Earlier this month the RSPB in England announced that members of the public had been using the new Burning App to report upland fires to the RSPB, many of which were on peatland inside supposedly protected areas (see here).
This information is crucial for the RSPB to build a picture of where lawful, and more importantly unlawful, fires may be being used as part of grouse moor management practices, to inform policy-makers about the need for better protection of blanket bog and other peatland habitats.
[Gamekeepers setting fire to a grouse moor in Aberdeenshire in February 2022]
Last week RSPB Scotland also issued a press release calling on the public to help. Here’s a copy of that press release (from 17th March 2022):
Members of the public have reported 72 burns to RSPB this season
- The RSPB’s new upland burning reporting app has documented over 72 reports of burning in our uplands from 1 October 2021 to 3 March 2022.
- All of the reported burns were on likely peat (equal to or greater than 1 cm) with more than 1 in 4 on peat deeper than 30cm.
- 1 in 5 reported burns were in a protected area (SSSI, SAC or SPA) The RSPB is calling on members of the public to report incidents of burning in our uplands using their Survey 123 app before the end of the burning season.
- The data collected will help make the case for better protection of our globally important blanket bog and other peatland habitats.
- The RSPB supports Scottish Government’s stated commitment to introduce new legislation soon to ban burning on deep peatlands and to licence all moorland and grass burning to protect our people, our nature and our climate.
This burning season, the RSPB launched the Burning Reporting App, allowing members of the public to simply and anonymously submit evidence of burning in our upland areas.
Burns can take place from the start of October until the end of April across our moors, hillsides and glens in Scotland. This practice is used by gamekeepers, deer managers and farmers to remove old heather and grass, with new growth preferred by grouse, deer and sheep to eat. However, these burns can have a significant impact on our upland landscapes, as well as on the diversity of habitats and species which call them home. In addition to carbon released during the burn itself, repeated burning reduces the landscapes’ ability to deal with extreme weather including flooding and drought, reduces vegetation structure and diversity and can lead to a reduction of water quality through the release of soil carbon.
Ahead of the end of this burning season in April, the RSPB is asking members of the public to report instances of burning in our uplands using the Survey 123 app.
These reports will help to support the RSPB’s call for the Scottish Government to take action to ban burning on peatlands, adopt a much tighter definition of peatland soils, and to licence all moorland and grass burning.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said, “We have had a great response from the public to our App, and with over 70 reports of burning so far, it’s clear that the Scottish public are eager to do their part to prevent further damage to these internationally significant landscapes for nature conservation and climate.
Peatlands are vital carbon stores and home to some of our most precious wildlife but burning threatens the natural heritage of these areas and damages peatlands.
In the context of the nature and climate emergency, we need to restore our peatlands to healthy condition through re-wetting, not by burning them. It is estimated that degraded peatlands in Scotland currently contribute about 13% of total Scottish greenhouse gas emissions.
In Scotland, the voluntary code of practice for burning, the Muirburn Code, says that burning on peatlands should not take place however RSPB is concerned that such burning does, in fact, continue. It is clear from the reports we have received so far that burns are being conducted on peatland soils and in some of our most important protected areas for wildlife.
Whilst we are pleased that the Scottish Government has announced that it is working towards licencing burning and a ban on burning on peatland, we urge this action to be delivered as soon as possible.”
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 across our upland areas in Scotland. Information gathered to date shows that burning on peatlands is still happening and with some regularity.
We are grateful to the public in helping us with our objective of ensuring that any burning of vegetation in our uplands is carried out in future under a licence, providing protection for all public interests, and so that all burning on deep peatland soils is halted.
In Scotland, burning can legally take place until 15th April, with extensions available until 30th April. We are interested in reports of burning activity to assess its sustainability, particularly in relation to burning on peatland soils.”
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 safe when reporting a burn.
UPDATE 31st May 2022: Investigation reveals widespread burning on grouse moors despite Government ban for protected peatlands (here)