Monday, 13 August 2012

National campaign against moorland bog-burning

Environmental campaigners to set up Ban the Burn in response to the support now being given to Walshaw Moor following the collapse of the public inquiry.  See the The Northerner Blog post in The Guardian article for more information.

The tenuous link is made between grouse shooting, burning and flooding and this appears to be at the root of the campaign.  I have every sympathy with the residents of Hebden Bridge who have been flooded out, but I do not think that grouse shooting is the problem.  The analogy of the uplands being a sponge is now seen as old hat: when the uplands are saturated with water, as happens in summers like this one, they will behave like saturated sponges and water will run off them. Fast.  

What we need is carefully balanced management of our upland areas and yes that takes money and the biggest source of this in many parts of our uplands is grouse shooting.  Grouse moor owners and their employees are the most experienced people for moorland management.

Some people may not like the concept of grouse shooting, but maybe the residents of Hebden Bridge, and in other similar places, would be better advised to tolerate this, if not actively support it, in the interests of getting the moorland that surrounds their homes properly managed and therefore better able to reduce the risk of downstream flooding.  Unmanaged moorland is an accident waiting to happen - wildfires and flooding being two of the biggest risks.


  1. Actually your science is out of date. Yes active peat bogs do not act as a sponge in high rainfall events, but they do slow down the movement of water across them (cf to bogs that have drains cut into them). This has the effect of reducing the likelihood of peak flows that cause damaging flooding. They are also correct that drained bogs release carbon to the atmoshere. Keep them drained, the bog dries out, carbon is released. Given the reported public subsidy of 2.5 million i think they have a right to ask what benefit they are getting from the money.

  2. The Ban The Burn campaign isn't against grouse shooting, we're against burning and draining blanket bog. There's plenty of heathland on Walshaw Moor that' s a different habitat from blanket bog and is fine for grouse. We can't see why Walshaw Moor Estate needs to burn and drain blanket bog, which is horribly degraded. Hydrology is very clear about the flood-reducing effect of healthy blanket bog and we need this kind of soft flood alleviation for Hebden Bridge. The land needs to be managed for the benefit of everyone - not just grouse shooters

  3. Thank you for these comments. My work for The Heather Trust includes working with the IUCN UK Peatland Programme and to run the Peatland Working Group in Scotland.

    I am all for healthy peatland and active bogs, but I think we need to be careful about how we achieve this. If left to their own devices with no management input (burning, cutting or grazing) I am not convinced that we will achieve the objectives we want for the uplands. What we need is carefully balanced management, that recognises the sensitivity of our upland areas and their importance as the supplier of ecosystems services.

    The questions are who is going to carry out this management and how is it going to be paid for. Grouse moor management can provide some if not all of these answers, but we must not lose sight of the fact that there are large areas of moorland in the UK that are not managed for grouse. We need to be encouraging and helping all moor owners to carry out the type of management that they and others want. For success, a degree of compromise and a willingness to develop a consensus is required on all sides. The Trust works hard towards achieving this.

  4. Thanks for reply Simon. There's no question about Walshaw Moor being left without any management input - a £2.5million+ Environmental Stewardship Agreement is now in place and will run for 10 years. It's basically paying for moorland restoration including the blanket bogs. The thing Ban the Burn can't understand is why this ESA apparently sidesteps the Heather & Grass Burning Code's prohibition on burning blanket bog (one of various sensitive area habitats where the Code prohibits burning). If it's against the law, it's against the law.

  5. I have been a bit slow to continue this discussion, for which my apologies.

    Jenny, may I correct you about burning on blanket bog. The H&G Burning Code rightly identifies this as a sensitive habitat, along with other habitats, but it does not ban burning (see page 6). Burning can take place "in line with a management plan agreed with Natural England. Such plans are likely to involve careful burning on long rotations...."

    Therefore, any burning agreed at Walshaw with Natural England's consent is following the guidance in the Code.

    I accept that bad burning practice can produce awful results, but until proved otherwise I remain happy to promote burning on much of our deep peat areas providing it is carried out sensitively, and follows best practice.

    Where we run into trouble is over the definition of blanket bog. There is no such thing as a standard blanket bog, and therefore there can be no standard prescription for managing it. When does deep peat become blanket bog, and how do you classify the dry heath habitat that sits on deep peat in much of the Peak District? Perhaps the way to get round this is for land managers to be given the scope to manage the land to produce the required results, thus avoiding the need to match an inflexible management prescription to the very flexible needs of the land.


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