The ‘annus horribilis’ for the intensive grouse shooting industry just keeps getting more – horrible. Estates are already reeling from a combination of the Covid-19 pandemic restricting travel and low productivity of Red Grouse themselves (nature can be so uncooperative sometimes, doesn’t it know how much fun some people get from blasting grouse out of the air?). Add in nationwide discussions about wildlife crime (which, after so many decades of breaking the law with impunity, must have really come as a shock) and revulsion over Mountain Hare ‘culls’ (where gamekeepers, in a ‘coals to Newcastle’ scenario, have a day out blasting white bunnies rather than Hen Harriers and Foxes) and things look distinctly unfavourable. And now, in what looks like an especially effective cuff around the ear, councils and officials in the Yorkshire ‘killing zones’ are lining up to proclaim that setting fire to peat and releasing smoke and tonnes of carbon into the air (to say nothing of rainwater rolling off parched moorland rather than being absorbed by it) is not actually the environmentally beneficial activity that shooting lobbyists have been telling everyone that is.
Who could have guessed it? Burning miles of moorland (largely deliberately, but often accidentally), releasing columns of smoke high into the air, tying up fire engines during lockdown, and causing towns in the valleys below these ravaged habitats to flood, is not actually ‘a good thing’. Well, most of us not connected with shooting actually, but the fug of propaganda from the industry takes time to clear…
In the last two weeks, though, both Wakefield and Calderdale Councils have announced their intentions to push for a ban on burning moorland within their boroughs. Now the democratically-elected Mayor of Doncaster, Ros Jones CBE (who was first elected in 2013, and won again at a canter in 2017 taking 50.9% of the vote) has written to the government urging Defra to deliver the burning ban “to help stop flooding in communities on the River Don“. Given the major floods in Fishlake and Doncaster, which sit downstream from the Peak District, at the end of last year, this request can only put more pressure on the government to act.
It’s not even like the shooting industry couldn’t have seen this coming. Bans have been discussed for some years, and the government recently asked estate owners to act responsibly or action would have to be taken. But when it comes to the ingrained tradition of burning moorland, asking grouse shooting estates to act responsibly seems to be tantamount to expecting Red Grouse to vote for extending the shooting season: it ‘s just not in their nature. As Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors (BBYM) have explained: “During the last burning season, from October to April, Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors compiled more than 550 reports of peat moorlands being burnt across the county. This is despite assurances given by grouse moors to the government that the practice would be halted, with 11 moors that had pledged to stop being discovered continuing.”
In their latest press-release BBYM (a grassroots organisation doing spectacular work, it has to be said) reported the call from Doncaster’s Mayor:
Mayor of Doncaster calls for an end to grouse moor burning to protect the town from flooding
Doncaster Council has backed a ban on heather burning to save the region’s peat moors from being damaged for grouse shooting.
In a letter sent to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Mayor Ros Jones said that the environmentally-damaging practice, which is performed by shoot operators to engineer breeding habitat for red grouse, must end to help stop flooding in communities on the River Don.
It follows a voluntary approach to halting burning not proving successful, with grouse moors upstream in the Peak District continuing to set large fires on rare blanket bog during the last burning season, which ran from October to April.
Peatlands in the headwaters of the River Don contain important vegetation, such as sphagnum moss, which acts like a sponge to hold rainfall in the hills, which in turn prevents flooding. However, when burning is conducted the sensitive mosses are damaged, leading to large amounts of rainfall being channelled downstream.
Ros Jones, Mayor of Doncaster, has written to the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Environment, Rebecca Pow MP, ahead of grouse shooting season opening on the 12th August. She said: “Doncaster was severely impacted by flooding of the river Don in November 2019, the headwaters of which are situated in Pennine peatland, including within the Peak District National Park. We therefore have a clear stake in the state of the uplands peat environment around the headwaters of the river Don, the health of which has a direct impact on the citizens of Doncaster.
“We expect therefore that Doncaster’s interests are best served by the proper restoration of upland peat areas, and as indications are that this would not involve managed burning, we would be expecting DEFRA to follow through on their commitment.”
The call for action comes just weeks ahead of the grouse shooting season opening on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ of August, although burning does not start again until the Autumn. Campaigners believe any future burning can be stopped by government intervention, with Defra having already committed to introducing legislation.
During the last burning season, Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, which monitors ecological damage on grouse moors, compiled more than 550 reports of peatlands being burnt by shoot operators across the county. This includes several in the Peak District which had previously told the government that they would stop.
Almost three quarters of peatlands in England are already damaged or degraded, Natural England has revealed, with burning being a key driver.
Subsequently, the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on environmental action, recommended the practice be banned to protect peatlands from further damage.
Luke Steele, Spokesperson for Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, said:“It’s past time to put an end to the burning of rare peatlands for grouse shooting — a practice which degrades fragile ecosystems, releases climate-altering gasses into the atmosphere and worsens flooding in communities downstream from grouse moors like those in Doncaster.
“With burning continuing on grouse moors across Yorkshire, we commend Doncaster Council for giving its support for a burning ban to help save the region’s peatlands from further damage and protect communities from flooding.”