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Government recognises necessity of heather burning as an essential tool for moorland management

The Government announced last week that it is committed to restoring England’s peatlands and outlined new legislation requiring moorland managers to obtain a licence to carry out controlled burning in certain areas, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest that are also Special Areas of Conservation or a Special Protection Areas. A licence however is not needed if the land is steep or rocky.

However, the Government has recognised that if moorland is unmanaged, the risk of wildfire is greatly increased - which then can cause significant damaging by burning the peat, and that the possibility of these have grown due to climate change.

It has therefore announced that it intends to work with landowners and managers to develop local wildfire control plans. There will be specific circumstances where the ban does not apply, such as on steep land or where scree makes up half the land area.

In addition, the Secretary of State may also issue licences for the burning of heather on blanket bog for the purposes of wildfire prevention, for a conservation purpose, or where land is inaccessible to cutting or mowing machinery. These licences may cover several years so that they can be aligned with coherent management plans for sites.

This announcement by the Government comes in the wake of a response to a question on the burning of heather on protected blanket bog in the House of Commons last week, when Rebecca Pow, the Under-Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, commented, “We do recognise that there will sometimes be circumstances where vegetation management is necessary and where burning may be the only practicable technique available and we will consider the views of landowners, managers and other stakeholders when assessing the scope of any future restrictions.”

Blanket bog is a landscape of international importance, and land managers will continue to work with Natural England to protect it.

The rural groups have responded by the saying "Whilst we do not believe the licensing was necessary in the first place, we are nevertheless relieved that Defra has listened to evidence, recognising the important role that controlled burning has to play both in preventing wildfires and for conservation, where other practices are not possible."

[RSPB's emotive campaign for a ban on heather burning failed]

Unsurprisingly, the RSPB have expressed disappointment that their aggressive, emotive and factually inaccurate campaign - Ban the Burn - had failed. It had long been felt that the RSPB, as well as other long time anti-grouse shooting activists, had hoped that a ban on burning was a way to try and 'get the grouse shooting community by the back door.' This clearly is not what has happened.

Martin Harper immediately declared that the legislation was "not what was hoped for, promised or needed". Evidently theses activists have forgotten already the devastating impact of wildfires and they impact they have on the environment and wildlife.


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