Which English grouse moors will escape DEFRA’s so-called moorland ‘burning ban’?

Last week DEFRA published its long-awaited statement on proposed new legislation to ban burning on moorland (see here).

The statement included this: ‘The new regulations will prevent the burning of any specified vegetation on areas of deep peat (over 40cm depth) on a Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] that is also a Special Area of Conservation [SAC] or a Special Protection Area [SPA] unless a licence has been granted or the land is steep or rocky

and this:

There will be specific circumstances where the ban does not apply, such as on steep land or where scree makes up half the land area. In addition, the Secretary of State may also issue licences for the burning of heather on blanket bog for the purposes of wildfire prevention, for a conservation purpose or where land is inaccessible to cutting or mowing machinery. These licences may cover several years so that they can be aligned with coherent management plans for sites‘.

DEFRA’s proposal has been widely criticised as being too constrained, having far too many loopholes and not being anywhere near what had previously been promised (e.g. see here).

Guy Shrubsole, formerly of Friends of the Earth and now at Rewilding Britain, whose research on Who Owns England is compelling reading, has put together some interesting material on which English grouse moors might be affected by DEFRA’s so-called ‘burning ban’ and which ones will probably not.

The following is what Guy posted on Twitter (@guyshrubsole) a few days ago, reproduced here with his kind permission:

How many grouse moor estates will the Government’s (very caveated) moorland burning ban affect? I’ve been looking at some maps…

Firstly, here’s a map of where grouse moors are in England, approximately, built by @beadyallen and me a few years ago:

Last week, the Govt said it would legislate to ban moorland burning – but its proposals contain many loopholes.

So, who owns the grouse moors that may be exempt from this burning ban?

First up: the Queen’s grouse moor in North Yorkshire: [Ed: this estate has featured previously on RPUK – see here]

In fact, most of the grouse moor estates in the North York Moors look like they’ll be exempted from a burning ban – because, despite all being designated sites (SSSIs, SACs and SPAs), Natural England considers the peat here to be ‘shallow’ rather than ‘deep’:

Outside of the North York Moors, there are also a number of other grouse moor estates that look like they could escape the Govt’s burning ban – because they’re not designated as SSSIs / SACs / SPAs.

This is despite them still containing lots of carbon-rich peat.

One of the likely exempt estates in the Yorkshire Dales is the East Arkengarth Estate, owned by a firm registered in the tax haven of Liechtenstein, and thought to belong to a Swedish businessman: [Ed: this estate has featured previously on RPUK – see here]

Another estate that might escape the burning ban is Knipe Moor in the North Pennines, belonging to Baron Hothfield.

Knipe Moor is all deep peat but because it’s not classed as an SSSI (or SAC or SPA) it’s not covered by the ban. Madness – bad for climate and nature.

Another example of an estate likely exempt from the burning ban: the Lilburn Estate in Northumberland, owned by the founder of Persimmon Homes.

Owns a grouse moor, most of it deep peat. It’s also a SSSI – but because it’s not *also* a SAC or SPA, it’s exempt… [Ed: this estate has featured previously on RPUK – see here & here]

One last example of a grouse moor that’s likely exempt from the Govt’s burning ban: Buckton Moor on the edge of the Peak District.

It’s not a designated site but it contains a lot of deep peat – and it’s where the massive Saddleworth fire happened in 2018!

And of course, any grouse moor estate can try to avoid the burning ban by applying to the Secretary of State to burn moorland for purposes of ‘conservation’ or ‘wildlife prevention’ [Ed: see caveats in DEFRA’s statement]

This is a nonsense; healthy peat bogs need water, not fire.

This thread gives some examples of the glaring loopholes in the Government’s moorland burning ban, and some of the estates that could benefit from its loose drafting.

@ZacGoldsmith please get rid of these loopholes – for the sake of the climate and upland wildlife!


24 thoughts on “Which English grouse moors will escape DEFRA’s so-called moorland ‘burning ban’?”

  1. It’s more a case of coherent loopholes .
    I see nothing about carcinogenic particulates released into atmosphere we and all other creatures breath , or more to the point have to avoid breathing . Burning smoke plumes from the NYM carry to the far horizon and beyond . The villages lie in a haze day after day . Politicians do not respond letters addressing this pollution factor .

  2. I f theres a way of making things complicated then they will do it, dont they just love bureaucracy, jobs for the boys, absolute shite.

