Last month, as part of a package to reduce the negative environmental impacts of driven grouse shooting, the Scottish Government announced that it would license all moorland vegetation burning and would introduce a statutory ban on burning on peatland soils. 

This week, the Committee on Climate Change (in its advice about the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget) said that the UK Government should “ban damaging practices such as rotational burning on peatland and peat extraction and end the sale of peat for horticultural use”.

Yet, despite tantalising statements from various Defra ministers over the past year, the UK Government remains silent on its intentions.

We have, for much of this decade, made the case for banning burning of vegetation on deep (>30cm) peat because it is bad for wildlife, bad for greenhouse gas emissions and bad for water retention/quality. 

The good news is that the Committee on Climate Change agrees.  While I shall reflect further on this excellent report next week, I do want to highlight the significance of their statements about the role of peatland restoration in meeting the UK’s legal target of net zero by 2050.

We know that emissions from degraded peatlands in the UK currently amount to 23.3 million tonnes annually which is equivalent to all the annual emissions from all HGVs on UK roads.  We know that burning of vegetation on peatlands thwarts the restoration of peatlands.  And, we know that the intensity of burning increased by 11% per annum over a decade.

We have argued that all upland peatlands should be restored by 2040 and the Committee on Climate Change has moved close to that ambition by saying this should be achieved by 2045 (and rewetting/sustainable management of 60% of lowland peat in the same time period).  However, we also know that nearly 80% of our peat is currently degraded with only 2-4% restored in the last 30 years.

We are a long way off where we need to be and the Committee on Climate Change targets will not be achieved if burning is allowed to continue.

The UK Government (from the Prime Minister down) has made ambitious statements in recent weeks to furnish its international leadership credentials in the run up to hosting the Climate Summit next year (UNFCCC COP 26).  Failure to act decisively to protect our globally important peatlands undermines these efforts and risks embarrassing the Prime Minister on the world stage.

We urge Ministers to grasp the nettle, introduce a ban on burning on peatlands and get on with restoration apace.

*Photo by Chris Tomson

  • Martin,

    I understand that RSPB have recently carried out muirburn at your Abernethy reserve, including on and near peaty soils. Do the RSPB continue to do this or have you recognised that this doesn't fit with your position on muirburn? 

    I fully support the banning of muirburn and I think RSPB do a wonderful job managing habitats on reserves, including at Abernethy. But I struggle to understand how you can burn on peat whilst calling for a ban on burning on peat!

  • "23.3 million tonnes annually". Do you have a source for that figure? 

  • I don't trust this government to protect peatlands. They might say words that sound like they are doing the right thing, but they won't be. The current government are backed by too many groups/businesses with interests in moorland,  and who won't want any change.