Sheffield Council says “grouse moor burning must end”

Community-based campaign group Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors is reporting that Sheffield Council has backed an end to heather burning to save the region’s peat moors from being damaged for grouse shooting.

In a statement the Council has called for the environmentally-damaging practice, which is performed by shoot operators to engineer game bird breeding habitat, to stop to help tackle climate change and allow Sheffield to achieve its aim of carbon neutrality by 2030. To start the work on becoming a zero-carbon city, a dedicated piece of analysis was produced by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research which established a ‘carbon budget’ for the city. The report recommended that, in order for Sheffield to make its fair contribution to global climate goals, the city must not exceed a ‘budget’ of 16 million tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 2 decades: according to the Council at current rates of energy consumption, Sheffield would use this entire budget in less than 6 years.

Cllr Mark Jones, Cabinet Member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change at Sheffield Council, said:

“We never carry out or support the burning of heather or heathlands as the damage to these habitats could result in significant loss of biodiversity and an increased risk of fires getting out of control.

“In addition the burning of heather moorland releases vast amounts of Carbon Dioxide back into the atmosphere, which completely goes against our climate crisis commitments to become carbon neutral by 2030.”

The statement comes just days ahead of the grouse moor burning season opening on Thursday, 1 October — when many of Sheffield’s almost 80 square kilometres of grouse moors will begin being set on fire by shoots. A halt to burning would see Sheffield Council join York Council, Calderdale Council, Wakefield Council, and the Mayor of Doncaster in calling for burning bans since last winter.

Peatlands, a threatened moorland habitat, are one of the UK’s biggest carbon stores, locking up millions of tonnes of climate-altering gasses. However, when burning is performed the sensitive habitats are damaged, leading to large amounts of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

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 policies to help the environment, has 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 threatened 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 Sheffield and Rotherham.

“With burning continuing on grouse moors across South Yorkshire, we commend Sheffield Council for giving its support for an end to burning to help save the region’s peatlands from further damage and protect communities from flooding.”

Many people outside of moorland areas are perhaps unaware just how many fires are set by gamekeepers to burn off old heather and encourage the young shoots which grouse like to feed on. 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 was 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 one particularly well-publicised event during the Covid-19 lockdown more than 200 hectares of rare blanket bog was damaged by a major blaze sparked on Meltham Moor when planned burning by gamekeepers spiralled out of control, leading to the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to demand a stop on burning. Subsequently, the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on environmental action, recommended the practice be banned to protect peatlands from further damage.