RSPB records peatland fires on grouse moors in supposedly protected areas

Last autumn the RSPB launched an online reporting system for members of the public to document moorland fires (muirburn) to help build a picture of where heather moorland is being set alight as part of so-called grouse moor ‘management’ (see here).

In February 2022 the RSPB renewed its call for muirburn reports from the public with the aid of a free APP to make it a simple process (see here).

[Gamekeepers setting fire to a grouse moor in Aberdeenshire in February 2022]

The RSPB also provided this infographic analysing the reports it had received between October 2021 – January 2022, providing evidence that muirburn was taking place on peat, which is obviously of huge concern in this period of climate crisis. There was also evidence that burning was taking place in protected areas which is now illegal unless an individual licence has been granted:

The grouse shooting lobby was furious that the RSPB was asking people to report these fires (see here).

They’re going to be even more furious today because the RSPB has just published even more analysis of even more fires, showing that 82% of all reported fires on what is believed to be peatland (32 of 39 reports) were also in supposedly protected landscapes designated for conservation: Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Oops.

Today the RSPB in England has released another press release (see below) urging members of the public to continue to report moorland fires until the end of the burning season (April 15th). A similar request is expected from the RSPB Scotland team next week.

Press release from RSPB England (9th March 2022):

Public have reported 137 burns to the RSPB this season in England

  • The RSPB’s new upland burning reporting app has documented over 137 reports of burning in our uplands from 1 October 2021 to 28 February 2022.
  • More than 1 in 4 reported burns in England were on likely peat.
  • Of the burns reported on likely peat, 4 out of 5 (or more than 80%) were in a protected area (Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protected Areas).
  • The RSPB is calling on members of the public to continue to report incidents of burning in our uplands using their Survey 123 app before the end of the burning season on 15th April.
  • The data collected will help make the case for better protection of our globally important blanket bog and support the RSPB’s call for Governments across the UK to ban burning on peatland and to licence all moorland and grass burning to protect people, nature and our climate. 

This burning season, the RSPB launched their Burning Reporting App, allowing members of the public to simply and anonymously submit evidence of burning in our upland areas.

The burning season, which runs from October until April is undertaken across our moors, hillsides and valleys. The practice is used by gamekeepers and farmers to remove old heather and grass, with new growth preferred by grouse and sheep to eat.

In response to environmental concerns, DEFRA has taken steps to end rotational burning on peatland (>40cm deep), limiting where and when it can take place within Special Areas of Conservation and Protected Areas

However, burn reporting evidence collected by RSPB and our partners demonstrates that this legislation does not go far enough with burning still being recorded on peaty soils.

Dr Pat Thompson, Senior Policy Officer for RSPB UK said, ‘We have had a great response from the public to our app, with over 130 reports of burning it’s clear that people from across our upland communities are eager to help to do their part to protect these internationally significant landscapes.’  

‘It is clear from the reports we have received so far that burns are being conducted on our peatlands and in our protected areas.’

‘Our peatlands vital carbon stores and home to some of our most precious wildlife with their protection vital to tackling the climate crisis and in light of the latest IPCC report it is clear that we must take action to protect them.’

‘The evidence collected by our app demonstrates that the actions taken so far by government in Westminster to regulate burning does not go far enough. If we are to protect these internationally important landscapes and we must put a stop to burning on our peatlands and ensure that licencing is brought in for all heather and grass burning.’

Oriole Wagstaff, Casework Officer for RSPB UK said, ‘We cannot protect our uplands if we do not have a full picture of the land management undertaken throughout them. With many burns taking place in remote areas, we need the public to support us and report these burns.’  

‘Our new burning app is providing vital information on the extent and location of burning in the English uplands.  Information gathered to date shows that burning on peatlands is still happening, despite regulation intended to stop it on areas of deep peat.’

Burning can take place until the 15th April in England. To anonymously report a burn and download the app (available on iOS and Android), members of the public can visit the RSPB Burning website. There they can find instructions on how to download the app, as well as information on how to spot a burn and to stay to safe when reporting when reporting a burn.

By downloading the app and reporting evidence of burning you can play a vital role in helping to show the UK Government that despite current legislation, burning on carbon-rich blanket bogs is still taking place across our uplands. Ending burning will be a key step in ensuring we can turn round the fate of this globally important habitat in the UK.

ENDS

UPDATE 24th March 2022: RSPB Scotland encouraging the public to continue to report upland fires this season (here)

7 thoughts on “RSPB records peatland fires on grouse moors in supposedly protected areas”

  1. This is a really great initiative by the RSPB – and if you doubt it for a moment you only have to look at the furious reaction from the grouse shooting interests !

  2. 137 reports doesn’t seem many until you realise that you have to be an RSPB member to know about it(or fan of Ruth), you’re more likely to be local since it’s not peak holiday season and you need to know it’s really not hard to do. I think 137 is a good figure.
    I am not at all techie but found it really easy to report a recent fire in upper nidderdale.

  3. Good for the RSPB and I have been happy to support this initiative by reporting several burns. Where I live, on some days the dale has several burns going on all at once conducted by various different estates, so instead of looking at what should be a good view of the landscape on a sunny day, it is spoilt by fires and clouds of smoke. On occasions that smoke has filled the dale and covered parts of my local town. Taking a breath can, at times, feel quite uncomfortable. Really nice for the locals and holidaymakers! So anti social. Driving on the moorland roads, I have experienced fires so close to the road that I have had to drive through the smoke that has drifted across it. Not good for road safety. I won’t get started on the effects on flora and fauna because there are those of you who contribute to this blog who know far more about that than I do and who are more eloquent. At various levels, the people who cause these burns are just so ignorant and selfish.

    1. The Northern Yorkshire Dales, Swaledale and Arkengarthdale were on fire in multiple locations again today. At least the unusual southerly wind meant my local communities were not engulfed in toxic particulate pollution as usually occurs. YDNP disclaim any responsibility for monitoring or enforcing air pollution regulations (but curiously they do have responsibility for water pollution) and insist that the it is the local authorities responsibilty to investigate and enforce air quality standards. Unfortunately the local authority only monitor air quality at a few main road sites far from these rural areas and have no monitoring or insight into rural air quality issues, there is a real gap in monitoring and oversight of rural air pollution and it’s impact on health and quality of life in these communities.

  4. A superb initiative by the RSPB – hats off to them. Although in many ways it is a sad state of affairs when a charity has to do the job of the Statutory Conservation Agencies.

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