How and why to report grouse moor fires to the RSPB

In October the RSPB published a report warning that current muirburn practices (e.g. setting the moors alight as part of grouse moor ‘management’) are incompatible with Scotland’s net zero ambitions because of the importance of peatlands as carbon stores (see here). The report also provided evidence that the current voluntary Muirburn Code is not working.

[Look at the state of this! Muirburn on a grouse moor. The photographer wishes to remain anonymous]

In November 2020, the (then) Rural Affairs and Natural Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon MSP gave an official statement to the Scottish Parliament in response to the independent Grouse Moor Management Group (Werritty) Report. She said:

In future muirburn will only be permitted under licence from NatureScot, regardless of the time of year it is undertaken. And there will be a statutory ban on burning on peatland, except under licence for strictly limited purposes such as habitat restoration.’

To coincide with the RSPB’s damning report on muirburn published in October, they also launched a new App where members of the public could report sightings of current fires or where they’d seen evidence of recent burning. The RSPB is interested in fires that have been lit for agricultural and sporting purposes (i.e. grouse moor management).

This information is critical for the RSPB’s advocacy team to ensure that muirburn is licensed and muirburn on deep peatland soils is banned. Information from Scotland and England is very welcome.

The App can be utilised directly on the hill and there is now also a facility for information to be submitted to the RSPB from a computer at home. Please visit the RSPB’s webpage here for further information.

19 thoughts on “How and why to report grouse moor fires to the RSPB”

  1. The on-going arrogance and contempt for the law, and just lack of plain decency, from these people is compounded by the spineless reactions of government and its statutory agencies. Forget licensing muirburn: just ban it now. If they want to manage heather, let them do it with manual, not mechanical, cutting equipment and then they might actually provide some genuine employment in the uplands.

    1. Not to forget their apparent total lack of regard for folks living nearby. Recent burning on almost windless days in West and North Yorkshire resulted in valley bottoms being smothered in smoke. The moor owners//tenants should be held responsible for the total social disrespect for their neighbours shown by their keepers.
      Totally agree with the comments regarding an alternative means of heather management. No doubt the many species of wildlife burnt to a cinder by current practices would agree too if they had any say in the matter.

    2. What a load of rubbish
      Rspb are the one of the reasons that there are so frequent wildfires on ASSI designated lands.
      You object to firebreaks being put in place to help fight wildfire.
      Don’t forget RSPB you are a charity funded organisation you are not a Government Organisation.
      Address matters that are of concern the number of domestic cats in inner cities killing and hunting song birds.

      1. “Rspb are the one of the reasons that there are so frequent wildfires on ASSI designated lands.”

        Strange. RSPB NI do not own any peat moorland.

        “You object to firebreaks being put in place to help fight wildfire”

        No. I object to owners artificially draining peat moorland for shooting, thus creating the dry conditions necessary for wildfires to take hold. That these same owners also burn the peat moorland – again for shooting – seriously damages wildlife and contributes to global warming.

      2. Oh dear another cat obsessive! Perhaps you haven’t read the research which suggests the impact of cats on song birds is grossly overstated. On the other hand habitat destruction does a lot of damage. As for wildfires, mm so none occur on Moors managed for the slaughter of grouse then?

  2. On a related subject – did folk watch Monika Galetti (of Masterchef fame) on the BBC ‘Walking with …’ programme last night? She was walking across part of the North York Moors – lots of footage of burned heather – never mentioned once (apart from a very brief caption saying that the moorland was managed for red grouse). She did mention tuning into birdsong – but I had to strain to hear any!

  3. Burning “for habitat restoration”? Really…are they stiil using this oxymormonic language? Come on SNH get yer minister properly briefed. Its burning for biodiversity supression.

    1. Have you seen what’s under the canopy of knee deep heather? Zero burning areas come back with grasses, blaeberry, crowberry, cloudberry plus mosses and ferns.

      1. Knee deep heather? That’s a blast from the past for anybody more than 4′ tall. Lots of fun in the beating line doing big silly steps for miles on end and everybody losing sight of each other and getting out of line in the really deep stuff. A bygone era.

        1. You’ve obviously not been up the west coast before, if you’re looking for somewhere devoid of wildlife take a run up. Only deer and hoodie crows for miles.

          1. Hi Bill, you are misunderstanding my point, perhaps deliberately. I was reflecting on the drastic reduction of the extent of mature heather on DGS moors since the early ’90s – and of the overall reduction of the average height of the immature heather too. I do know the west of scotland a little, but I am not aware of any intensive grouse shooting operations up there who are committed enough to want to copy the brutal model of modern DGS heather management.

  4. I grew up mostly in Southern England and remember the stubble burning that used to happen every year. This reminds me of that. Acres and acres of countryside set ablaze! The practice only got banned in 1993!

  5. What a load of rubbish
    Rspb are the one of the reasons that there are so frequent wildfires on ASSI designated lands.
    You object to firebreaks being put in place to help fight wildfire.
    Don’t forget RSPB you are a charity funded organisation you are not a Government Organisation.
    Address matters that are of concern the number of domestic cats in inner cities killing and hunting song birds.

    1. Your comment reminds me very much of the witch scene in the Monty Python film – The Holy Grail.

      How are the RSPB responsible for the frequency of wildfires?
      Please can you provide some evidence to substantiate your claim.

      Have you considered that burning heather, damaging the sphagnum moss and exposing the underlying peat leads to the peat drying out, which will then be more prone to fire than a damp bog environment?
      It would also seem that great swathes of heather monoculture associated with grouse moors are more prone to wild fires than a more mixed countryside environment. Does this not suggest that limiting the areas covered by heather with a more diverse habitat might reduce wildfires?

      I understand the RSPB are a charity concerned with the protection and conservation of all bird species, not just those which inhabit back gardens. Their expertise and knowledge on matters relating to birds and conservation, frequently appears to be far superior than that often displayed by many who are responsible for the land management on grouse moors, or some of the government organisations which are supposed to be protecting the UKs wildlife and countryside.

      I would suggest that far more important than addressing the number of domestic cats kept as pets in inner cities, would be addressing the issue of wildlife criminals who seem to be able to act with impunity across much of the UK’s countryside and are responsible for the illegal killing and persecution of raptors.

  6. What really gets my goat is that the RSPB are are still promoting the “small-scale burning of heather” which, they say, is a “traditional method” that can be “very beneficial to farmers and wildlife, providing fresh heather for grazing and a mosaic of habitat for wildlife”.

    See http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/rspb-news/news/279182-the-true-cost-of-the-burning-of-our-uplands

    Yet, elsewhere ( https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/policy-insight/england-westminster/policy-briefings/moorland-peat-burning/) they say that burning blanket bog (which, as we know, is done in a patchwork) is an “outmoded practice” which “damages the internationally important ecosystem”.

    It cannot be both very beneficial and harmful.

  7. An aquaintence of mine keeps sending me info about the ‘Mars Bar’ method of ascertaining the depth to which muirburn makes an impact on the terrain. This is his counter argument to those of us who queation why this action is necessary. Has anyone else come across this arrogant, to me, meaningless system to prove nothing?

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