“It’s essential that we carry on with muirburn”, says Scottish Government’s Rural Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing

Climate emergency? What climate emergency?

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, was speaking at the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s political hustings last Friday (and more on that soon!), and this is a direct quote from his two-minute position statement on what the SNP can do for gamekeepers:

It’s essential that we carry on with muirburn. We might come to that later. It’s absolutely essential to protect peatland. I’ve seen the Mars Bar film. I get it“.

Good grief. Let’s hope Fergus, if re-elected, isn’t part of the delegation attending the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 1 – 12 November 2021; a summit to bring together parties to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Meanwhile, as we wait to find out what the proposed muirburn licensing scheme will look like, post-Werritty, the grouse moors are once again being set alight up and down the country.

Here are some photographs of the moors on Lochan Estate in Strathbraan this week, sent in by a blog reader:

And not for the first time (see here, here and here), here is the grouse moor on Moy Estate in the Monadhliaths, set alight last week, perversely next to the wind turbines installed to to create renewable energy and thus reduce the carbon emissions that would otherwise be created from burning fossil fuels:

The ParkswatchScotland blog has also reported on grouse moors being set alight inside the Cairngorms National Park this week (see here).

But not to worry – we’re only in a climate emergency and these fires are just like having your hair cut. And besides, the Cabinet Secretary has watched an amateur video made by some gamekeepers to convince himself that muirburning “is essential“. Who needs scientific research, eh?

If you’re in England, where DEFRA has announced a pathetic proposal to ban burning on moorland that isn’t anywhere near as strong as it should be (see here), the RSPB has launched a burning reporting system where members of the public can report any upland burning that they see. Please report your sightings here.

32 thoughts on ““It’s essential that we carry on with muirburn”, says Scottish Government’s Rural Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing”

  1. There now has to be a motion calling for his resignation ? I was vainly hopeful that the SNP might try and assert its claim for independence and international leadership, that Glasgow 2021 offers, by perhaps aligning itself broadly and radically with the Pacific Island states and go ambitiously beyond Zero Carbon to a more realistic position (given that the Arctic is summer ice free in 2040 threatening another Permian extinction with accelerating methane feed back loops ). The ecological evidence is clear that we need to have C02 falling soon; it is surely clear that 1.5 C is an anthropological compromise ; for that we have to address our carbon debt. The SNP is losing credibility on so many levels that the truth is they lack real stature; the Precautionary Principle could mandate any case here in international law if Scotland were prepared to reach for the high ground here ?

    1. Well said…

      “given that the Arctic is summer ice free in 2040 threatening another Permian extinction with accelerating methane feed back loops”

      We have already triggered methane feedback loops through the melting of the Arctic tundra and shallow undersea clathrates, but we are also simultaneously decreasing planetary albedo with this loss of snow/ice cover, so – as you say – we are accelerating to our own destruction on several fronts…

      1. Yes; it started some time ago, the Russians call the quarry sized sink holes in the perma frost “the gates of hell”…..its arguable that we are well past 1.5 C if one looks at the Poles.

  2. On Strathspey grousemoors there were fires all over the place this week. From Drumochter in the south up through Cuaich and Crubenmore Banchor Pitmain etc. Plenty of smokey clouds over the strath this week.

    The Banchor estate is involved in a tree planting project to enhance the River Calder catchment area, native trees being planted with grants for ecological restoration in the valley. Up on the moors and into the hills and at ever higher altitudes more and more muirburn and all in the middle of the national park. Is this really ecological restoration or another load of greenwash that helps the image of grouse shooting?

    1. Some in the angling community have finally realised that trees are enormously important for fish, they stabilise banks and reduce soil and agrochemical run off, produce shade and their leaves fertilise the water and increase invertebrate populations. Wood in water also provides cover from predators, shelter from stronger flows and more invertebrate life too. These also happen to hold back water from entering streams quickly and slow the passage of water in the stream, so they have a dual role of helping fish stocks and reducing flooding. On some deer stalking estates they have to fence the riparian tree plantings from being grazed to death. At a certain stage all the fencing becomes problematic as it begins restricting deer movements not just their diet. When this becomes apparent riparian planting has reached its limit. That’s bad news for fish AND businesses, farms and homes downstream at risk from flooding. Ultimately traditional deer stalking compromises healthy watercourses and flood prevention – not vice versa.

      I wonder how this works with grouse moors, does riparian tree planting stop when it comes up against the boundary of a grouse moor? Does the same rule apply to driven grouse shooting as to deer stalking they’ll only go along with helping fish stocks and people downstream as long as it doesn’t compromise shooting grouse? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was the case. According to a couple of fisheries scientist acquaintances of mine the EMBER report does indicate muirburn on grouse moors is not good for salmonid fishes at all. So a direct conflict between two field sports, but it’s not being aired publicly. About time it was considering how beavers and cormorants among others are getting blamed for shitty salmon runs, but never muirburn the one thing they didn’t evolve to cope with.

