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Sheffield's leader calls for complete ban on "destructive" moorland burning

Tom Hunt told the government that burning by wealthy landowners has an "immediate impact" on hospital admissions and A&E attendance.

Tom Hunt Moorland Burning

Council Leader Tom Hunt inspecting moorland burning damage.

Sheffield City Council.

Tom Hunt, the Labour leader of Sheffield City Council, has written to the government calling for a complete ban on the ecologically damaging and pollution-causing practice of moorland burning.

Wealthy landowners caused outrage in October by burning heather in the hills above the city for several days, with the aim of facilitating a violent bloodsport played by aristocrats and the super-rich.

The burning, which creates the ideal breeding conditions for grouse which are then shot for fun, caused a huge spike in air pollution in some of Sheffield's low-lying suburbs and almost certainly exacerbated flooding from Storm Babet.

Cllr Hunt has now written an open letter to the Conservative Environment Secretary Steve Barclay calling on the government to "end this damaging practice."

"We all know that air pollution kills and that air pollution from fires has an immediate impact on hospital admissions and A&E attendances," he wrote.

"We have had reports from people with asthma and breathing difficulties whose condition is made worse by moorland burning. We all know that the real impact of air pollution is in heart attacks and strokes, and increasingly lung cancer is linked to air pollution.

"The burning of heather, simply speaking, makes it harder for Sheffield to achieve its air quality improvement ambitions, its climate and net zero ambitions."

As well as increasing air pollution, which contributes to 1 in 20 deaths each year in Sheffield, emerging research shows that moorland burning makes flooding in downstream towns and cities more frequent and more severe.

This is because intact moorland contains vegetation which takes in and slows the flow of water. Burning gets rid of these natural flood defence systems, accelerating the run-off of water into river systems and making them more likely to burst their banks and flood homes.

Cllr Hunt said that each year the council receives "many complaints" from residents about moorland burning, but that they have "limited to no powers to compel landowners to behave responsibly".

Fellow Labour councillor Minesh Parekh accused aristocrat David Manners, who calls himself 'the Duke of Rutland' and who owns one of the shooting estates where the burning took place, of "ecocide" and of "toxifying our city's air to facilitate a bloodsport".

Cllr Parekh called for both an immediate ban on burning and for moorlands to be brought under public ownership and restored to their natural state – a move which would increase Sheffield's flood resilience.

Hunt now joins Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake, who represents some of the areas worst affected by burning, in calling for a complete ban. The government introduced a partial ban in limited circumstances in 2021, but this does not outlaw the burning that took place above the city in October.

Hunt ended his letter to Barclay: "I hope you will take action to end this destructive practice and to put pressure on landowners to put an immediate end to it this season."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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