers when reducing the fuel load to help curtail the risk of wildfires, which has increased because of climate change and can cause significant environmental 
damage by burning into peat.

Rotational heather burning is an essential tool for moorland managers. It aims to create lots of micro-habitats for a full range of habitats allowing the widest possible biodiversity, while reducing fuel loads and thereby curtailing the risk of wildfires.

Opposition to burning often cites science that is now out of date and cannot be regarded as a safe basis for policy.

Researchers at the University of York undertaking a 20-year study to compare the impacts of different management options found, in their preliminary report, that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that land managers should use. Heather burning, mowing and leaving vegetation unmanaged should all be available as management tools.

Large stands of rank and woody heather, left unmanaged, pose a major fire risk due to the build-up of fuel loads. The controlled rotational burning of vegetation can help reduce the risk of these damaging wildfires.

There is no proven link between grouse moor management and flooding. The concerted efforts of grouse moor managers to block agricultural drains and revegetate bare peatland is helping slow the flow of water through catchment areas.

Grouse moor managers are doing considerable work on heather moorlands to reduce the risk of wildfires, capture carbon, maintain and enhance biodiversity, and improve the ability of the uplands to store water and reduce downstream flooding. They are protecting and enhancing these treasured, globally rare upland landscapes.


Read the full Briefing Note

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