Yesterday, the investigatory branch of Greenpeace, Unearthed, published the findings of its research into the extent of burning on English grouse moors after the Westminster Government introduced new rules to protect blanket bog.
[Grouse moor burning in the North Pennines AONB, photo by Steve Morgan]
Here’s a summary of the findings:
- The investigation identified 251 peatland burning incidents – instances of at least one fire – between 1 October 2021 and 15 April 2022, the first burning season since the new legislation was introduced. Burns took place on moors owned by rich landowners ranging from the Queen and the emir of Dubai to software millionaires and retail tycoons.
- One in five of these burns (51 out of 251) was on land protected by multiple conservation designations, and which Natural England’s latest available map identifies as deep peat. Unearthed understands that no licenses were issued for burning on deep peat during the past season, so all of these instances warrant investigation as potential breaches of the ban.
- However, while Natural England’s database is the best official data available, it is based on modelling and does not conclusively prove the presence of deep peat. So Unearthed carried out spot checks on three moors where the map indicated potential breaches of the ban: while tests on the Emir of Dubai’s Bollihope estate found that all burning was in fact on shallow peat – and therefore legal – we found that the fire above Grimwith reservoir, on land known as Appletreewick moor, was on deep peat. Tests carried out by the BBC at Bowes moor in the Yorkshire Dales also identified burning on deep peat. Unearthed sent registered letters to the owner of the land at Appletreewick moor, and the owner of the land at Bowes moor for comment, but neither responded.
- More than 40 of the burning incidents identified in Unearthed’s analysis were on land mapped as blanket bog by Natural England’s data – the habitat the government says the legislation is most designed to protect. The fire at Appletreewick moor was one of them.
Unearthed has shared details of all the potentially illegal burns it identified with Natural England’s enforcement team; the regulator is reviewing the evidence and identifying potential sites to investigate.
For the full story, this article on Unearthed‘s website is well worth a read. The BBC was also involved in the follow-up to ground-truth some sites to determine peat depth and has published an article here.
If you’re one of those who contributed data to the RSPB’s call for sightings of upland burning in recent months, well done, you have made a difference.