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Cautious welcome for new legislation limiting destructive moorland burning

The government have announced legislation to severely limit the controversial practice, in a move welcomed by environmental activists.

Heather burning on Barden Moor geograph org uk 1762004

Heather burning on Barden Moor, Yorkshire.

Photo by Ian Greig on Wikimedia Commons.

An MP whose constituency includes moorland around Sheffield has cautiously welcomed moves by the government to limit the environmentally destructive practice of peatland heather burning.

Olivia Blake said that the new regulations were a "hugely welcome victory" for campaigners in Yorkshire but called on the government to go further to restore damaged peatland.

"I have asked the government several times when we can expect their long-awaited strategy for peatland restoration and I will continue to hold them to account on this," she said.

The new rules will prevent the burning of any specified vegetation on areas of deep peat (over 40cm in depth) on protected sites, unless a license has been granted.

The government have said that in specific circumstances licenses could be granted in for the purpose of wildfire prevention.

Heather-clad moorland is currently set on fire by landowners to create optimal breeding habitat for game birds like grouse, for the purpose of recreational shooting.

Environmental activists say the practice releases climate-altering gasses and contributes to flooding in communities located downstream, including Sheffield.

Yorkshire contains over half of England's carbon-rich blanket bogs, which campaigners say were subject to 550 incidents of burning between October 2019 and April 2020.

Blake, who launched a Parliamentary debate on the issue in November, said that the new proposals need close examination.

"It is vital that we look at the detail, to see how much peatland this new legislation will protect, in what circumstances peatlands will still be allowed to be burnt, and what the actual environmental impact will be," she said.

A government response to a written question submitted by Blake revealed that 38% of blanket bog habitats in England won’t be protected by the new rules.

The UK has 13% of the world's blanket bog, a type of peatland that forms delicate and ecologically rich habitats.

"Blanket bog is an amazing habitat that provides essential environmental benefits, including carbon storage, a home for wonderful wildlife, clean drinking water and flood mitigation," said Natural England Chair Tony Juniper.

The government have not announced when the new rules, which need to be laid before Parliament, will come into force.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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