Moorland councillor allows his personal prejudices to influence his voting
At the beginning of January, members of the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council put forward a motion to ‘ask the government to introduce a ban on the practice of peatland burning’.
Members of the Peak District Moorland Group wrote to their local councillors after becoming aware of the motion – which was unanimously supported by councillors – explaining that ‘peatland burning’ does not happen in the uplands, outlining the differences between controlled cool burns and out of control moorland wildfires, and the many reasons why controlled cool burns are carried out.
One councillor – Dr Darren Price, the Labour Councillor for Leek East – replied to members of the moorland community who wrote to him querying his stance.
He explained that although he was not responsible for the motion, he did support it. Why?
He explains that he is “opposed to hunting for ‘sport’ and indeed have been an (on occasion active) opponent of fox hunting since my own childhood in rural Leicestershire.”
That is all very well, and everyone is completely entitled to their own viewpoints. But should an elected councillor allow his own personal beliefs about “hunting for sport” affect a vote on heather burning? The topic in hand is, after all, controlled heather burning, not shooting. Should an elected councillor should be trying to use a ban on burning as a stealth tool for a ban on shooting?
Although the letter written to Dr Price explaining the many reasons for cool burns and the difference between these and moorland wildfires, Dr Price’s misgivings are clearly driven by his dislike of shooting for sport.
Dr Price then goes on to state: “My contribution was largely connected to Councillor Porter’s conflation of deliberately set fires and accidental fires (such as the one in 2018) which I felt was very harmful - the fire of 2018 was not caused because of a lack of protection, it was caused by a careless and criminal act!“.
The problem is that a lack of moorland management – including controlled burning and the creation of fire breaks on the moors – equates to a lack of protection of our moorlands and, some might argue, is active neglect of the moors.
This is one factor which differentiates driven grouse moors from unmanaged moorland: the ability to manage and control wildfires. Moorland which is managed for grouse shooting is not, of course, immune to wildfires. However they occur far less frequently due to habitat management, adequate fire fighting equipment and most importantly the presence of gamekeepers who live and work on the moors 7 days a week. As we have seen so many times, the removal of moorland management results in long, woody heather, a lack of firebreaks, and a large fuel load of dead vegetation – which all too often results in disaster.
However, it appears that Dr Price is allowing his own personal views and prejudices to influence his policy and decisions on moorland management – views that will prove hugely destructive for the UK’s moors. Discussing his vote on the proposal, he states that “350,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted from peat moorland and the clear majority of that is as a result of burning on grouse moors”.
He simply displays his own lack of knowledge; it is wildfires on moors that result in huge carbon emissions, such as the wildfire started by a campfire in The Roaches in Staffordshire, which resulted in 11,430 tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.
One report into the Saddleworth Moor fire, also in 2018, estimated that the fire, which burned for three weeks, could have released as much as half a million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: equivalent to the yearly CO2 emissions from over 100,000 cars.
Around 4.5million people were affected by the microparticles that the Saddleworth fire released; around 9 fatalities were “brought forward” by the fires, and that they cost the UK economy £21.1m.
If Dr Price is truly concerned about carbon emissions (and he says he is: he writes, “We simply must reduce carbon emissions”), this is what he should be focusing on. Preventing wildfires and organising proper, well-run moorland management – not voting for claptrap motions on the basis of his own personal political prejudices.
If you live in the Peak District – or any upland areas – we would encourage you to write to your local councillors so they know the full facts about the need for moorland management on the moors.