RSPB Scotland encouraging the public to continue to report upland fires this season

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.

ENDS

UPDATE 31st May 2022: Investigation reveals widespread burning on grouse moors despite Government ban for protected peatlands (here)

4 thoughts on “RSPB Scotland encouraging the public to continue to report upland fires this season”

  1. Recently, I wrote to Plantlife about this hugely damaging activity (copied to the RSPB, WWF, Revive, LACS, my local Wildlife Trust etc… and my MP).

    I thought Plantlife would be appalled at the loss of flora being wrought by Grouse Moor management…

    This was their explanation as to why they have never publicised this landscape-scale damaging activity to their membership and, hence, obviously never asked their membership to campaign against it (as far as I know – I am a member):

    “Thank you for getting in touch about Plantlife’s position on peatland conservation and burning in particular. As with any organisation, we have to make choices about what to focus on in our work based on where we can add greatest value and have maximum impact, making best use of membership donations, grants and other income.

    Recognising that our partners including the RSPB, WWF & Wildlife Trusts are very active and experienced in specific issues surrounding peatland burning and grouse moor management, the focus our own peatland advocacy and campaigns is on securing a ban on commercial trade in peat for horticulture….”

    Plantlife have signed various communications from multiple environment agencies to the Westminster Government about peatland conservation, but not publicised that activity to their membership.

    I cannot, for the life of me, understand why they think that publicising/campaigning against both horticultural use of peat, and landscape-scale blanket bog degradation through the Grouse Moor management technique of systematic draining and burning would be so damned difficult.

    In their recent magazine, for example, (Spring 2022) they devote four full pages to the issue of the amateur gardening usage of peat, but not a single word about the continued burning of our upland moors!

    Why?

    1. There is something rather ironic in what the Senior Policy Manager for Plantlife wrote (quoted above):

      “Recognising that our partners including the RSPB, WWF & Wildlife Trusts are very active and experienced in specific issues surrounding peatland burning and grouse moor management”

      because the WWF are NOT at all active or experienced in anything to do with peatland burning or grouse moor management.

      I included the WWF in my email (cc) to Plantlife precisely because the WWF continue to IGNORE every single issue regarding shooting, especially including the shooting of Red Grouse. The WWF are NOT co-signatories to any of the communications from various environmental charities to the Westminster Government about peatland conservation, for example. (I am also in communication with the WWF about shooting within the UK, with a similar ‘brush off’ response.)

      It underlines Plantlife’s ‘gaslighting’ of damaging upland moor management that their Senior Policy Manager can think that WWF “are very active” regarding “peatland burning and grouse moor management”.

      I wonder what else Plantlife and the WWF have in common?

    2. “I cannot, for the life of me, understand why they think that publicising/campaigning against both horticultural use of peat, and landscape-scale blanket bog degradation through the Grouse Moor management technique of systematic draining and burning would be so damned difficult.”

      Me neither Keith. Have a close look at their Trustees’ profiles though…

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