The RSPB today calls on the government to immediately end the burning of valuable bogs in bogs that are used for capercaillie shooting. The appeal, received on the first day of this year’s distilling season, is supported by mayors, councils and local communities. A ban is also supported by a large number of environmental NGOs.
Beccy Speight, Chief Executive Officer of RSPB said: “In a climatic and environmental emergency, the continued burning of valuable bogs is simply not acceptable and undermines the UK government’s legal obligations to restore nature. The government has long promised to end peat burning, it has broad public support, and Foreign Secretary George Eustice must now keep that promise. “
Healthy peat bogs with a moist blanket are home to peat-forming sphagnum moss, cotton grass, and carnivorous plants that support a wide variety of breeding birds, including breeding dunlin and golden plover. They are also a crucial carbon store. British moors (in the high and lowlands) store an estimated 3,200 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon.
However, the RSPB says that one of the greatest stresses on these places is that they are routinely and deliberately incinerated, mostly to support a single industry – capercaillie shooting.
Red Grouse, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries
Pat Thompson, RSPB’s senior policy officer, said: “The distilling is done to ensure that the capercaillie have young heather shoots again to eat season after season. This not only releases carbon directly into the atmosphere, but also breaks down the remaining peat. This makes it poorer for wildlife, can slow the flow of water less, increasing the risk of flooding and reducing water quality. All of these effects are being felt directly by both the downstream communities and society in terms of increased carbon emissions and the cost of water treatment.
“England’s highland moors are also increasingly vulnerable to climate change, particularly prolonged periods of drought that dry out surface vegetation and make them prone to accidental fires in spring and summer.”
Bogs in the English highlands can be legally burned between October 1st and April 15th. Burning in the highlands is on the rise, with research finding a seven-fold increase in bog burns in England from the 1940s to the present, with burning in the UK increasing 11% per year between 2001 and 2011.
Mr. Thompson added: “To get an impression of the extent of this problem, the grouse in the northern highlands cover about 2226 square kilometers. Many of these grouse are in special protection areas and special protection areas, a legal designation that describes their enormous importance for the animal world on a European level. The designation restricts a number of activities in these locations, which is why special approval from Natural England must be obtained for the cremation to be carried out.
“Information from Natural England suggests that there are over 400 permits in the European sanctuaries of northern England to burn overhead bog on grouse bogs, which cover some 950 square kilometers of the deep peat soils on which this precious habitat depends. It just has to stop. “
Burning peat is also undesirable in many communities, and calls for a ban have recently been reiterated by mayors, councils and residents in the north of England:
Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authoritysaid: “Burning peat habitats in the highlands is a destructive process. It leads to greenhouse gas emissions, poses flood risks and harms wildlife. I fully support the RSPB’s campaign calling on the government to end this practice immediately. “
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester, said: “Highland fires in 2018 and more recently in the dry spring of this year have created significant problems in the highland areas of Greater Manchester – both from an environmental and public safety perspective. We are aware of the environmental impacts highland fires can have on the environment, regardless of their cause. Recent work by Natural England, which will inform Defra’s upcoming national peat strategy, has shown that the Winter Hill fire alone in 2019 c. 90,000 tonnes of carbon equivalent (tCO2e) “
Alderman Scott Patient, chief – Climate Change and Resilience, said the Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council: “At Calderdale we know that bog fires have a wide range of environmental and health effects, including the degradation of bogs, the release of harmful gases into the atmosphere and surrounding valleys, the added pressure on our fire brigades (which continued throughout the pandemic extend) and biodiversity decline, while potentially contributing to flooding in downstream communities. We hope that legislation will be put in place immediately to end the use of burns in grouse bog management. In addition, we will continue to work in strong strategic partnerships with small and large landowners to further develop a complete and sustainable river basin plan that will best protect our residents and the natural environment. “
Cllr Rob Walker, Colne Valley Alderman, Kirklees Cabinet Portfolio: Environment and Culture, said: “While Kirklees Council does not own moorland used for capercaillie shooting, I am concerned about the damage to biodiversity and the regeneration of healthy peat bogs from the practice of burning heather to promote the commercial rearing of capercaillie. I believe in working with land managers to promote more sustainable techniques that enrich our landscape. “
Dongria Kondh coordinator, tree responsibility and Hebden Bridge resident said: “The bogs here in the bogs above Hebden Bridge are part of the largest carbon sinks in Britain. They are valuable to our community, society and nature. You cannot get well while the burning sensation continues. Reports that Environment Secretary George Eustace seeks to reverse his predecessor’s commitment to ban the burning of peat bogs are deeply worrying. In January of this year, the UK Parliament’s Climate Change Committee called for an immediate cessation of rotational firing, and ignoring their report would seriously undermine the government’s credibility as hosting next year’s COP26 climate conference. A ban must now be implemented. “