The following press release has been sent out today [13 October] concerning recent burning of peatland on Walshaw Moor in West Yorkshire

Outrage as peatlands burn ahead of UK hosting crucial climate talks

  • The RSPB calls on Defra and Natural England to urgently investigate possible illegal peatland burning on a grouse shooting estate in West Yorkshire.
  • The charity has also received other reports of burning over the weekend
  • The active burning of peatland is a major embarrassment in the run up to the UK hosting CoP26.

The RSPB has today called for Defra and Natural England to urgently investigate possible illegal peatland burning on open moorland on Walshaw Moor, a grouse shooting estate, near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. The RSPB is also receiving reports of burning from other places from Yorkshire to the Peak District.

 Recent changes to the law mean that burning without a licence on peatland greater than 40cm in protected areas is illegal. On Walshaw Moor the RSPB has long maintained concerns about how the estate is managed given its location within a legally protected nature site (A Special Protection Area under the UK Habitats Regulations). The charity raised this with the European Commission in 2012 and is still awaiting resolution. [Note 1]

Dr Pat Thompson, Senior Policy Officer from RSPB said, “It’s outrageous that in the run up to the UK hosting CoP26 in Glasgow we are watching our peatlands burn. These are the UK’s equivalent of the rainforests in terms of both their nature and their storage of carbon.

“Each burn on peatland destroys crucial vegetation and exposes the surface of the peat itself. This leads to erosion both as the carbon in the peat is released into the atmosphere or is carried off into our rivers causing pollution. This process also reduces the ability of the peatland to slow the flow of water, which further compounds the problem. It also leads to problems of flooding in local communities further downstream, which we have seen in recent years. We are passing a tipping point in these places, and this practice needs to stop.

”The Westminster Government understands this, as Defra stated last year, 'burning makes it more difficult or impossible to restore these habitats to their natural state".  This is why it introduced the new laws this year. And for this reason, we are calling on Defra and Natural England to act urgently.”

Peatlands are burned in the North of England to encourage vigorous growth of heather which grouse can feed on. The RSPB is calling for driven grouse shooting to be licenced in order to better control what it sees as a form of intensive and damaging land management.

Dr Thompson added; “The grouse shooting industry in many places is essentially unsustainable and needs to change. In November, the UK will host CoP26 and we really don’t want the embarrassment of our peatlands on fire while delegates around the world discuss ways in which we can reduce our impact on climate and nature.”

While welcoming the added protection, the RSPB wants this urgently extended to protect other peatlands on shallower soils from burning.

On Thursday this week [14 October] the RSPB is launching a major new campaign to raise awareness of peatland issues in the UK in the run up to CoP26.

Dr Olly Watts, Senior Climate Change Policy Officer at RSPB said, “Our peat is precious, we need to keep it wet and keep it in the ground. Globally it is under threat. Burning here in the UK is one problem, but there are many others, not least because peat is still dug for the horticultural industry. For this reason, we will be asking people to pledge to give up using peat and write to their local elected representative to ask Governments to urgently ban the sales of peat products. We can all do our bit”.

The RSPB has also recently launched a special “app” for people to report burning on peatlands. Visit here to find out more: https://upland-burning-rspb.hub.arcgis.com/

Notes

Note 1: Read more on the RSPB and Walshaw Moor here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/casework/cases/walshaw-moor/

Photograph of Walshaw Moor courtesy of Sarah Hanson

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