  3. Plenty of burning on the south slopes of Strathbraan between the Sma Glen and Little Glenshee – keep burning guys – it’s essential. Climate change conference anyone?

  4. I would like to know if Scotland is in control or not, because by letting this burn you clearly are not in control & never will be,
    Damaging nature on this scale I pitty you, because when you damage nature, you get back revenge of nature, you think Corvid-19 was bad, then wait for the next pandemic to hit the world like you’ve never seen before, learn your lessons, you clearly have not, let Nature take its full revenge on you !
    Because you never will learn will you…

  5. Ewing could rightly claim to be the Bolsonaro of Scotland. In fact that should be the name of an award for environmental ignorance.

  6. Fergus Mcxxxxx showing his true colours once again.
    When will SNP get rid of this wee man and commit to some true environmental policies.
    Until they do ….vote Greens

  7. “It’s essential that we carry on with muirburn.”

    Why is it essential and for whom? It supports a niche hobby practised by a few individuals albeit mostly rich ones. The costs to society are: it emits lots of CO2 and particulates into the atmosphere impacting air quality; burnt areas hold back less water increasing flood risk on lower reaches of rivers; it kills amphibians and reptiles caught in the fire and prevents woodland expansion.

    Not many issues then but if Fergus Ewing thinks it is ok, then that’s fine. The Mars Bar video must be pretty convincing.

    1. “The Mars Bar video must be pretty convincing”

      Not the one supposedly involving a certain ‘Stone, I trust;-}

  8. When assessing where the SNP (Sc. Gov.) are attempting to go with wildlife crime / land abuse etc. one is immediately faced with a conundrum.

    Presented with a government who say one thing, do another and think something else there is an immediate and serious credibility problem.

    There is only one way to avoid falling victim to such deceipt:-


    We all know what crime and land abuse is taking place. We all know that it has been part of the countryside scene for a very long time. We all know that Holyrood has a desire and infinite capacity merely to talk etc. about it.


    Holyrood stands condemned by it’s own handiwork.

  9. All this past week there have been massive plumes of smoke rising from the Lammermuirs (East Lothian) and the hills around Peebles. Horrible.

  10. Plenty burning choking smoke happening on the strathmore Estate just outside dundee all week.

  11. Muirburn is not just about burning peat, though we know this happens. The Mars bar video is a classic case of let’s take a couple of isolated examples so everyone thinks Muirburn is safe, like butter or for that matter chocolate won’t melt in their mouths. It is bad for gobal warmining! It is also the fact it destroys the natural fauna (especially the invertebrates) and flora to create an un-natural monoculture of heather.

    Perhaps we should correspond with this politician in vast numbers to set the record straight on muirburn.

  12. Well y’all know what to do come the May elections.

    Before you think that voting for somebody else carries little weight there are plenty of other groups who are mightily upset with the SNP. No matter what your preference is on the political spectrum you do have alternatives.

    If you were thinking of voting SNP but can’t bear to vote for a unionist party simply spoil your ballot on the constituency vote and vote for a pro-independence partly like the ISP, or AFI on the list vote.

    It’s time that foot-dragging, which we’ve certainly seen too much already from this administration, got punished.

  13. The photos from Strathbrann seem to show burning on steep slopes, thin soils and screes….. Which of course is against the muirburn code. Should NaturistScot with hold the general licences for breaches such as this?

  14. having heard Prince Charles on the radio the day before preaching about biodiversity and carbon pollution, this weekend I took a cycle ride out to his back garden at Balmoral and up past Gelder Shiel. The smell of recently burnt peat permeated the air, and there large swathes of muirburn all across the landscape. This is a practice with friends in the highest of places. There are many very rich people whose land investments only hold their value so long as the Scottish hunting estate remains a tradeable commodity, like gold or Rolls Royces. Muirburn and grouse shooting are an integral part of that identity, without which their assets lose their cache and value. It would be nice, but naive to think that the royals might set an example and break with this ‘tradition’.

  15. I am pleased that the RSPB are compiling a list of where burning is taking place. Thanks for posting the link. I have reported what I saw this weekend, and the number of grouse moors where burning was taking place, suggests that the ban will have little effect. It’s an absolute disgrace. Everyone should be doing everything possible to reduce climate change. Heather burning is not essential, there are alternatives to burning, and those estates which persist in heather burning are nothing but environmental vandals. Are they incapable of understanding what climate change actually means for the planet- including their precious grouse farm factory moors??

  16. This comment from Mr Ewing should be of no surprise given his track record of support for driven grouse shooting. Unwise yes, but typical.

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