Westminster debate on moorland burning doesn’t go the grouse shooters’ way

Last Wednesday Olivia Blake MP (Labour, Sheffield Hallam) opened a debate in Westminster Hall calling for the Government to put a stop to moorland burning, including the burning of heather on upland grouse moors.

It didn’t go the grouse shooters’ way, as even The Telegraph had to admit with these headlines:

It’s been a year since the Westminster Government committed to banning burning on peatlands, including the deliberate rotational burning on blanket bog (see here). However, nothing has happened and Ministers have been accused of stalling to protect grouse moor owners (see here).

Wednesday’s debate was interesting for a number of reasons, but perhaps most significantly because it contrasted so clearly from the last big debate in this Hall where grouse shooting interests were on full dishonourable display. There was no braying or table-thumping this time, and those with clear vested interests are of course no longer even in the building (e.g. Benyon, Soames).

The debate transcript can be read here, although for those who follow this subject there won’t be any surprises, until you get to the Minister’s bit towards the end.

Amazingly, Minister Rebecca Pow didn’t spend the session looking wholly disinterested in the topic, examining the contents of her handbag and then dismissing the debate out of hand (a la former Environment Minister Therese Coffey). Instead, she appeared to listen and then engaged respectfully with all the debaters before hinting, strongly, that the science shows that keeping peat bogs wet is a much better idea for tackling climate change than setting fire to them every year.

It’s a view shared by the Climate Change Committee (here) and DEFRA Minister Zac Goldsmith, who only a few days ago repeated his commitment to a ban on grouse moor burning (here).

Are we poised to finally seeing some action on this from the Westminster Government, and will it happen before the Scottish Government even comments on the same topic via its response to the Werritty Review?

30 thoughts on “Westminster debate on moorland burning doesn’t go the grouse shooters’ way”

  1. Progress (albeit glacially slow progress) MUST be celebrated! Well done everyone who has persistently kept this issue in inboxes around the uk! Keep it up everyone, we need to build on this to create a real momentum for significant and permanent change!

    1. I echo the sentiments of all above. Definitely well done to everyone who will not let this issue go. Surely if we keep the pressure up we will make progress. It is so important for the climate change, biodiversity and cruel killing of our wildlife issues.

  2. Whilst this is good news it still seems progress is glacially slow and no doubt the TITS ( Tossers in Tweed) will be putting as much delaying pressure as possible on ministers in their usual subverting democracy way. So breath holding is probably ill advised.

  3. Hallelujah! But let us see some progressive legislative action to back this up!

    (We could write and thank the Ministers involved – with a copy of your letter to your MP! – because they will surely face backbench regressive pressure on this behind the scenes…)

      1. Fair enough…. if it really is within his Ministerial powers then we need to see the progressive order signed. Last time I heard him comment, Mark Avery quite liked George Eustace… I live in hope….

  4. About time we had some good news to read for once… far too much doom and destruction by those who just don’t seem to care about the environment or anyone else but themselves.
    Congratulations and thanks to all those in government who have supported the ban of burning peatlands.

  5. Yes, we should recognise the achievement and thank those involved for getting the topic debated.

    To the politicians who do read and understand the science, to those who are not hood-winked by the propaganda in the press and to those who speak out, thank you. To the politicians who fail to represent the views of their constituents then let’s hope the day of reckoning is not too long distant.

    But the big question remains, will the Government deliver or will they continue to procrastinate or will they buckle to the behind the scenes lobbying by the grouse shooters and estate owners?

    The ‘champagne’ is on ice but the cork is still well and truly in the bottle neck and the foil & wire still intact. Ever an agnostic keen to crack open the bottle and celebrate ….

    1. Sorry to say, I honestly don’t think the champagne will be needed until the Conservatives are out and Labour is in with a very strong majority.

  6. The other day I noticed a a keeper out in the tractor swiping the edges of the patches to be burnt in the next few weeks. I honestly think there must be a competition going on between Estates as to who can fit in the most squares in a given area – they are literally not much bigger than tennis courts in places. Each will later get it’s own little white stick & grit tray / upturned sod, and combined with the network of roads and quad tracks the effect is thoroughly depressing…nature not only on the ropes, but flat out on the canvas taking the count. Still, as long as the Owner and his keepers can get a couple of hundred brace more than their neighbour over the season, then it will all be worthwhile! P.S. It occurred to me that when it is relatively even ground, I bet even the keeper in the tractor is sometimes thinking “I might as well stay in the tractor and finish the job with the swipe, rather than come back and faff about setting fires”.

  7. Maybe its time to lift the ban on shooting TITS (Tossers in Tweed) this would surely normalise the problem. 👍

  8. But Scottish Natural Heritage have, I understand, just issued a licence for heather burning out of season. Come on Scottish government, show some bottle and tell SNH to behave responsibly.

  9. I don’t for one minute think the grouse shooting industry will roll over and accept a ban on heather burning despite the Ministers words that the science strongly backs a cessation of heather burning on blanket bog.

    I expect we will see some “alternative science” brewed up in the witchcraft and potions laboratory by those with vested interests to keep this practice going, and drag out any consultation phase long into the future.