    1. MeanwhI left PM’s father , ex EU big cheese n, expresses opposition to new coal mine to supply polluting UK coking plants on basis that if we become like China the World will be toast .
      Just like the British uplands are already !!
      Maybe the man to get onside

      1. Love it , next the solar farms will be felling trees to shop shading and the wind farms to keep control of the wind.

  3. This ban seems to be a pointless exercise with its clear intension to appease the estates so that they can continue as normal (wrecking the world) and feebly attempting to satisfy those that oppose burning.

    With a government like this there is no end to the corruption of duty. They only see privilege as a right of the wealthy(because they are rich, they are right). They ignore the fact that wealth has only been achieved by trampling over the lower classes. No guilt, no concern, I’m alright!

    It is several years since I trod on xxxxxx estate, I saw a solitary Hen Harrier and thought how long will that live? The moor was desolate, deeply rutted because of little plant cover, rain gulleys of considerable depth (3m+), bare peat, and only heather growing, no bogs at all. I don’t think it will be improving under the xxxxx xxxxx

    Kevin’s comment, I’m afraid that I have to agree. [Ed: rest of this paragraph deleted as libellous]

    The wealthy get their fun at any costs.


  4. I suspect the regulations and exemptions are politically influenced, and all about the government doing as much as it can protect the landed and economic interests of “it’s friends”. It stinks about as much as the acrid smoke which comes from the burning moors!
    Lets be honest- this is a government whose record on wildlife protection is disgraceful. It is a government which will protect the landed interests of its supporters in the countryside.
    The environment, wildlife, climate change and the extinction crisis are issues which should above party politics. These are issues which should be decided by science and knowledge alone.
    The science tells us exactly what we need to do.
    But we can be sure that politicians will support only those actions which will safeguard their re-election. A salary of around £79,000 is a very good incentive to do nothing which might upset supporters and jeopardise re-election.
    At a time when the future of so much life on this planet is in peril, I can think of nothing more despicable than having the power to bring about the necessary changes to resolve this crises, but then failing to the act.
    How such people get up in the morning and look themselves in the mirror is beyond me!

  5. The new law which doesn’t come in anyway until October is a bloody disgrace. It is a typical Tory sleight of hand and protects the bare minimum of deep peat on multi protected sites. This is in part a climate change protection so it is a nonsense that not only is other deep peat not protected but all shallower peat soils are unprotected from the pyrotechnics of the grouse cabal. Of course those shallower peats are more likely to be dried by this heat and thus have oxidised surfaces that will produce vast quantities of CO2. We must keep up the pressure to protect all peat soils from this vandalism, how about starting with those within NPs and all AONBS.

    1. Selight of hand? More of an overt fumble. These people simply dont care. Its a comsmetic virtue signal to allow them to to tick a box and tell a another lie. We need Greta T to give Marcus R a phone call.

  6. In my naivety I had high hopes that Lord Goldsmith would come up with something which properly addressed all of the problems associated with the burning of our uplands. I should have known better. This stinks!

    I have yet to see a map showing which areas are actually affected by the ban, but the lengthy list of likely exempt areas illustrated above rather suggests that there aren’t going to be many and that Defra is taking the piss. Indeed one has to admire the manner in which the devious sods who have drafted this garbage have gone about drawing up the various caveats in order to keep their masters chums happy.

    As is noted above, this legislation is supposed to be addressing climate-change issues. It is a total nonsense to protect some areas and yet permit burning on similar areas elsewhere. Peat is peat wherever it is and the legislation should respect this fact. Looks like we’ve been sold down the river on this one. I wonder what the residents of the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire think about it. Totally let down I would imagine.

  7. Living in a house surrounded by moorland, strips of which are burned each year, and suffering ill effects from the local burning, year after year, I now see that my misery will not end in the for-seeable future – apparently the peat here is not deep enough to qualify for a ban! I shall continue to protest each time I am ‘kippered’ and end up wheezing for days on end. Should my next course of action be to take the local estate to court because they are complicit in exposing me to smoke containing carcinogens, which may result in thoracic or lung cancer at a later date? Should I complain to the local Environmental Health Dept or the National Health England? Should I complain to the WHO? Should I seek refugee status and ask the UN to relocate me to a place of safety?
    I have a personal reason for wanting the moor burn to cease, but I also have a huge concern for the impact moor burning has on the climate, the environment, local ecosystems, flora and fauna … not to mention the UK’s credibility in relation to the Paris Agreement aims we signed up to! How many grouse moor owners actually get out there and breathe in the clean fresh air produced by a moor burn? How many actually care about the keepers, underlings, visitors & local residents who are inhaling smoke and subject to potentially dangerous air quality caused by moor burn? NO – didn’t think so!

