Ban burning of upland peatlands now – says Climate Change Committee

In their latest important report, this one on land use, the Climate Change Committee calls for an immediate banning of burning of upland peatlands. Page 14

The report does not say blanket bog, it does not say deep peat, it simply says peatlands – that means all of it, not some of it.

There is much more in here to read but for those of us who have been banging on about ecosystem services in the uplands for years it is great to see such a distinguished group make such a recommendation. Let us hope that governments act quickly.

I note that NFU and CLA were both on the land use panel who advised on this report – not surprisingly, no shooting organisation was involved.

These are UK-wide recommendations so Roseanna Cunningham and the Scottish government should take them on board when considering the feeble Werritty review and take notice of the big guns of the Climate Change Committee.

I did think that the report was quite witty calling banning of upland burning a low-regret measure (page 10) – I can think of a few regretful characters who might be seeking a stiff whisky this evening.

Note that Zac Goldsmith has already signed up to similar measures and so DEFRA ought to be pretty relaxed about getting stuck in here.

The market value of grouse shooting land should just have nose-dived and the days of intensive driven grouse shooting are now much more certainly numbered. And more importantly, the future contribution of our uplands to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is clearly set out. Government must act, and act quickly – get it done!

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31 Replies to “Ban burning of upland peatlands now – says Climate Change Committee”

    1. Dave – yes, I guess, although many moors went to town on burning over the last couple of years.

  1. I’m only on the first page and I’m already seething!!
    I know and understand that the changes they are talking about cannot happen overnight, but why keep banging on about 2050!
    That’s thirty bloody years away. In no way is that a response to an emergency, that’s just allowing the next governments, six at least, to keep kicking the can down the road. I hate this ‘25 year plan’ or ‘by 2050’. Why is it so hard for them to understand what is going on in the world. Grrrrrrrrr.
    Ok……..breath. I will finish it, perhaps it gets better.

    1. Nope, it’s not getting better. Support for the bioenergy sector? ‘Biomass combustion‘. There’s a clue there guys…..combustion!
      Why support combustion of any sort while you are withdrawing support for solar. I’m sick of hearing about food security when all I see in Lincolnshire is grade A land being used to grow Maize and Elephant grass.
      Not liking this bit:(

      1. Ahah, now I understand. All those roads being built across our uplands weren’t to get the shooters to the grouse faster. Silly. It is so that the peat can be restored in the future and not have to use helicopters.
        Mark, you really should have told us that in Inglorious.
        Think I’m going to open a bottle.

    1. Don’t forget that Defra missed their 2020 targets to phase out peat based retail sales, so apologies if I have little faith in anything being achieved by 2050 …. but who knows, politicains might take positive actions for the planet;)

      1. I have little faith in peat-free composts not having found one yet that didn’t kill a good proportion of any seeds sown in it especially expensive F1 hybrids loving hand-pollinated by expert cheap labour in Equador or didn’t sustain anything that survived in it containing as it did an inordinate amount of shredded plarstic or shredded MDF but what should I expect it’s the recycling business not that I buy peaty compost but just move on to the next expensive bag of virtuous crap under the delusion that it will enhance my life in some poorly-defined way because my opting to use an inferior product saved the Planet

  2. Thanks for this Mark.

    On a related matter – does anyone know if estates are supposed to do surveys for protected species of plants and fauna before they burn?

    I ask because it worries me that hibernating hedgehogs will seek refuge from winter storms by hibernating in the tallest heather – exactly the type of heather ready for burning. Hedgehogs undergo such huge physiological changes (heart beat reduces 5x, digestive system changes etc) when they hibernate that they may not wake up before being incinerated or, if they do wake up, then they may die from the physical effects of being disturbed during hibernation. Quite a few of the hedgehogs I’ve seen waking from hibernation stagger around drunkenly rather than move with the wonderful agility they are normally capable of. Beautiful creatures.

    The shooting estates are burning the moors round here and I want to report the estates doing this under any relevant legislation, including the Animal Welfare Act.

    Can anyone give any guidance?


    1. Why the dislikes? Isn’t Lizzybusy saying something good?
      Or is incinerating defenceless animals acceptable?

      1. Marian: because this blog is trolled by the very people it targets. They think that showing their pathetic dislike of doing the right thing somehow validates their criminal / vandal behaviour.

    2. For the dislikers –

      Think Kuala bears, Kangaroos – how awful for them to be incinerated!
      What’s the difference with Hedgehogs? These are animals protected in law in the UK!