    It was also interesting to note the comments made by Edward Leigh (Con) in his contribution to the debate regarding Ian Botham, and the influential role he is now playing as campaigner for rural matters, now he has become a Lord. It’s a big move from hitting a ball with a bat to becoming a “champion” on biodiversity and the environment. Knowledge that takes most scientists years of study and academic research to accomplish!

    In their contribution I didn’t notice any reference to that fact that last years burning, followed by a very dry Spring had left much of the Heather on the UK’s moorlands in very poor condition. According to the National Trust only heather growing in sheltered or damp areas and which survived the ravages of the heather beetle, flowered well this autumn. If I am not mistaken burning the heather exposes the underlying peat which then dries out, and can cause degradation of the moor. The burning was no doubt another contribution to the already stressful conditions the heather was experiencing due to climate change.

    As expected the RSPB were heavily criticised by some of the Conservative lobby, using the debate as an opportunity to fan the flames of animosity towards this organisation. Perhaps those MP’s should be reminded themselves of the very recent State of Nature report, and how those who have been managing the countryside in their “traditional ways” have accomplished so much destruction of so many species of animals and plants, that a good many now face extinction.

    Its’s very clear that the issue of banning heather burning will be reduced to one of party politics with Tories, representing the shooting industry on one side, and the other parties on the other.
    We can be sure the Countryside Alliance will now be hard lobbying their elected representatives, no doubt with tales of rural hardship and mass unemployment as the “heather burners” face redundancy- we need to do the same, to ensure proper credible environmental science isn’t trumped by myth and folklore; and that a green environmental revolution happens in our countryside.

    In the meantime we can go out and watch the smoke rise as the moors continue to burn this winter !!!

  10. From what I read I do not expect any action soon quite the opposite these people will talk tripe and steadfastly stand by the shooters in my honest opinion we have about as much chance as a Harrier on a Grouse moor during lockdown = none.

  11. I found it telling that the debate ‘ploughed on’ with Rebecca Pow until there was not time left to put the question to the members of the debate. So that is a debate lost without any conclusion. Not quite a Filibuster, but close; and the result was a stalemate, AGAIN!

  12. What a badly written piece…. Anyone who has any interest in the moorland habitat knows the heather is not set fire to every year… It’s managed.. And has been for years… Giving a mixture of young.. Middle aged.. And older Heather…

    1. The heather plant, it’s stages of growth, isn’t the issue.
      The issue is the damage which rotational burning causes to the underlying sphagnum moss and peat, and the degradation of blanket bog so that it becomes a source of carbon dioxide emission rather than a carbon store.
      The science has now revealed that years of poor management of moorland is now responsible not only for huge releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere contributing to global warming, but also for water run off leading to flooding in the lowlands.
      It’s such an important issue that it has become something the government has to consider if it is to meet its climate change objectives.
      The scientific knowledge which has accompanied the climate emergency and extinction crisis has exposed that mankind can no longer leave the management of the environment to traditional methods, which we now know are causing so much damage.
      History teaches us that there will always be opposition to change, but too much is now at stake not to implement necessary changes…and one of those changes has to be the cessation of the practice of rotational burning of heather growing on blanket bog.

    2. “Anyone who has any interest in the moorland habitat knows the heather is not set fire to every year… It’s managed..”

      Yes. It is managed by setting it on fire.

    3. Older heather? The sort that comes up to your knees or even higher, tipping a load of seeds down your wellies when you’re wading through it. Fond memories, but a bit of a rarity on the prime english moors these days, only really found in the odd steep gully, rarely in any even open ground.

    1. No one is stating that in the future the moors won’t need to be managed. What is being said is that the poor management practices which include burning have to stop.
      It is possible to create fire breaks using heather cutting machines, and once the blanket bogs are restored the ground will be much wetter and much less prone to burning.
      You also seem to have failed to take into account that Australia is a dry arid land, whereas the UK’s moors are frequently wet places where the weather hinders rather than encourages wild fires.
      In fact many of the plants (heather) found on moorland have not evolved to cope with fire – as wildfires are not part of our climate or ecosystem.
      The abundance of heather on moorland is a man made feature created through burning and grazing, often to create an unnatural habitat so that grouse can flourish in excessive numbers.
      So it can be argued that years of poor land management for grouse shooting have created moorlands which are more fire prone.
      There is also a huge amount of evidence that most so called wild fires on UK moorland are in fact not wildfires at all, but fires started by humans.
      West Yorkshire Fire service report that over 50% of the fires they attended were started deliberately.
      The BMC in a very informative article report that wildfires are almost exclusively started by human activity, either by deliberate arson, carelessness by discarding cigarettes of barbeques, or when heather burning gets out of control.
      It is now very apparent that the exclusivity of knowledge relating to the countryside and the environment is not to be found in those who traditionally claim to work and live in the countryside.
      The science is now telling us that many of those traditional methods were wrong in so many ways.
      Your comment just highlights the blinkered approach that has stifled so much proper understanding of the environment and ecosystems, which has lead mankind into the current climate change and extinction emergency.
      Change in environment and habitat management is long overdue whether the “traditionalists” like it or not, and I suspect many will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new way of managing the world around us. There will be no place for “countryside luddites” if we want to see habitat improvement and wildlife start to recover.

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