Boris Johnson wasn’t watching Extinction – the facts last night even though his missus was, if a report, just a single sentence, in The Times today is to be believed. At the very foot of an article about how the UK would meet its net-zero target is the sentence ‘Plans to ban peat-burning appear to have been abandoned‘.
The case for ending rotational burning of heather on peatlands is strong on the grounds of habitat protection and environmental protection.
It was back in January this year that the Committee on Climate Change called for a ban on burning;
This followed what amounted to a promise by DEFRA Minister Zac Goldsmith MP (then, now DEFRA Minister Lord Goldsmith), in October 2019, that because a voluntary approach had failed, and it surely had failed, government would act to ban burning of heather in peatlands.
The RSPB started a complaint to the EU back in October 2012 (yes, really) about the unregulated and excessive burning of blanket bogs and this complaint led to infraction proceedings against the UK government by the EU Commission (eg see here) on the grounds that a priority habitat was being damaged.
This is a classic and strong case where a management regime was harming a rare and beautiful habitat but also reducing the ecosystem services that the habitat provides to us all. The case for a ban of burning on peatlands is clear and strong, but inconvenient to a tiny interest group which seems to have the Conservative Government in its pocket (see other news in The Times today).
What with Zac’s words, and the call from the Climate Change Committee one might have hoped that this policy change was in the bag. Such hopes have only been strengthened by the responses in the last few weeks of scores of Conservative MPs, (including the Prime Minister himself and Rebecca Pow, a DEFRA Minister) in response to the Wild Justice/Hen Harrier Action/RSPB e-action, stating something very like this:
Following representations by me and others, Ministers have accepted the need to phase out rotational burning of protected blanket bog to conserve vulnerable habitats.https://markavery.info/2020/08/19/new-less-awful-standard-response-from-conservative-mps-to-e-action/
Now I wouldn’t lose hope that we will see a favourable government announcement very soon on this matter just because of one sentence in The Times but it makes one wonder.
If we don’t see an announcement on this matter then not only will we see smoke in the hills but the air in Westminster and Whitehall will be think with smoke too as Conservative MPs backsides spontaneously combust ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire’!
The opening of the heather burning season in upland England is 1 October.