      For the likers –


      You can support moorland monitors (like me) by joining the National Anti Snaring Campaign or the League Against Cruel Sports. You can even get free training on legal issues to look out for. It’s only by people going on those moors and in the woods that the crimes of these estates get exposed. Go for it!

  3. I’m a genuine agnostic but come on folks this is an economic forum, not something that is seeking to sort out problems resulting from (in the main) financial greed causing climate change issues.

    As for targets decades hence, typical political tactics but we let them get away with it, decade after decade. The new generation of activists, if they can maintain the pressure and not mind being labeled as extremists, might be able to better hold them to account?

    I suppose I must put myself through the torture otherwise I can’t really justifiably chastise their rhetoric?

  4. Had a very quick scan. As Paul says very long timescales involved for things that could happen much faster, and climate change monomania has provided a lifeline to farmers when land could have been returned to nature and ecosystem services they’ll be getting paid to grow ‘fuel’ – ah well as long as some way can be found to keep the money rolling in. As far as stopping muirburn goes I’m pretty sure the Moorland Association and others will be trotting out the usual about if you don’t have regular burns then you’ll get a build up of fuel load then eventually a cataclysmic fire. They’re making a big deal of the emergency services having high regard for plans to reduce fire risk by even better planned Muir burn to create firebreaks etc. But are the emergency services that pleased with this or are they pretending to be – have they had to bite their tongue because they’ve swallowed the guff about grouse moors being vital for rural jobs and the politics has got messy? How would the emergency services feel about targeted tree planting and reintroduction of beaver in the uplands that would not only create the best firebreaks of all (wet ones), but reduce flooding downstream too? Even the estates would find it difficult to refute beavers widen watercourses and damp riparian zones and that isn’t very good for fires. This is a card I think we’ll need to play a lot more of to counter the rubbish coming from those that have created a flammable upland in the first place.

    1. “As far as stopping muirburn goes I’m pretty sure the Moorland Association and others will be trotting out the usual about if you don’t have regular burns then you’ll get a build-up of fuel load then eventually a cataclysmic fire.”
      The M A surely will. Was it summer 2018 that produced the many days of uncontrollable wildfires on the moors in Lancashire?
      Muirburning for the sake of grouse is daft but so is the existence of vast areas of highly inflammable fuel rich heather. Fire breaks are essential, especially with the increased risk of severe drought.
      There will have to be compromises while we are waiting for the trees and beavers to come back. But will a mosaic of deciduous woodland and beaver induced wetlands be sufficient protection when the warming ramps up further?

      1. They’ll most definitely help Murray as they do in parts of the USA. Beavers can set up shop on little more than trickles of water (why they build dams of course) as long as they have a deeper water refuge they feel safer in. This is what happened with the enclosed beaver trial in Devon. There’s even scope for trial schemes where supplementary feed in terms of the products of tree surgery and unsold root vegetables are brought in while trees are regenerating locally so the benefits of beavers start from the very beginning. I’m sure wild beavers have been given supplementary food in America. Given the enormous costs of flooding and the need for firebreaks I’m certain this would be a worthwhile avenue to explore. Certainly cheaper than massively expensive schemes to re engineer rivers to reduce floods, and even possibly some of the schemes that use volunteers to do so. There are at the very least seven existing or proposed trials in England looking primarily to see how beavers reduce flooding. There are currently zero in Scotland which has enormous potential to use them in the uplands. In the past few weeks another scheme has been announced in the Lake District – the uplands. I am seething that the grouse moors are using the fact that they’ve created a giant tinderbox as an argument to keep them that because – without planning – there could be a period fire risk actually becomes higher in some places, maybe. That’s a cul de sac we need to avoid and targeted tree planting and beavers are a part of that. Together with peat bog restoration they are a tremendous addition to our toolkit for changing the uplands to be better for wildlife and people who prefer living in dry houses. We are definitely not pushing this as much as we should, so far I haven’t seen a reference to beavers anywhere in the material from the Revive Coalition, it’ll be even stronger when it starts doing so.

        1. Les, regarding the great herds of Beaver that are said to inhabit the Tay area,have they
          moved far up any of the tributaries, and have any beneficial effects been recorded yet ?

          1. Trapit – they have moved quite a long way and I’ve seen some great habitat they have created. Have they done any harm?

