|A great turnout at Stalybridge Moor|
Our AGM and conference in the Peak District was a great success. Held on 23rd October with the help and support of Moors for the Future Partnership, we had an excellent site visit to the site of this year’s wildfires at Tameside, and then on to The Huntsman Inn at Holmfirth for a line-up of outstanding speakers and discussion in the afternoon. A brief summary of the day is available as are speakers’ slides.
Associate Professor Andreas Heinemeyer from the University of York presented his recent research including investigating burn rotation impacts on peat carbon accumulation, which represents results from the first five years of the larger Peatland-ES-UK project (Peatland Ecosystem Services UK). This (Phase 1) work has looked at carbon accumulation rates in peat on moors which have been subject to rotational controlled burning as part of management for grouse. The study on three moors in the north of England concluded that when peat cores were examined, there was historic evidence of a net positive gain for carbon after periods of burning. This is due largely to the assimilation of charcoal into the peat formation process.
Carbon storage is of course only one aspect of why peatland is valued. The full study which runs to 2022 will look at greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, and water retention and quality issues too, which will give a much more complete picture.
This work is however indicating consistency with earlier findings by Heather Trust President, Professor Rob Marrs (Liverpool University) at Moor House which showed that peat formation still occurs on areas that are burned.
Further, work undertaken by GWCT in 2017 found that blanket peat plots that had been burned more than ten years previously, had a much greater dominance of heather and pleurocarpous mosses, compared with plots that had been burned more recently. Those plots that had been burned within the last ten years had greater cover of peat-forming species, sphagnum mosses and cotton grass, which again supports earlier work by Professor Marrs at Moor House.
Where then does this leave policy makers and practitioners in the meantime? Natural England spoke about the development of long-term management plans, which are developed with moor owners and managers, and are a response to the requirement to the protect Blanket Bog under the European Habitats Directive (which will be remained in UK law beyond Brexit).
The Uplands Management Group has also produced guidance materials for land managers in the form of the Blanket Bog Guidance. It is clear that many practitioners find the introduction of long-term management plans a difficult concept, but it is worth remembering that they are a move away from prescriptive top-down regulation – which could have been an option - to something more tailored, flexible and site specific, and which crucially is developed through consensus.
A vitally important point made on the day is that we must learn from the lessons of the past and ensure policy no longer flip-flops between extreme positions of throwing incentives at one thing and banning others. Policy which enables a variety of approaches, more local design and tailoring, and which takes account of practitioner knowledge alongside the latest science must surely point to a better way forward.
Many and grateful thanks to all who took part.
* Support for the further research efforts of Professor Heinemeyer at the University of York and Dr Sian Whitehead at GWCT.
* Continued support for the development of guidance through the Uplands’ Management Group.