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Huge wildfire breaks out on National Trust moorland on which no controlled burning took place

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

[© Facebook/Slaithwaite Fire station]

This week scientists from the University of Reading warned that ‘once-in-a-century’ weather extremes that pose the highest danger of wildfires could occur every year in parts of the UK.

Professor Nigel Arnell, a leading climate scientist who led the research said: “Extremely hot and dry conditions that are perfect for large wildfires are currently rare in the UK, but climate change will make them more and more common. This increased fire danger will threaten wildlife and the environment, as well as lives and property, yet it is currently underestimated as a threat in many parts of the UK.”

The threats posed by wildfire to the environment, wildlife and lives are well known by our moorland communities around the country, which is why the widely used practiced of controlled burning is carried out across moors used for driven grouse shooting during the winter months.

This ‘cool burn’ eliminates the surface vegetation, that provides the fuel for the catastrophic wildfires we see. Controlled burning is by far the most effective tool humans have against the risk of wildfire, which is why it has been practised around the world for centuries.

It is no surprise that the overwhelming majority of upland wildfires in the UK arise on moorland that is not managed by controlled burning.

In recent years the most catastrophic wildfires, like Saddleworth which is operated by the RSPB, have all arisen on moorland that is not managed by controlled burning.

At the time of the Saddleworth fire, Professor Rob Marrs of applied biology at the Liverpool University explained: "An almost unprecedented dry spell had combined with an abundance of long heather to create the perfect conditions for the fire to spread. The fire would not have spread as easily - and would have been less likely to have penetrated the peat beneath - if the dry scrub and heather had been managed by occasional [controlled] burning. The RSPB didn't think a big fire like this would happen to them but I've been predicting this for 15 years. Leaving the land alone causes much more damage than controlled burning because there's more heather to burn so it gets hotter and spreads to the peat, which in turn spreads the fire. It wasn't a matter of if, but when, and that when is now."

Indeed, only this week, a huge blaze erupted on Marsden Moor in Yorkshire on land owned by the National Trust. The National Trust have spent enormous amounts of charitable funds attempting to prevent the wildfires by rewetting the moorland, yet they continue to happen time and time again, which reflects their inadequate moorland management.

Yet, despite the clear and obvious dangers arising from a failure to carry out controlled burning, both the RSPB and the National Trust have been the driving force in recennt attempts to have the use of controlled burning banned.

The RSPB’s Public Affairs officer, Adam Barnett, as recently as this week wrote again about this, in an attempt to have the Government bring in stricter restrictions placed on the only wildfire prevention tool that works.

In a letter to Wildlife and Countryside Link, Barnett seems to wilfully misinterpret science and facts to suit the RSPB’s utterly disingenuous agenda in which they have claimed grouse moor managers are ‘burning peat’.

The below video shows the true impact that controlled burning actually has on peat.

If there was ever any doubt to the real motives behind the ludicrous campaign to ban the use of controlled burning then people only need to see the former leader of the Green Party, Baroness Bennett’s absurd intervention into the recent heather burning debate.

The underlying class war prejudices behind the ‘ban-the-burn’ campaign are clear for all to see by Bennett’s comments: “The statutory instrument is a tiny nod to the pub desire to end the disastrous management of land for driven grouse shooting. It is clear that, behind closed doors, the Government are still sitting around in comfortable armchairs, whisky glasses in hand, guffawing loudly and toasting their shooting mates – which, of course, means toasting themselves.”

For those that have not had the pleasure of experiencing Natalie Bennett’s previous policy credentials we urge you to listen to this short interview she gave on how she was going to solve the affordable housing problem in the UK.

Fortunately, DEFRA has chosen to stick to facts and scientific evidence, rather than an emotive misinformation campaign by a prejudiced campaign against grouse shooting.

In a recent interview the Secretary of State for DEFRA said: "Heather burning is contentious because it gets linked to grouse shooting...the appreciation of wildfire has been underestimated. There are circumstances where a managed winter burn is appropriate."

Controlled burning has been shown time and time again to be far and away the most effective way of preventing wildfires. If the RSPB had an iota of integrity left they would accept that, before extreme wildfires cause untold damage to the environment, to wildlife and to human life.


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