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Wildfire risk due to burning ban is being ignored, warn scientists

Scientists have warned that the benefits of controlled burning are being ignored, with an ‘undue’ focus on grouse shooting being prioritised in policymaker discussions about a blanket ban on controlled vegetation burning on heather moorland. This lack of balanced debate may lead to policy that increases the frequency of wildfires.


A lack of informed debate on the issue has been identified by the Future Landscapes Forum (FLF), an association of academics and experts in upland management.


FLF said that policy is being shaped by those who, due to ulterior motives, are choosing to “ignore or distort evidence”. Advantages that FLF insists are being overlooked include wildfire protection, carbon capture and biodiversity improvement.


Dr. Andreas Heinemeyer, a University of York associate professor and FLF consultant, said that the consortium had not found “evidence to say that cutting, rewetting, or a cessation of vegetation management are always better at reducing the risk of wildfires, capturing carbon and maintaining biodiversity”.



Dr. Heinemeyer pointed out that only the side of the debate in favour of controlled burning has been proven: “the existing evidence is that controlled burning can often contribute to all of these important aspects,” referring to wildfire risk reduction, carbon capture and biodiversity.


On behalf of FLF, he urged policymakers “to adopt an adaptive management approach towards heather-dominated landscape”. The group has indicated it will continue to “support regulations that steer practitioners towards good standards of controlled burning”.


Dr. Heinemeyer called for more dialogue between policymakers and “those leading research into the management of the UK’s heather-dominated landscape”. He added that current discussion was reductive and lacked nuance, insisting that “management of heather-dominated landscapes is about so much more than grouse shooting”.


Dr. Heinemeyer said that FLF is eager for controlled burning to be considered as an issue separate to that of grouse shooting. He reminded those who are passionate about the topic that FLF “would be making the case for controlled burning if grouse, and grouse shooting, did not exist”.


FLF concluded their warning by encouraging all interested parties to further their position with factual findings. The consortium reaffirmed its position that “judgements on the management of heather-dominated landscapes should be made according to all the available scientific evidence, consider its quality and uninfluenced by positions on grouse shooting”.

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