Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Burning on Deep Peat

The Bog-athon in progress
Holiday and a lot of activity have resulted in this blog being quiet for a while.  However, this does not mean that I have not been busy.

One of the main topics that has attracted a lot of activity in England in recent weeks has been burning on deep peat.  As the current chairman of the Best Practice Burning Group, I presided over the 37th meeting of this Group on Monday, this week.  Many are bemused by how could we find enough to talk about to fill 37 meetings, but I can assure that we have done.  Along with others, I have been there from the start, and I can assure you that there has never been any shortage of discussion.

The latest flurry of activity has been spurred on by the Evidence to Advice phase of Natural England’s Upland Evidence Review.  I commented in an earlier post about how this process had lost its way and that an unfortunate amount of heat had entered discussions.  As a way to defuse this, and to allow NE to make progress, what has become known as the bog-athon was set up.  A working group from the main Burning Group visited 3 areas of deep peat in Northern England on successive days. This was pretty intensive, not helped by staying in the same pub on the nights in between, with the inevitable consequences.  However, the intensity allowed us to drill down into areas of discussion that had eluded us at other times.

I was joined on the working group by representatives from Natural England, RSPB, Moorland Association, Yorkshire Water and a landowner / farmer. In addition, the gamekeepers, landowners and NE Area Staff with an interest in the moor joined each visit to provide local input.  The visits took place on Raby Estate, Upper Teesdale; Keighley Moor, Yorkshire; and the High Peak in the Peak District.  These moors represented a good range of habitats and management objectives that allowed the working group to start to develop an approach that would work to deliver multiple objectives, if applied to other peatland.

The Burning Group meeting allowed the working group to present the thinking to other members of the Group.  The diverse membership makes it impossible to develop proposals for guidance, but  there will be a delay before the Group can issue any statement about what we are proposing, as member organisations need to review the proposals first.

Until there is an agreed position from the Group I cannot provide details of what is proposed but let me provide a flavour:

  • I have been heartened by the way that a good deal of consensus has developed as a result of the bog-athon visits.
  • There is no intention to ban burning on deep peat; it will continue to be available as an important tool.
  • There is a need to adapt the way that burning on deep peat is approached; more sensitive use of fire can be beneficial to all interests.
  • More sphagnum moss should be encouraged.
  • Landowners and managers have the ability to innovate and produce the desired outcomes. 
  • Further discussion needs to look forward; chewing over old bones will not be productive.

It is likely to be into the autumn before there is any formal output from the Group, and I am keen that there is a joint communiqué that expresses the view of the Burning Group, rather than rely on separate announcements made by individual organisations.

This is all a big improvement from the loggerheads position we have ended up in at the end of some of the 36 previous meetings.  The problems have not gone away but we have made considerable progress.