Grouse moor owners urged to stop setting fire to the moors

Gamekeepers have been busily setting fire to grouse moors throughout the UK uplands in recent days, despite the environmental destruction this causes, despite the climate change emergency, and perhaps most selfishly right now, despite the national/global Coronavirus crisis and the pressure this has placed on our emergency services.

[A fire on Blubberhouse Moor last week in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, North Yorkshire. Contributed photo]

Two days ago West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service called for an immediate ban on so-called ‘controlled’ grouse moor burning after one such fire turned in to a mile-long uncontrolled wildfire that required 20 fire engines and up to 100 firefighters to extinguish the flames (see here).

The Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority has now published a statement calling for gamekeepers / grouse moor managers to stop the burning on the grouse moors of the National Park:

It’s interesting to note that, according to this statement, the Moorland Association has apparently ‘advised’ its members of the wildfire risks and is ‘supporting a suspension of heather burning and to use cutting instead’. Let’s see how many of those members accept this ‘advice’ and how many of them ignore it.

North of the border the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates is also ‘urging’ its members to stop being so bloody stupid and has published a statement calling for an end to the burning:

This is welcome news, of course, although given the known dire consequences of muirburn there’s a strong case to be made (and is continuously being made by many environmentalists and conservationists) that they shouldn’t be burning heather moorland anyway, although if you read SLE’s statement you’d never guess that there was an issue and the only reason they’re calling for a cessation is to prevent further strain on public services:

Scottish Land & Estates is never one to miss an opportunity for propaganda, eh? Muirburn is not ‘strictly regulated’ as claimed – far from it! In Scotland it’s governed by the recently-revised Muirburn Code (Scotland’s Moorland Forum, 2017) which provides a combination of statutory requirements and good practice guidelines (and we all know how well this industry adheres to good practice guidelines!!). There is a burning season but apart from this, enforcement of the Muirburn Code is limited.

As for SLE’s claim that ‘the risk of fire getting out of control is very small’, well according to the Muirburn Code,

Fires escaping from muirburn are a major cause of wildfire in Scotland“.

In addition, the recent SNH-commissioned review of sustainable moorland management states:

Whilst large, intense wildfires can be destructive, many have no greater impact than prescribed burns (Clay et al 2010) and evidence suggests that over 50% of wildfires with known causes may themselves be caused by loss of control of prescribed burns“.

If you want to learn more about the environmental damage caused by muirburn in Scotland have a read of this summary report from Revive, the Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform.

24 thoughts on “Grouse moor owners urged to stop setting fire to the moors”

  1. Worth noting the above photograph shows smoke covering the A59. Who in their right minds starts a fire upwind of a 60mph road. Words fail me

    1. Sect 161A of the the Highways Act 1980 makes it an offence to light a fire on land adjacent to a highway and as a consequence of that fire, smoke from that fire or any other fire caused by that fire injures, interrupts or endangers a use of that highway.
      So the smoke blowing across the A59 in the photograph would appear to be an offence under the Highways Act- it would be interesting to know if the person who took the photograph reported the fire to the police, and what the response was?

      It was reported in the Ecologist (30/10/2019) that the government have admitted that the voluntary ban on heather burning has not worked and are looking at introducing legislation.

      An interesting quote from Amanda Anderson, director of the upland landowners’ group the Moorland Association, was provided in the article.
      She is reported to have said:
      “There is a world of difference between severely damaging wildfire and careful, skilled burning. Grouse moors are delivering a substantial environmental benefit, particularly in terms of carbon capture on peatland, and we believe strongly that this should be taken into account by government.”

      “skilled burning” ? – how does this fit with the evidence that ” over 50% of wildfires with known causes may themselves be caused by loss of control of prescribed burns”. – SNH commissioned review.
      If skilled burning was taking place- why did the fire service feel the necessity to attend?
      Is it skillfull to let the smoke from “burning” blow across an adjacent highway in contravention of Sect 161A of the Highways Act?
      If I am not mistaken… fires release carbon..not capture it??…does not a fire on peatland releases the stored carbon?
      Perhaps eating all that game contaminated by lead shot has hindered my intellectual development???…sorry going off course there…I think that was a topic of a previous blog!!!
      Anyway please correct me if I am wrong!!

