Press release from REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform:
11th November 2021
Scotland’s Muirburn Shame
National Park burns while world leaders discuss climate emergency in Glasgow
Scottish landowners are being accused of putting two fingers up to COP26 as they cause environmental damage through muirburn during the global climate conference.
REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform has published graphic footage of muirburn in the Cairngorms National Park, highlighting the hypocrisy of the practice as Scotland hosts UN climate talks to reach agreement to tackle the climate emergency. The footage filmed by REVIVE partners, the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, shows large swathes of moorland burning intensively.
[Gamekeepers setting fire to heather on peatland on Edinglassie Estate, Cairngorms National Park last week. Photo by League Against Cruel Sports Scotland]
League Against Cruel Sports Scotland Director, Robbie Marsland said: “It beggars belief that heather burning on this scale is happening at the very same time as a global summit on climate change.
“Every year thousands of hectares of heather goes up in smoke in Scotland’s highlands and much of it is on deep peat. The heather is burnt to increase the number of grouse that can be shot for entertainment.
“Our film also shows the dramatic impact of the burning – a treeless brown desert stretching to the horizon. But this is just the impact which is visible. What we can’t see is the carbon stored on this land leaking into the atmosphere, undermining efforts to reduce climate emissions. In the context of the international conference on the climate crisis this to me, looks like these landowners are putting up two fingers to COP 26.”
Muirburn involves burning heather moorland to provide unnatural habitats for game birds to increase numbers for sport shooting. The practice is an issue of growing concern due to the increasing extent and intensity of burning on grouse moors, and particularly the effects of burning over deep peat.
Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, a REVIVE coalition partner said: “Allowing landowners to burn land indiscriminately puts our vital peatlands at incredible risk by allowing the carbon it stores to leak into the atmosphere, undermining other efforts to reduce climate emissions.
“This is a very serious issue for grouse moors, because much of that land is high in peat, and peaty soils contain a massive amount of carbon. With the eyes of the world on Scotland’s climate action, the management of all our peat-rich grouse moorland will have to improve radically to contribute to national efforts to cut emissions.”
The Scottish Government recently announced a series of measures to license grouse moors, including addressing issues such as muirburn, following the Werritty Review of grouse moor management.
Campaign Manager for REVIVE Max Wiszniewski added: “With every sector under pressure to reduce carbon emissions and help tackle the climate emergency it is staggering that muirburn for a purpose as unnecessary as increasing the number of grouse that can be shot for entertainment is deemed acceptable. Scotland’s vital peat reserves are under constant threat from the damage caused by increasingly intensive muir burning on grouse moors and we would urge the Scottish Government to ban this environmentally damaging practice.
“The footage shows moor land in the Highlands quite literally on fire with huge plumes of smoke billowing into the atmosphere. Muirburn is just one of a number of unpalatable practices in the circle of destruction that surround grouse moors causing significant environmental, social and animal welfare concerns.”
Muirburn season runs from 1st October until 15th April in Scotland. [Ed: and incredibly can be extended to 30th April with landowner permission!]
Here is a short video:
The Daily Record also has an article on this today (here), which provides detail of the identities of the estates featured in this footage – reported to be Edinglassie Estate and Allargue Estate. If you can look beyond the tabloid sensationalism, it’s an interesting read.
I particularly liked this bit:
[Robbie] Marsland, [Director of League Against Cruel Sports Scotland] said arguments put up by estate owners for burning the heather are bogus.
He said: “The people who burn the land regularly claim they do it to help conserve lapwing. However, the clue of their real motive is rather obviously in the title of the moors. They’re not called lapwing moors, they’re called grouse moors“.
There’s also a quote from Stuart Young, Chief Executive of Dunecht Estates (which includes Edinglassie Estate) whose reported comments included this:
“Controlled fires following the official Muirburn Code do not damage the peat underneath and also serve as an essential management tool to prevent and reduce the extent and severity of uncontrolled wildfires which are a really serious threat to the nature conservation and carbon sequestration benefits provided by moorland“.
It’s cleverly worded, but of course fails to acknowledge that not all grouse moor owners comply with the (mostly voluntary) Muirburn Code. With the intensification of grouse moor management in some areas of Scotland comes an increase in the extent and intensity of rotational heather burning. These fires have even been lit on areas of deep peat (forbidden by the voluntary Muirburn Code, which many land managers seem to simply ignore) causing damage to protected blanket bog habitat – in fact 40% of the area of land burned for grouse moor management in Scotland is on deep peat according to a 2019 report commissioned & published by the Revive Coalition (see here).
Meanwhile, last month conservation campaign group Wild Justice was refused permission for judicial review of the much criticised and frankly grossly inadequate regulations brought in by DEFRA to limit vegetation burning on peatland soils in the uplands of England. Wild Justice has appealed this ruling and a decision is expected in early December.
Ps. REVIVE’s annual conference will take place in Perth this Sunday (14th Nov) and tickets are still available (here). Speakers include Chris Packham, Lesley Riddoch, Andy Wightman and others (see programme here). Please note, the start time has been put back to 11am to accommodate attendees arriving on public transport.
I look forward to seeing some of you there.