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Fanatics trying to stop controlled burning will cost lives, following dire warning from firefighters

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

It was the aboriginal people of Australia who are thought to have been the first to invent the practice of ‘cool-burning’, where controlled, knee-high blazes are lit which burn off the kindling and leaf detritus, meaning a natural wildfire has far less 'fuel' to devour.

But before this year's devastating bushfires in Australia, over there – as happens here – some activists had called for the end to controlled burning.

[A billion animals were estimated to have died in Australia's bushfires this year after controlled burning was not carried out in certain areas]

The practice is increasingly used across the world, particularly in areas where wildfire is common, as a safe way of managing the landscape. For a variety of reasons, most notably the impact of climate change, wildfires are becoming more frequent in the UK.

[Gamekeepers tackle wildfire in the Peak District]

Nowhere was this more apparent than the Saddleworth Moor fire of 2018 which raged across land managed by the RSPB for three weeks. It exposed 5 million local residents to dangerous levels of toxic air, dramatically increasing their risk of heart disease, strokes and lung cancer.

[Scotland's entire national carbon emissions were doubled by a single wildfire]

Or indeed in Scotland last year where, according to the WWF, a wildfire in Moray that burnt for six days caused Scotland’s entire carbon emissions to double.

The impact of these wildfires on the environment can be cataclysmic.

It is also clear to see that, almost without exception, these wildfires take place on areas of moorland not managed by controlled burning.

To the untrained eye, it is understandable why people may be alarmed at large patches of our countryside being burnt off each year. Whether it is on lowland farms or heather uplands, sending smoke up into the air doesn’t look good.

However what people must realise is the vast difference between controlled ‘cool-burning’ and wildfires.

[Listen to hill farmer, Andy, who explains the importance of controlled burning]

The latest scientific report on the subject of controlled burning by Mark Ashby of the Lancaster University and Whitebeam Ecology, found conclusively:

· Burned areas of blanket bog can capture increased levels of carbon;

· The production of charcoal during the controlled burn has positive impact on long-term carbon storage;

· Controlled burning reduces fuel loads and helps prevent wildfires;

· The ending of controlled burning in some parts of the USA resulted in a decline in wildlife, particularly birdlife, and a caused a devastating spike in wildfires;

· Any greenhouse gas emissions released from controlled burning are insignificant when compared with emissions from wildfire.

What is tragic is that the scientific research and constructive examination surrounding controlled burning has been hijacked by radical anti-grouse shooting campaigners like Luke Steele and Mark Avery, who see it as a tool with which they can pursue their own hard anti-grouse shooting agenda.

[Mark Avery and Luke Steele want to see an end to controlled burning]

It seems they are perfectly happy with thousands of tonnes of excess carbon going up in the air each year, for peoples’ businesses and homes to be wiped out by wildfire, and even for people to lose their lives….just as long as they have their way of banning grouse shooting.

Indeed, Luke Steele and his chum, Bob Berzins, have been running a campaign for the last few years calling themselves ‘Monitors’, to film controlled burning taking place across the uplands, and then call out the fire services to disrupt the process. What a total waste of the emergency services' precious time and money.

This strategy was again highlighted recently by Mark Avery. In a recent response to a supporter on his blog, who felt their aggressive campaign against grouse shooting was losing them more supporters than it was gaining, Mark Avery tried to reassure her by saying: “Don’t be despondent…restrictions on burning will come from a completely different direction.”

The fact that people like Avery and Luke Steele are prepared to risk peoples' lives and the environment in order to pursue their misconceived political agenda against grouse shooting is a desperate and a sad reflection on these two men. Mind you, this is what we have come to expect from these two peas in a pod.


For anyone looking for a more considered, balanced and scientific approach we urge you to read any of the following peer reviewed scientific papers, a consolidated version of which can found here:

1. A review of the post-Glaves et al (2013) evidence: Investigating the effects of managed burning on upland peatland, biodiversity, carbon, greenhouse gas emissions and water.

Dr Mark A. Ashby, Lancaster University and Whitebeam Ecology.

Peer reviewed by Dr Gavin B. Stewart, Newcastle University.

2. Peatland Report 2020 A review of the environmental impacts including carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and wildfire on peatland in England associated with grouse moor management

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

3. Constructive criticism of the IUCN “Burning and Peatlands” position statement

Dr Mark A. Ashby, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Whitebeam Ecology.

Andreas Heinemeyer, Department of Environment and Geography, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York.

4. Prescribed burning impacts on ecosystem services in the British uplands: a methodological critique of the EMBER project.

Dr Mark A. Ashby, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Whitebeam Ecology.

Andreas Heinemeyer, Department of Environment and Geography, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York.


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