Fire service calls for ban on grouse moor burning

Press statement from West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service (23 March 2020):


Firefighters from across West Yorkshire have been tackling a significant moorland blaze at Deer Hill Reservoir in Marsden today after an emergency call came in just before 12.30pm.

The incident has required 20 fire appliances from across West Yorkshire to attend with firefighters tackling a mile long fire-front.

It’s believed the fire started as a result of controlled burning which spread.

The Fire Service is now strongly urging landowners to cease controlled burning and for anyone using the moors to be extra vigilant not to start a fire accidentally.

[Photos by West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service]

Last year the Fire Service and partners launched the Be Moor Aware campaign and Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees councils brought in Public Space Protection Orders banning barbecues on moorland and other open spaces.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Nick Smith said: “We are disappointed to see what has happened today which could have so easily been avoided and we urge landowners to stop controlled burning with immediate effect. Controlled burning can easily spread and tackling the consequences takes up a huge amount of the Fire Service’s time and resources – moorland fires can quite literally go on for miles and days.

We are currently trying to focus our resources on supporting the national effort to respond to Coronavirus and this is unhelpful to us. We will be making every effort to contact landowners over the forthcoming days and to reiterate this message. These are unprecedented times and we require our resources to support communities and help the vulnerable rather than having firefighters tied up for days on the moors undertaking this kind of arduous work. It is not where we want to be focusing our energies at this time, which we are sure people will understand.

Members of the public who are going onto the moorland for some fresh air and a walk should also be extra vigilant not to start a fire accidentally. Alongside partners, we started a public awareness campaign last year, called Be Moor Aware, following widespread moorland fires across the region and all of our advice from that campaign still stands.

We trust that you will take this advice seriously not only to protect the moorland, but also to help protect your communities at this difficult time.”


Of course, grouse moor burning is continuing apace across the UK uplands. Apart from the obvious and well-documented environmental damage caused by deliberately setting fire to heather moorlands (just to enable a ridiculously high density of red grouse that can then be shot), and the unnecessary additional burden on the fire & rescue service at a time of national crisis, it’s actually astonishing that such a selfish practice that reduces air quality is still permitted while the nation struggles against a deadly respiratory virus.

For media coverage about this particular fire:

West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service here

Yorkshire Live here

BBC news here

About Manchester here

23 thoughts on “Fire service calls for ban on grouse moor burning”

  1. Muir burn continuing on Lammermuir hills ( lammer law) yesterday pm. Can this really be regarded as ‘essential activity’, even by supporters of shooting estates?

  2. Send the landowner the bill from the Fire & Rescue Service. Then see how many of these fuckwits continue to torch our land.

    1. At the very least it should be possible to calculate the cost, along with the damage to adjacent property and the additional environmental impact.

  3. These landowners are completely out of touch with reality and public opinion in particular. They are just forcing the government to introduce legislation to ban or license grouse shooting despite powerful vested interests.

  4. I suspect that the decision to burn was actually the keepers but he should have been told some time ago to cease all such activity. One wonders whether this is blanket bog and yes I too would send the owner a bill for the control of this fire, especially if crews are at this rather than at any other incidents.

  5. According to the UK Government’s Guidance on
    Heather and grass burningIf you don’t follow the rules for burning grass or heather you can be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000. Let’s hope that happens here!

    The Guidance continues: “When burning heather or grass you must … not disturb or destroy wild birds and their nests, or other protected animals, plants and habitats”

    The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 sets out the law relating to the disturbance and destruction of wild birds and their nests.
    Under Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
    S1, “Protection of wild birds, their nests and eggs.
    (1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person intentionally—
    kills, injures or takes any wild bird;
(aa) takes, damages or destroys the nest of a wild bird included in Schedule ZA1;
    (b) takes, damages or destroys the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built; or
    (c) takes or destroys an egg of any wild bird,
    he shall be guilty of an offence.

    The heather burning season takes place between 1 October to 15 April in highland areas (severely disadvantaged areas and 1 Nov to 31 March in other areas.

    In my opinion there clearly is a conflict between the heather burning season and the legislation governing the protection of birds during the nesting season.

    These shooting estates do like to claim they are trying to conserve ground nesting birds like curlew and lapwing. yet they are happy to continue burning even when (in my area at least) the curlews and lapwing have returned to the moors early.

    There are also those hedgehogs which will be hibernating in the heather during most of the burning season. When hibernating, hedgehogs undergo such huge physiological changes that they cannot wake up quickly and run out of the way of any fires. Being woken up from hibernation can actually kill them! Hogs that are woken up stagger about drunkenly. They are in not fit state to find and build a new nest even if they evade the flames!

    So, how can a ‘one burning season fits all scenarios’ be allowed? In my opinion burning should be banned.

