This month we’re launching a new app to allow members of the public to report incidents of burning on peatland. We need you to tell us when and where burning is taking place to support our call for Governments across the UK to ban burning on peatland and to licence all moorland and grass burning.

But why is this so important that we stop burning?

From mountains to hills, valleys to moors, our uplands are home to some of our most at-risk wildlife including short-eared owls and curlew and globally threatened upland habitats, such as blanket bogs, which have developed over millennia and store large amounts of carbon vital to tackling the climate crisis. 

Burning at Strathy Point (c) RSPB Scotland

Peatlands account for 12% of the UK’s land area and store more carbon than all of the forests across the UK, France and Germany combined – an estimated 3.2 billion tonnes.

But, each year from October until April across the UK, upland vegetation is systematically burnt, and our peatlands are often damaged as result. ‘Rotational burning’ is a practice used by shooting estates and farmers to encourage the growth of young heather shoots to provide food and grazing for red grouse and livestock. 

However scientific evidence reviews show that regular burning has many harmful environmental impacts for nature and climate and has caused our peatlands to become a major source of emissions, as well as being a risk for wildlife. 

Burns are designed to cause significant long-term changes to peatland plant life, and these changes have led to the degradation and loss of our precious upland peatlands and severely damaged the wildlife and communities that depend on them. 

From increased risks of flooding for communities downstream of moorland, to reduced water quality through the release of soil carbon, the impacts of burning go beyond the carbon reduced by the burn itself.   

In England, it is estimated that each year damaged upland peat bogs release the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as 140,000 cars and in Scotland, peatlands are responsible for 13% of all emissions. 

Whilst some action has been taken by the Scottish and Westminster Governments to limit when and where the burning takes place, these restrictions do not go far enough and in some cases, the current guidelines are not being followed. 

As we move towards new legislation it is important that the debate is supported by evidence, that is why we need members of the public to help us reports instances of recent burns.  

We are facing a twin crisis for climate and nature and at present, our peatlands are contributing to those crises. If we are to save nature and the climate we need to protect, invest in and restore our peatlands and end the practice of burning on them. 

How can I report a burn? 

Reporting a burn is quick, easy and anonymous and you can do so by heading to the RSPB website and searching for Upland Burning or by downloading the My Survey123 app (available on iOS and Android). 

Once you have downloaded the app head to the RSPB website and follow the steps to sign up to the Upland Burning Survey Form.

To report a current or recent burn all you need to do is provide the location of the burn, the date and information on whether it was an active or recent burn. The data collected will be passed on to the relevant authorities in order to help them identify and tackle illegal burning in our uplands.

By downloading our app and reporting evidence of burning you can play a vital role in helping to show our governments that despite current legislation burning on carbon-rich blanket bogs is still taking place across our uplands. Ending burning will be a key step in ensuring we can turn around the fate of this globally important habitat in the UK. 

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