‘Burning Britain’s moorland an environmental disaster’

The Daily Mirror, of all places, published a large feature article yesterday about the damaging effects of grouse moor burning.

Written by Environment Editor Nada Farhoud, the article featured comments from the usual suspects but also some new voices, including a local resident of the North York Moors National Park, Richard Gray, who was quoted:

They say grouse shooting brings money into the local economy, it brings nothing other than smoke and destruction of our wildlife“.

For some reason the article also included a random photograph of what was alleged to be a poisoned rabbit bait, and another photograph of a dead peregrine ‘believed to have been discovered in North Yorkshire’. The association between grouse moor management and raptor persecution wasn’t really made clear and I would imagine that many Mirror readers would have wondered what any of that had to do with setting fire to the moorlands.

There is a link, of course, and that link is grouse moor management, but it was maybe too subtle in this article.

That’s not to take anything away from the article itself – it’s fantastic to see a mainstream tabloid focusing on this issue.

You can read the article here

14 thoughts on “‘Burning Britain’s moorland an environmental disaster’”

  1. An interesting comment from Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association; ” if the burning was banned in further areas, then huge amounts of precious and officially protected heather moorland would be lost.”

    If it is officially protected then surely Landowners both present and future are legally obliged to look after the land in a manner that maintains it “in good heart” as I am obliged to do with my croftland.

    At this time the land is just looked on as a rich persons plaything to be used and abused in whatever way suits with no thought to the wider environment or future of the local area.

    Media coverage such as this means more public awareness and hopefully a bit of political pressure to ensure owners of shooting estates are actually forced to start caring for the moors in a responsible way.
    Here’s hoping!

  2. I liked a comment I heard the other night from an ex Home Secretary.
    Commercial shooting.creates rural jobs.
    So does crime. More crime, more police officers.Simple.

  3. It’s interesting to read the comments following this article. At first, they’re all generally sympathetic. Then the tone changes to one of hostility to the journalist, scientists, the RSPB, the BBC, the ‘woke’ and, of course, townies all of whom should stand aside and leave the human denizens of the countryside to do as they see fit without let or hindrance (unless, presumably, it is to pay for grants, etc). The more such digs are included, the more ‘likes’ the comment seems to receive. It’s almost as if there was a concerted & organised effort to downplay the problem ….

  4. I dread this time of year and welcome April Fools’ Day, when the muirburn must stop (at least legally). The choking smoke makes visiting the Borders moorland, such as the Lammermuir Hills, far from the pleasant experience it can be at other times (if you don’t want to see birds of prey that is). No one has given me an adequate explanation why the old heather cannot be cut back using forage harvesters or even by hand. At least the cuttings could be a useful biproduct and not contribute to release of CO2.

    1. Hi FfF – the cost and time taken for collecting the cuttings is always given as a negative. And if they are left, then you simply get a mulch which sets back the new heather growth – so burning is quicker and simpler and cheaper according to those who like setting fire to things!

  5. If these areas of heather moorland are, as stated by Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association, ‘precious and officially protected heather moorland’, with the emphasis on ‘protected’, then surely someone should be giving the Government a serious nudge and making them more aware and giving those with the powers to prosecute those responsible for the burning under laws, which surely must exist, with a large fine and imprisonment.

  6. Tragic death on Lammermuir grouse moor while burning heather.
    Life changing burns have occurred to operatives on other moors too. Interesting occurrence of wildfires during lockdown when visitors were mostly absent, suggesting the visiting public as a significant cause of fires may be overplayed.

    1. [Ed: Thanks, Paul. Out of respect for the man who lost his life I don’t think it’s appropriate to publish your comment here, in this context. Although your experiences are interesting and relevant. If you’re able to re-post them without any inferences made about the deceased (whether intended or not), that’d be fine, thanks]

  7. I think one of the most important points about this article in the Mirror, is that it moves the debate about heather burning and moorland management, from one that until recently has been almost exclusively between conservation organisations and the shooting industry, to a position which includes the general public. A public, who are at last being made more aware of what is happening in our countryside, and how countryside management effects the UK’s position in tackling CO2 emissions and reducing global warming.

    It’s very clear from some of the comments posted on the Mirrors webpage, that those who support the shooting industry don’t want this debate to become public, and certainly don’t like how the traditional way of doing things is starting to be challenged.
    I note that none of these commentators are able counteract the arguments about CO2 emissions.
    Neither do they appear to consider whether creating huge areas of heather monoculture, with areas of dried out peat exposed to the sun contribute to wildfires they like mention, something which they so quickly blame on the townies with their barbeques!

    Coming out with expression’s like “what do those townies know?” or “the countryside should be managed by those who live in it” remind me very much about how the “new science” must have been greeted as society moved from the Middle Ages through the Period of Reformation and into the Age of Enlightenment, where those who held on to traditional views insisted that those supporting the new science were radicals or heretics!
    History of course tells us just how wrong they were.
    The earth wasn’t flat, and much of the marvels of the planet could be explained scientifically rather than simply accepting it was the work of God!

    I note in the article there is a claim that “since 2004, the number of grouse shot annually has risen by 62% to 700,000”.
    If this is correct, how do those supporting the shooting industry want to explain this?
    Could it be due to the fact that grouse moors are now so intensively managed and burned, that all other species of flora or fauna which don’t contribute to, or benefit from the grouse breeding program have been eradicated?
    Is this really conservation, and does this justify the release of so much CO2 into the atmosphere?

    Lets hope as we near COP26 there will be even more national media coverage and debate about how the UK’s countryside and farmland is managed; and just how much this management contributes to our CO2 emissions, or fails to absorb green house gases. I suspect there will be a lot of squealing from those who don’t want to see a change to the status quo. A status quo which the evidence now clearly indicates is contributing to climate change.

  8. There needs to be a complete rethink of what ‘heather moorland’ actually constitutes and why it’s protected in the first place. It’s a completely man made environment that requires intensive management, disturbance, and is often on areas which could be restored to active blanket bog and/or mire. Just because something is ‘rare’ does not mean it is ecologically sustainable or in fact good for the environment. Much of the moorland that is converted to ‘heather moorland’ has a huge opportunity cost attached to it. Where are the bog woodlands? Where are the broadleaf edges? Where are the mosaics? Why is damaged blanket bog allowed to be burned under the guise of ‘dry heath’ when it’s only in that state because of the burning and draining in the first place? The comments about heather moorland being ‘rarer than the rainforest’ have been debunked many, many times now.

    A much more sustainable and environmentally beneficial way of managing those areas would be to restore hydrological function, reestablish sphagnum mosses, cotton grasses and other associated flora, rather than burning areas purely for heather. There would still be heather present but it would form part of a matrix, rather than being completely dominant. We therefore have two choices; either healthier, more biodiverse uplands, which sequester more carbon, or driven grouse shooting. You cannot have both and because of this, it needs to be completely banned. You cannot reform something that completely relies on such unsustainable land management.

  9. A brilliant article all round, but what impressed me most was the repeated references to flooding being a consequence of having grouse moors. What a breath of fresh air that was! If the general public was as clued up about the link between lowland flooding and how the uplands are ‘managed’ as they should be then there’d be hell to pay. Grouse shooting would fare especially badly, keeping homes dry compromised by shooting birds for fun!?! If only the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts were as good at raising this issue as the the savvy journalist behind this article was.

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