A GROUSE moor near Gisborough has been criticised for setting fires on fragile peatlands whilst the UK hosts the major COP26 climate summit.

Redcar & Cleveland Council has previously urged restraint from moorland estates in the region after fires resulted in severe smoke pollution in nearby communities.

Luke Steele, Executive Director of Wild Moors, said: “Whether you’re for or against grouse shooting, it cannot be denied that setting fire to carbon-rich peatlands whilst the UK is hosting a major climate conference is not a good image for our country, the region or environment.

“If we are to tackle the climate crisis, we must face the facts: burning moors harms fragile peatland ecosystems, releases climate-altering gasses into the atmosphere, worsens flooding in communities downstream and exacerbates wildfire risk by converting wetlands into highly-flammable tinderboxes.

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“It’s past time to put an end to the burning of peatlands for grouse shooting.”

In recognition of the environmental damage caused by burning the government introduced a partial ban on the practice in May, acknowledging that “burning is damaging to peatland formation” and “makes it more difficult or impossible to restore these habitats to their natural state”.

However, Wild Moors is warning that many of Britain’s grouse moors, including Commondale Moor, are exempt from the new rules because they are located on degraded shallow peat, not blanket bog, despite urgently needing to be restored to a healthier, deeper state.

The Climate Change Committee, which advises the government on environmental action, has recommended that grouse moor burning is completely banned to protect peatlands from further damage.

A spokesperson for Redcar and Cleveland Council said: “The Council has publicly stated its aim of a carbon neutral Redcar & Cleveland by 2030. We are fortunate in this area to have extensive peat moorland providing vital, natural carbon storage, as well as habitat for wildlife.

"It is extremely disappointing that the practice of burning areas of the moorland continues anywhere in the country, but especially in our local area, hampering attempts to tackle climate change and damaging biodiversity. The fact that this has coincided with COP26 only serves to draw additional attention to it and will heighten calls for it to be abolished.

"We know that the government has received recommendation that grouse moor burning is completely banned to protect peatlands from further damage and the Council would be supportive of such a ban.

"Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Council has a regulatory role regarding the enforcement of statutory nuisance provisions and has responded to nuisance complaints from local people regarding smoke allegedly from the moorland fires. However statutory nuisance was not determined and as a result no action could be taken."

A spokesperson for the Moorland Association said: “Deep peat is protected and restored by members of the Moorland Association. Our members are at the forefront of peatland restoration in England. The equivalent of more than 33,000 cars’ worth of carbon emissions is being removed from the atmosphere each year by this work. We have already delivered 60 per cent of the UK government’s target for peatland restoration in the uplands by 2025.

“Globally rare heather moorland is a fire prone ecosystem and climate change is exacerbating the risk of summer wildfires, which generate huge temperatures and burn into the peat. Controlled burning in the winter is a crucial tactic for moorland management which removes excess vegetation but does not affect the underlying peat. Natural England reports that less than 3 per cent of emissions from peatlands in England are from controlled burning. Managed burning helps prevent and limit the spread of summer wildfires through the creation of firebreaks and reducing the burnable fuel loads.

“We must heed the lessons learned in other parts of the world on the importance of managed burning to reduce the vast carbon emissions resulting from wildfires.”


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