Monday, 25 February 2013

England: The Best Practice Burning Group

Burning not required!
When I drafted this post, I was passing over the top of the Pennines on the Settle – Carlisle railway returning from the 31st meeting of the Burning Group in Leeds.  a good place to reflect on the progress of the Group.  It is slightly daunting that the Trust has been a member of this Group since it was formed and some would argue that by the 31st meeting we should have sorted out everything to do with burning and more besides.  I wish!  

This Group is not alone in making slow progress.  Avid readers of this blog may remember that I commented on Professor Charles Gimingham’s file he gave me that covered the meetings of a Muirburn Group in Scotland in the late 1950s; the agenda for one of those meetings would not look out of place today.

The meeting on Friday covered a range of issues that are spinning off from Natural England’s activities and also the relatively new ‘kid on the block’, the Upland Stakeholder Forum (USF).  The key issues for Natural England are the Upland Evidence Review, which I will give separate mention to in the future, and proposed changes to the consenting for ‘minor works’ on upland SSSIs.  The consenting proposals were presented to the USF, earlier in the week.  I am part of the USF but missed the meeting as a result of a fatality on the west coast line that caused railway disorder.

One issue that has defied the efforts of the Burning Group to resolve is how you define blanket bog, or should it be blanket mire?  With people referring to different things it is no wonder that it can sometimes be difficult to reach agreement.  Discussion of this topic can quickly become nurdy but in summary:
  • There is no difficulty with blanket mire – deep peat, very wet and bog vegetation.
  •  Similarly, dry heath causes no problem - shallower peat / mineral soil, dry ground and dominated by dwarf shrub heath (heather, blaeberry etc.).
  • The fun starts with the stuff in the middle.  How do you classify:
    • dry heath plants on deep peat, or
    • wet ground that grows a good crop of heather.

As ever the problem is to come up with a one-size-fits-all definition for something that changes by the yard.  Once the definition is decided, there is a further problem in defining how best to manage the land to meet a variety of objectives.  Perhaps the only way to achieve this would be to break the definitions into different classes by the management they require.  Once again the extremes are easy to deal with: very wet blanket mire, requires little if any management; dry heath benefits from an appropriate grazing & burning regime. 

The stuff in the middle on deep peat could be split into three: land which could be restored easily to active blanket mire; land that could be restored with difficulty; and no chance land, which cannot be restored.

However defining land in this way introduces a whole heap of other issues to consider and a requirement for yet more definitions.  We may never get to a series of completely black and white definitions and indeed getting there may not be the answer.  The effort of engaging in dialogue maybe enough to confirm that watertight definitions cannot exist for a habitat that is infinitely changeable.  The Burning Group will keep chipping away at this and will hopefully make progress in the next 31 meetings. 

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