      1. Well spotted! You’ve made my evening!

        Here’s the text:

        “161A Danger or annoyance caused by fires lit otherwise than on highways.

        (1)If a person—

        (a)lights a fire on any land not forming part of a highway which consists of or comprises a carriageway; or

        (b)directs or permits a fire to be lit on any such land,

        and in consequence a user of any highway which consists of or comprises a carriageway is injured, interrupted or endangered by, or by smoke from, that fire or any other fire caused by that fire, that person is guilty of an offence”

        So, not only is the individual lighting the fire covered by this, but so is the manager and/or owner.

        I really hope that the person who took the photo reports it.

  2. I’m sure there aren’t enough hours in the day for gamekeepers at the moment given the current government advice on the public not exercising outwith their immediate neighbourhood. They’ll all be very busy burning, trapping, shooting and spreading banned substances around 24/7.

  3. Perhaps the police with their new powers to stop unnecessary movement etc. could have a wee word here with these lackeys? Of course, however, the fun killers never miss an opportunity to let the plebs know who’s really in charge, and this is a case in point. Total fuckwits.

  4. Urgent powers are needed immediately to stop this.

    However, another worry is that whilst the general public are on lock down, are Gamekeepers taking advantage of the quiet by trapping, shooting and poisoning even more than usual?

    In relation to previous Gamekeeper articles ‘The Frost Report’ in the local community newspaper here in Killin, Perthshire, please see Page 22.

    Perhaps Chris should be aware to have an opportunity to respond? However, rest assured that some local people appreciate that these reports are based upon ignorance and old fashioned ideas.

    Keep Well.

    Rosie Third


  5. So why can’t these organisations demand their members stop doing this rather than “advising”?

    Their whole approach is about propaganda rather than action.

  6. Keepers are at odds with the advice to stop their unnecessary work….

    The SGA are encouraging their members to [Ed: rest of this sentence deleted. Not sure you’d get away with saying that, Circus!]

    “Members have been dealing with a higher than usual number of people taking exercise on the grounds on which they work, including people traveling to the countryside in cars.

    Government guidance is clear: People have a right to exercise once a day, close to home and should avoid unnecessary travel.

    While it is evident that many people are heeding this advice, some others are not, understandably attracted to the allure of Scotland’s well managed landscapes for the limited amount of exercise they are now getting due to restrictions. Members should use caution when approaching individuals and should follow social distancing rules.

    The SGA office has been made aware of members receiving verbal abuse when asking people to return to cars and follow Government guidance.
    While members are accustomed to dealing with the public at normal times (these are not normal times), they should apply the same polite approach but it is not the job of our members to police the lockdown, even if it is clear that breaches are occurring.
    That responsibility lies with the Police, who have the powers to deal with those deemed to be in infringement of guidance.”

    I love the use of the word “dealing”.

    1. Surely the Government’s advice applies to gamekeepers too?

      They should be at home and only going outside when absolutely necessary.

  7. They didn’t call for a ban they asked estates to stop for the season. The fire service has a well documented record of supporting controlled burning.

    1. Do they or did they just say they did because they were reluctant to do something (ask for a ban) that they were told would threaten rural jobs so they backed off? Targeted tree planting and the subsequent translocation of beavers to suitable parts of the hills would not only create the best possible form of fire break – a wet one – they’d also reduce flood damage downstream. Of course this doesn’t fit in with having a grouse moor and that’s sacrosanct of course – having more jobs and wildlife, less fire and flood is nothing next to bigger grouse bags clearly.

  8. With their usual level of arrogance and selfishness the DGS industry has once again emptied both barrels into it’s own feet.
    These fires will not be forgotten, nor will the floods or the continuing evidence of raptor killing that is mounting up.
    The world is changing around them as people are watching their actions and irresponsibility.
    Once the restrictions on use of the countryside are over I look forward to increasing covert observation and evidence gathering becoming the norm in the uplands.

