The RSPB is today launching a website where members of the public (“walkers, hikers and countryside lovers” as well as local residents) can submit their records of managed burning in northern England’s uplands as part of showing the Government where burning is still taking place. The charity will then analyse the records to see if they’re likely to be on peat soils (to indicate where blanket bog should be) and in protected areas (SSSIs, SACs).
Regular burning of upland peatlands to create a mosaic of habitat so that more and more Red Grouse can be shot has become a (ahem) ‘burning’ issue for conservationists. An IUCN report on peatland estimated that the UK may host between 8.8 and 14.8% of Europe’s peatland area and about 13% of the world resource of blanket bog. They state that though blanket bog has a species-poor assemblage it “contains an exceptionally high proportion of species with legal protection under UK and European conservation law“. Blanket bog forms the largest expanse of semi-natural habitat in the UK, but almost three quarters of peatlands in England are already damaged or degraded, according to Natural England, with burning a key driver. The Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on environmental action, subsequently recommended the practice be banned to protect peatlands from further damage.
Campaigns like that by Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors have led the way when it comes to persuading local councils that burning causes pollution, downstream flooding, is incompatible with the UK’s stance on the global climate emergency, and is actually opposed by a majority of local residents.
On a wider scale the RSPB has consistently called for a ban on peatland burning and as recently as October 1st published a press-release which said that they were “today calling on Government to implement an immediate end to the burning of precious peatlands on moors managed for grouse shooting. The call, which comes on the first day of this year’s burning season, is being supported by city mayors, councils, and local communities. A ban is also supported by a wide range of environmental NGOs.” (We looked at why they made this call in some detail – see RSPB calls for a ban on peatland burning: why?).
A screenshot of the ‘burn map’ (below) captured today shows burning incident reports likely to be on peat soils (including with national parks) that the RSPB has received over the last couple of burning seasons. The map will be updated at intervals to reflect any new reports they receive.
While we have issues with the RSPB on their neutral shooting stance, this is obviously a fantastic and very welcome initiative. Hundreds of fires are set every ‘season’ and seeing them all mapped in one place will ram home just how destructive the shooting industry really is.
The RSPB launches a community science project as new research reveals insufficient climate action on UK peatland.
New analysis published by the RSPB today reveals the scale of the challenge that the UK’s governments face to restore and maintain our peatlands. Of the 2.7 million hectares of peatland in the UK, three quarters are degraded, while only 2-4% has been restored over the last 30 years.
These degraded peatlands are in some of our most iconic and protected English landscapes, including the North and South Pennines, the North York Moors, the Forest of Bowland and the Lake District.
Peatlands are one of the UK’s most valuable habitats and have a critical role to play in addressing the global nature and climate crises. They can play an important role in protecting communities from local level impacts of climate change such as flooding, while supporting unique plants, rare wildlife and improving water quality.
The RSPB is calling on the governments of the UK to step up and act urgently to introduce a range of ambitious yet necessary policies to control our greenhouse gas emissions. These include committing to setting clear country targets for restoration and rewetting of peatlands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with achieving net zero targets. The RSPB want to see an end to destructive practices such as the continued extraction and sale of peat, the conversion of peatlands to forestry and the burning of vegetation on peatlands. To help empower communities to call for stronger action to protect the places they love, the RSPB has also developed a new burning reporting system; where walkers, hikers and countryside lovers can log any upland burning they have seen takingplace.
Upland burning allows land managers to legally burn areas of moorland, including peat bogs; to encourage new heather growth and increase the number of red grouse for gamebird shooting. This burning season runs from 1st October 2020 – 15th April 2021. Burning fragile blanket bog has impacts on plant life, animals, water quality and carbon storage. Despite recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change that peat burning is banned by the end of 2020, the government has yet to introduce such a ban.
We need your records of managed burning in northern England’s uplands to help us show the government where burning on blanket bog is still taking place. To find out more and record your sightings, visit www.rspb.org.uk/uplandburning.
Dr Pat Thompson, Senior Policy Officer for RSPB said, “On our own nature reserves, such as at Dovestone in the Peak District, we are restoring blanket bogs by rewetting the moors and re-introducing peat-forming sphagnum mosses. This is progressing well, and it just shows what can be done to conserve nature and carbon at the same time. We also know that keeping these places wet makes them more resilient to the impact of wildfires, as well as slowing the flow of water off the moors which reduces the risk of flooding. We look forward to the release of the government’s long-promised strategy for England’s peatlands before the end of the year, and with it a commitment to better protect and restore peatlands, including bringing an end to the outdated practice of burning. This would signal a strong commitment to these special places.”
In the UK, peatland covers around 12% of our land area and stores over 3 billion tonnes of carbon. According to a 2019 report from the Office for National Statistics the cost of restoring all peatlands are estimated to be around £8 – £22 billion, but the resulting carbon saving would be worth 5 to 10 times this much.
RSPB Press-release 17 Nov 2020
Details of the RSPB’s new data analysis and the interactive story map can be found at https://bit.ly/PeatlandStory