Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Muirburn on Deep Peat: a view from England

Bog-Athon in progress
This briefing will be presented to Moorland Forum members on 31 October 2014.

Burning on deep peat has been a topic that has attracted a lot of activity in England during 2014. As the chairman of the Best Practice Burning Group, I was involved in back-to-back visits to three moors in northern England.

The flurry of activity was sparked off by the Evidence to Advice phase of Natural England’s Upland Evidence Review. As a way to ease the tensions coming out of this process, and to allow Natural England to make progress with their review, what has become known as the bog-athon was set up. A working group from the main Burning Group visited three areas of deep peat in Northern England on successive days. This was pretty intensive, but the intensity allowed participants to drill down into areas of discussion that had eluded us at other times.

I was joined on the working group by representatives from Natural England, RSPB, Moorland Association, Yorkshire Water and a landowner / farmer. In addition, the gamekeepers, landowners and NE Area Staff with an interest in the moor joined each visit to provide local input. The visits took place on Raby Estate, Upper Teesdale; Keighley Moor, Yorkshire; and the High Peak in the Peak District. These moors represented a good range of habitats and management objectives that allowed the working group to start to develop an approach that would work to deliver multiple objectives, if applied to other peatland.

I was heartened by the amount of consensus that came out of this process and included the following points:
  • There should be no intention by Natural England to ban burning on deep peat; burning should continue to be available as an important tool.
  • There is a need to adapt the way that burning on deep peat is approached; more sensitive use of fire could be beneficial to all interests.
  • More sphagnum moss should be encouraged.
  • Landowners and managers have the ability to innovate and produce the desired outcomes. 
  • Further discussion needs to look forward; chewing over old bones will not be productive.
This is all a big improvement from the loggerheads position that had been reached within the burning group.  The problems have not gone away but considerable progress was made through establishing dialogue. The approach may be something to consider in Scotland.

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