    Keep up the pressure !

    1. Spot on!

      Their mantra seems to be that if you can’t shoot it then burn it. If you can’t burn it then poison it. If you can’t poison it then trap it. This is an industry without a social conscience and with no respect for the law of this land.

      I agree with Sennen – this is heading in one direction only and they know it.

  9. Moorland burning is essential to the land.It promotes new plant growth and habitat for birds and mammals.Nobody cam say that only grouse are present on moorland.Scare mongering stating that burning is wrong is done by people that have a bee in their bonnets about something that has jack all to do with them.Please please i urge you to leave the countryside and moor land management to the people that work their ,not the people with tunnel vision and nothing to contribute to this.

    1. You can urge all you want, but it’s now widely known how ecologically destructive driven grouse shooting is, so your desperate attempts at repeating industry propaganda (e.g. “moorland burning is essential” – quite the opposite is true) only make you look foolish and completely out of touch with reality.

      The above is what happens when you ‘leave them to it’. This practice will soon be history, as will driven grouse shooting. You’ll have to find yourself another ‘hobby’ which doesn’t involve wildlife cruelty and destruction of the environment.

    2. Its not leaving to people with tunnel vision (keepers and their employers) that we are after as they have demonstably shown over decades an utter comtempt for the law, biodiversity, other people/taxpayers, public safety, climate change, flood risk, air quality. Need actions not just keepers justifying all this bad management by saying we love curlews. You seem to be forgetting there are a lot of clever people in the world that base stuff on facts and evidence, therefore all the pro shooting BS doesn’t wash nowadays. You cant defend the indefensible

    3. “something that has JACK ALL TO DO WITH THEM”

      That arrogant little phrase is the clue that points to the heart of the problem. The shooting fraternity are contained within a group of people who have title to land and an expectation to be be left to kill and destroy what they see fit.
      The feudal days are a relic of a primitive past. People are now much more enlightened and intolerant of those who want to kill and destroy for fun.

    4. Funny how it has “has jack all to do with” the rest of us until financial aid, in whatever form, is needed at which point we are expected to dip our hands into our collective pocket to support an industry that many find abhorrent and which good evidence suggests is environmentally damaging and too often underpinned by wildlife crime.

      1. Historically “moor land management was left to the people that work there”.

        And what was the outcome?

        According to the RSPB, by the end of the First World War, five of our 15 breeding birds of prey (goshawk, marsh harrier, honey buzzard, white-tailed eagle and osprey) had been driven to extinction in the UK.

        Five more species (golden eagle, hobby, hen harrier, red kite and Montagu’s harrier) all declined to fewer than 100 pairs at some stage between the 1870s and 1970s.

        The situation was so bad that in 1954 Parliament deemed it necessary to protect birds of prey by legislation.

        Then again in 1981 Parliament had to introduce further legislation with the Wildlife and Countryside Act to protect wild birds from the slaughter which was still taking place.

        Again in 1996 it was necessary for Parliament to introduce the Wild Mammals Protection act to prevent the untold cruelty that those managing the land were inflecting on wild animals.
        This was further strengthened in 2006 with the Animal welfare Act, as it was recognised that the existing laws were insufficient to stop the unnecessary suffering of animals, including those trapped in snares and traps.

        Surely this history of legislation, and the fact that such legislation was necessary, clearly indicates that those with “tunnel vision and nothing to contribute” were in fact those that were managing the land and causing so much damage and suffering to British wildlife?

        Sadly society is still battling the outdated, unscientific, cruel, barbaric, environmentally unsound yet entrenched views held by many who are entrusted to manage our uplands, and countryside. Why else is there almost daily evidence of raptor persecution, animal suffering and damage to the natural environment taking place in the countryside and on moorland?

        Why else has the government identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority for the police forces of the UK?

        Why in the proposed new Agricultural Bill has the government consistently raised the notion of “public money for public good”?

        Could it be that society and parliament has recognised that it is no longer acceptable to leave the management of the countryside and moorland simply to those that work there?

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