    Shooting lobby groups often claim that heather burning is a form of land management that prevents fires from spreading on moors but my local shooting estates cut the heather around the areas they intend to burn to prevent the fires they start from spreading further! Surely this cutting practice exposes the lie that heather burning (rather than cutting) is the best approach to preventing fires from becoming established on moors!

    At the very least I would have thought that the burning licences need to be individually issued so the proposed burn can be assessed in advance for any environmental impacts and reports returned to NE or SNH on the outcomes. Licences are required for burning in certain situations so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that licensing at the very least could be expanded.

  6. I live just a couple of miles from Deer Hill and watched in horror yesterday as the sky filled with smoke. The land up there is owned and controlled by a shooting syndicate. It is also an area of land where Ravens and other raptors have ‘mysteriously disappeared’ over recent years. Last year a Short Eared Owl was shot less than half a mile away from yesterday’s fires. I have encountered the moor’s game-keeper and his ‘colleagues’ on the odd occasions and he and they appear to have very rigid ideas about what constitutes species to be “controlled”, issues about public access up there and what their actual powers are in regards to members of the public, bird watchers etc etc. Yesterday’s fires come as no surprise to me – the words “a law unto themselves” springs to mind. I just hope that the landowners and fire-starters can be prosecuted for the fires.

  7. Incredible they still just continue burning off,it’s the bloody same at Walshaw moor too Friday and Saturday.Its an Outrage they can get away with this,.And it’s supposed to be a Climate Emergency !!

  8. A telling illustration of the industry’s overweening sense of entitlement and arrogant assumption that they’re immune from the consequences of their actions.

    1. John – you’ve hit the nail on the head in just one word – ‘entitlement’. In these desperate times nobody in their right mind would undertake activities of this nature and on such a scale as to risk creating havoc such as this. They must have a death wish so far as their ‘industry’ is concerned, doing their utmost to flag up what complete idiots some of them really are. Let’s hope that the landowners get a big bill from WY Fire Services.

  9. They started heather burning mid morning here in SW Northumberland the air has been thick with smoke as we have only had light breezes you can even taste it, our village looks up onto Plenmeller Moor and as I write it’s almost 6.30pm and they are still burning. I have emailed the environmental agency asking them to ban this now during this crisis it’s hardly key work.

  10. Muir burning on the sidlaw hills just north of dundee yesterday seemed to have gotten out of control. Saw at least 3 fire engines heading to put it out late yesterday afternoon.

  11. Ditto near Clova – very extensive fires, and also upper Esk over weekend – air in Feughside thick with acrid smoke.

  12. They are still burning in Nidderdale, what a surprise! I regularly see fires around the Dale and a recent bike ride took me past several patches of blackened earth. Give it a rest you idiots.

  13. It is supported by our “Head of State’. Everybody else can get stuffed, as far as they are concerned. They, also, have all the guns.

  14. Game keepers saying that folk should stay off the hills because the risk of accident puts the mountain rescue team in danger. Why cant they agree with their own logic?

    1. What they are really at is attempting to prevent people wandering into areas where they may spot criminals from the shooting “industry” killing wildlife.

  15. This is a good call by the emergency service. The same should be happening in Scotland, with our record for multi-thousand hectare burns in Sutherland and Skye over the last three years.

  16. This year, in the area where I live there has been a noticeable reduction in heather burning by some estates which appear to have adhered to the voluntary ban. I have noticed one estate appears to be cutting the heather, rather than burning.

    However, there were some notable exceptions, and some estates have carried out burning since January, and vast areas of moorland have now been reduced to a charred scar on the landscape.

    What is interesting is when the RSPB raptor persecution map is overlaid to the areas where burning has taken place.
    It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the areas where burning has taken place also feature heavily on the RSPB map as areas where there is a high density of reported incidents of raptor persecution.

    Bearing in mind that Natural England have called for a voluntary ban on heather burning. Not only because of the environmental damage it causes to blanket peat bog, but also because it releases various pollutants into the atmosphere which hinder the UK meeting its global warming emissions targets.

    Parallels can be drawn from other studies of criminal behaviour; which indicate that criminals who engage in the more serious crimes, are also more likely to engage in low level criminal activity such as antisocial behaviour or road traffic offences.

    So are those estates which have continued to carry out heather burning despite the voluntary ban, also the ones where more serious wildlife crimes and raptor persecution takes place?

    It could be that by continuing to burn the heather, some estates have identified themselves as areas which warrant closer inspection as to exactly what is taking place on the moors they manage?

    This might help the various interested bodies that target raptor persecution, but only have limited resources, focus their attention on areas which might achieve the greatest results?

    In addition to the fire service being able to claim back the full costs of treating these fires which have been ignited deliberately.

    I would also like to see the government impose some form of emissions tax on the practice of heather burning.

    It is wholly unfair to industry, transport and power generation that there are penalties for pollution, and yet vast areas of moorland can be deliberately set on fire, realising carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere without any financial cost to the culprits.

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