          2. Well as with every other place they’ve returned to they’ve added to structural and habitat diversity by coppicing trees, creating Deadwood and leading to branches in the water which is a vital habitat for fish that many anglers actually remove in case it impedes their lovely casts and catches their hooks. I have seen terrible pictures of damage on the Tay – caused by farmland extending right down to the water’s edge. No chance for runoff to soak into a wooded strip of river edge or for it to catch soil and farm chemicals before they hit the river. Of course the lovely Scottish Gamekeepers Association has posted pictures of what beavers do there by doing a bit of burrowing into them – in actual fact it’s the farm that’s doing the damage. No wonder the salmon is in such dire straits when it’s supposed champions see the beaver as an enemy not poor farming practice, which doesn’t exactly reduce flooding either. There are many places where beaver could be a brilliant boon to flood reduction and conservation, but in Scotland while you can apply to kill beaver there is a blanket ban on translocating beaver ANYWHERE outside of their current range here. My, my I wonder who can possibly be behind that? So while problems with beaver are invented or grossly exaggerated, mitigation techniques ignored the beaver’s full potential to help people and wildlife is being suppressed – attempted character assassination. At RSPB Insh Marshes they cut back scrub to help waders including curlew. That’s what beavers do. Imagine beavers rather than grouse moors being held up as a friend to the curlew, and who would that piss off? Scottish beavers are being caught and translocated for trial schemes in England, but we can’t use them here!

      2. “Was it summer 2018 that produced the many days of uncontrollable wildfires on the moors in Lancashire?”

        On areas managed for driven grouse shooting, so what’s your point? You don’t have to wait for beavers and trees to come back; there are huge areas of degraded peatland which are currently burned and should be re-wetted immediately, which will both reduce the fire load (heather) and also be much more wildlife friendly.

        1. JE, my point was a vague, armchair one – the impression from TV pix was these fires were raging on unmanaged, old growth heather moors, hence the ferocity of the conflagration. But you say these moors were managed for grouse – so the question is, would those fires have been far worse in the absence of a muirburn regime? Surely yes?
          Only asking – from a slightly heretical, hearsay, sedentary, old growth position.
          Agree re the rewetting of all those dried out peat and pre-peatlands.

          1. There are, of course, machines which can cut heather so fire breaks, if really needed short term, could be created that way so there really is no need to burn but Les, as ever, provides a much better solution. Thanks Les.

          2. On Saddleworth, by far the largest part of the burnt area was on ground being prepared for grouse shooting. There had been a persistent problem with arson on the lower slopes and the estate had permission from NE to put in a firebreak or two, but have not denied that they failed to do so. The fire scarcely spread to re-wetted land outside the estate boundary, despite extensive attempts by the grouse shooting industry (lazily aided by much of the MSM including the BBC) to present it otherwise.

  5. the stuff in the table you’ve copied looks great, including the recommendation to do things in the next couple of years

  6. “… much more in here to read”

    indeedy – the passages regarding ruminant methane reveal the refusal of the ipcc to move quickly to world data from modelled assumptions because using honest methods would thwart its admitted purpose of social engineering which the ccc follows like the sheep it wants to extirpate

  7. Putting beavers back into the environment isn’t as easy as you would imagine.
    It’s very expensive and you have to take into consideration other people’s land their thoughts and concerns for these mammals.
    If it was just the case of plonking them into the space then everyone would do it, to get ours we have to undertake and pay for a major civil engineering project on the land – phase 1 is nearly finished.
    Should they be on grouse moors – yes they should, they’ll increase the diversity a hundred fold, regulate water levels and importantly increase bog loving plants. My concerns as always is it gives the excuse for the mass indiscriminating planting of trees for profit, getting that balance right is a tricky one. That’s highlighted by the vague term “use of market mechanisms to pay for carbon benefit”, that covers a multiple of sins or benefits.
    Should they burn the uplands – again no, it serves no purpose other than to provide early growth for the red grouse. By it’s very nature heather and conifers can be a tinder box, the New Forest is proof of that, land management of grouse moors has to improve if they want us to believe they are on the environments side.

    1. The 2005 Carlisle floods cost over 400 million quid – not because of beavers, far more likely due to their absence. Lots of sheep and bare hills in Cumbria, not that many trees and as yet no beavers. It’s costing us a fortune not having the beaver back properly.

  8. One of the more interesting tables is 3.2 on page 58/59, which shows both the private and public Net Present Values (NPV) and Benefit Cost Ratios (BCR) of many of the measures discussed in the report. As most of might have guessed, the public benefits of upland peat restoration are pretty high – at £51,800 per hectare. Set against that the private disbenefits are very low, thus giving the highest ratio of public to private NPV of any measure. The public BCR is also the second highest of all. That does give significant economic underpinning to the point Mark picks up about ‘low-regret’ measures – and his suggestion that grouse moor land values should nose-dive.

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