    1. You might be able to deal with the smoke coming from the moors through the Tort of negligence- civil law- public nuisance – private nuisance or statutory nuisance.
      A nuisance is defined as anything which causes injury, hurt, harm, annoyance to an individual or a community.
      The smoke coming from the moors is certainly a nuisance if it regularly affects your quality of life. Smoke coming from neighbouring land which is deliberately set on fire may well fall within the definition of a statutory nuisance.
      You might want to initially make a complaint to your local council environmental department, who under the legislation have the authority to deal with this matter.
      I would suggest you keep a diary of the frequency and duration of the burning, how it affects your health, well being and ability to use your property. Are there times when you house fills with smoke, do you have to keep windows closed, does your property smell of smoke after the fires have ceased burning?
      If there are other properties in your area, whose residents are also effected by the moor burning, it might be worth you all coming together to make a complaint.
      The fact that heather burning is now going to be banned on some moors, might add weight to your claim- why has DEFRA not included within the regulations a ban on heather burning which directly affects the health and well being of local residents?
      Certainly start with the local environmental department of your local council.- failing that speak to your local citizens advice office.

      If the degradation of the moors has increased over recent years due to an upscale of the practices associated with intense grouse moor management, then I am surprised that local authorities which are affected by flooding, or the water companies which have to treat the contaminated water coming off the moors have not sought a legal solution.
      The fact that the health of the moors is now recognised, not only as a source of carbon capture, but as a requirement to reduce events such as flooding and pollution, then surely this is something that DEFRA has to take into consideration when formulating it’s policies? If DEFRA’s policies and regulations do not meet these considerations, then is this something which could be challenged through the courts?

      I think it is now well accepted that what is happening on our grouse moors, isn’t just a matter of some expensive shooting days for a privileged few on a remote moor, but something that has national significance in how it affects British wildlife, flooding to homes in urban areas, water supply, as well as the UK’s ability to meet it’s climate change targets. If a government or it’s departments like DEFRA are unwilling to take the necessary measures to meet these challenges, then they need to be publicly held accountable, and if necessary challenged through legal means.
      What we are seeing at the moment is simply not a credible solution to resolving the mismanagement of so much of UK moorland.

  8. For crying out loud! A ban on burning should mean A BAN! No loopholes, strings attached, matches at the ready – A BAN! It’s just pathetic how the grouse moor owners appear to rule the roost, above all authority. When will have a government that gets real?

  9. Like other commentors, I regard the frailty of this legislation to be self-evident. But I view it alongside the hare culling thing in Scotland, the pheasant SSI stuff and the WJ general licence offensive. My best analogy is to mountain climbing – these new laws are all solid anchor points in a bid to rope up a very high, very hard and very ugly rock face. They have been hammered into tough stone against a very resistant Conservative govt and inherantly corrupt Establisment – that have been entwined with DGS throughout its 130-ish year history. True resolution of all these issues will need a very different type of government, which might be with us in 5 years…or not for 30yrs. In the mean time lets all try and help keep hammering the anchor points in. I know it is working as I still have friends in the DGS world and they start frothing at the mouth at the very mention of any limitation to the God-given rights of Estates to do what they want.

  10. For someone who portrays to know all the facts, you appear to know very little. The fire that hit saddleworth is a prime example of why burning is needed.

    1. Ironic, because you know absolutely nothing about the Saddleworth Moor fire, which started on land managed for grouse shooting (the Stalybridge Estate, which boasted of its burning regime). Burning our uplands just perpetuates a cycle of dry heath, instead of a mosaic of sphagnum mosses, leading to a monoculture of extremely flammable dwarf shrubs and very little in the way of water retention. You are utterly clueless and deliberately misrepresenting what actually happened.

  11. The Bolton Abbey estate of the Duke of Devonshire seems to be using this winter to carry on as normal before any ban comes in. They have been burning heather on Embsay Moor and below Simon’s Seat for the last couple of days.
    I’m presuming from the fantastic maps reproduced on your excellent blog, that the estate’s part of the Dales will come under the ban because it has deep peat.
    I have a picture if you want to use it.

  12. Heads up! May 30 2022: Extraordinarily good piece on BBC *national* lunch time news today(!) about the illegal burning of heather on deep peat across grouse-shooting moors. Extensive footage from the RSPB and Greenpeace. Quite a lot of ‘no comments’ from Moorland owners, Grouse shooting associations and Government departments…

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