The grouse-shooting industry has a well-evidenced reputation for misrepresentation, whether that be of crime statistics, science, technology, opinion or policy, in fact anything it can distort in a desperate attempt to portray itself more favourably, it will do.
So it should come as no surprise whatsoever to learn that its latest warped presentation of reality relates to the misinterpretation of a new scientific paper from esteemed academics at the University of Cambridge, a paper which the grouse-shooting industry is claiming, falsely, supports the idiotic notion that repeatedly setting fire to peatland vegetation (muirburn) as part of a grouse moor management plan, is somehow good for tackling the climate emergency.
[The horrific sight of muirburn on a UK grouse moor. Photo copyright RPUK]
The paper was recently published in the eminent scientific journal Nature Geoscience. Unfortunately it sits behind a paywall but you can access the authors’ copy here and the abstract is shown below:
This is a review paper, technically demanding for the non-scientific reader, but the general conclusion is that in some environments (note, peatland was not the focus) fire can be an important tool for increasing carbon storage in soils in some circumstances.
Here’s how spin master general Tim (Kim) Baynes, Director of Moorland at landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates, misinterpreted the findings of this paper in an article he wrote for The Herald on 13th January:
The usual suspects in the grouse-shooting industry took this dreadful piece of propaganda and splashed it across social media, claiming vindication against the ‘antis’. The funniest line came from The Shooting Times who hilariously used this quote from Strathbraan gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen to ratify the Cambridge University research:
“This rather blows a hole in the conservation charities’ lies about controlled muirburn“.
‘The paper is a literature review to understand whether fire-driven loss of carbon from soils through combustion, erosion and leaching could be offset by the ability of fire to stabilize carbon and keep it within the soil. The paper concludes that using fire to promote the stability of soil organic matter may be an important means for increasing carbon storage. But the paper focuses largely on savannah, grassland and forest biomes of little relevance to UK moorlands which are subject to burning. Indeed, the paper states that the way in which fire affects the stability of carbon in soils differs across ecosystems – in other words, the results are not automatically generalisable across ecosystems.
The enthusiasm with which the paper has been used by proponents of burning in the UK to justify its continued use on grouse moors is misguided because the review does not evaluate the framework in moorlands or peatlands more generally. In fact, the authors of the paper state that “in ecosystems with deep organic horizons, such as boreal forests and peatlands, the utility and feasibility of prescribed burning to manage SOM [soil organic matter] losses via greater stabilization is less clear“.
Despite these clear caveats, those who wish to burn vegetation in the UK uplands are using the findings of the paper, misleadingly, as evidence of the benefits of burning“.
For anyone who still thinks Tim (Kim) Baynes and/or Ronnie Kippen’s scientific analyses are convincing, it’s probably best to listen to two of the paper’s authors (Pellegrini & Malhotra) responding to a discussion on Twitter about the grouse-shooting industry’s misrepresentation of their work, as follows: