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Making Manchester carbon neutral – or destroying vital carbon sinks?

Peat bogs such as these are vital carbon sinks

It’s not only as a big name nationally that it’s beneficial for the RSPB to have him on side. But also because as Mayor of Manchester, his remit covers upland areas of Greater Manchester. Some of these, ironically, are places that would most benefit from controlled burning to prevent uncontrolled wildfires. Winter Hill, an area mentioned by Burnham in the RSPB press release, suffered a huge fire this spring, after a deliberately-started fire ripped through the vegetation which had been left to accumulate.

Burnham, therefore, isn’t just another voice in the debate about the best way to manage moorlands. He has responsibility for the management of upland areas; a duty, you might say, to protect and preserve precious peatlands.

That, at least, is what he would have you believe when he writes that he is ‘acutely aware of the environmental impact of upland fires’, and the vast amounts of carbon released by uncontrolled wildfires.

His actions, however, tell a different story. Because last week, he agreed to the creation of a ‘new settlement’ of over 6,000 new houses in Carrington, in southern Manchester. The problem here is that the 6,000 new houses in Carrington will be built on a 100 hectares of 10,000 year old bogland.

On the one hand Burnham talks of his ambition to make Manchester a ‘carbon neutral city-region by 2038’, ‘reduc[ing] the reliance on carbon based fuels’ and, interestingly, ‘keep[ing] fossil fuels in the ground’.

But building on a significant proportion of Manchester’s peat deposits will destroy a vital carbon sink – and do exactly the opposite of what the city’s Mayor claims to be attempting to achieve.

As Joshua Styles, founder of the North-West Rare Plant Initiative (NWRPI), said:

‘Getting rid of [the peat deposits] means seeing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of peat oxidising into the atmosphere because you can’t build on it, it’s too unstable so you need to replace it with construction aggregates. That’s the worst part, if you’re able to restore them so they’re a carbon sink, you’ve got this huge asset for climate change that’s sucking in carbon from the atmosphere. It’s insane, utterly insane.’

He is far from alone. The Wildlife Trust, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust’s conservation and landscape officer have all criticised the plans, which are expected to be opened up for public consultation in the coming months.


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