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RSPB join forces to carry out Muirburn research, despite campaigning against its use


Last week, the RSPB joined forces with the Forestry Commission, the National Trust and the team from Exeter University wildFIRE Lab under the direction of an independent consultant to carry out prescribed fires for research, fuel reduction and to encourage grazing. As commentators recognised during the research, controlled burning is “so important for our environment, wildlife, fauna & flora but also for our enjoyment as general public for recreational walks. Our countryside is so beautiful, and we all need to work together to maintain it for future generations.” After the burning the lead consultant on the project, Andy Elliot, stated “Our research is independent and could provide evidence to support traditional Muirburn…I would like to investigate the impact of correctly managed burns as I personally believe that they could be beneficial. However, without good quality data I am not yet in a position to comment further.” This is a very rational, neutral and credible position for an independent research to take on what has recently been a contentious subject – and made even more impressive by the fact that he has brought the different parties together. Although many living in the uplands can provide several generations of experience as to the benefits of controlled burning, it seems – based on the comments online – that the RSPB are now carrying out research to evaluate these benefits to the environment, not to mention the impact on wildfire prevention. It rather begs the question, however, why the RSPB and their public affairs team would therefore have spent the last 18 months aggressively politically campaigning – predominantly among Labour MPs such as Olivia Blake – to ‘Ban-the-Burn’ and bring in a ban on all controlled burning in the uplands, allegedly on account of the CO2 released.


Typically you would expect an organisation – particularly a charity bound by the rules of the charity commission – to first carry out informed research, and then – and only then – base their policy lobbying on the findings of that research.


Evidently that is not the process the senior management of the RSPB have chosen to follow. This, we suggest, is probably because they are starting to realise that the science goes entirely against their public position, and that they have used an enormous amount of limited political capital in pursuing that position. This is despite the RSPB having previously boasted of their controlled burning across their reserves in parts of Scotland – which is why there was so much surprise when their hostile and emotive campaign ‘Ban-the-Burn’ was launched. The assumption has therefore been made that this campaign was simply the latest activity in their sustained, aggressive and underhand campaign against driven grouse shooting we have seen in recent years.



What is more, in recent weeks the RSPB have also launched an expensive website to encourage anyone and everyone to report all examples of controlled burning they spot across the uplands – in an bid to continue their campaign of hostility. We await the publication of the findings of this latest research and can only hope the RSPB recognise the historical errors of their ways.

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