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Photos suggest RSPB carrying out widespread heather cutting, despite criticising the practice.

A loyal reader has alerted us to recent aerial photos taken of Lake Vyrnwy Moor, part of the often-discussed Welsh reserve managed by the RSPB.

The aerial picture shows clear cut lines in the vegetation; an obvious sign that heather cutting has been carried out here. The curious part here is that the RSPB are so frequently critical of moorland management and of vegetation control – whether by cutting or by burning.

This is despite the fact that managing the vegetation has been widely shown to be beneficial the moorland more widely for two reasons: firstly it creates a mosaic of heather which benefits many ground-nesting birds, and secondly because it diminishes the fuel load which otherwise sustains wildfires. Correctly done, it also creates fire breaks which can stop wildfires in their tracks.

However the image indicates that many of the cuts taken place on Lake Vyrnwy Moor have left a swathe of uncut material within the cut – indicating that the cut has not been carried out to create a fire break.

The question then is why have the RSPB – if indeed the cut has been carried out under RSPB instruction – decided to cut the vegetation on the moor?

Are they admitting that having large areas of rank, degenerate heather on their moor is bad for diversity?

If they are, this is something of a turnout for the books, since the RSPB spend a lot of time criticising muirburn carried out on managed moors – despite evidence showing that this leads to vast biodiversity net gains.

As we have reported on previously, new science from the University of York has shown that cutting heather can be beneficial in moorland management and certainly has its place when it comes to protecting carbon-rich peatlands. It should certainly not be dismissed as a management technique, but it does also have its negatives: the study has so far shown that mowing techniques lose a lot of carbon in the long term as the brash decomposes.

The work that has been carried out on Vyrnwy appears to be an attempt to replicate the management systems carried out on grouse moors – but without the use of burning. Many moorland keepers have argued that the use of cool burns, or muirburn, is a vital tool in their toolkit, and the RSPB’s bodged attempt to imitate their practises demonstrates exactly why, when used correctly and in suitable areas, burning is such an important tool.


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