Hebden Bridge flood activist group Ban the Burn has raised two cheers for Natural England’s new guidance that restoration of all degraded blanket bog is possible and that landowners should phase out blanket bog burning because of the damage it causes.
The group is sending Natural England its comments on the draft guidance, and hopes that as many people as possible who are affected by the way blanket bogs are managed will also read the draft guidance (embedded further down this page) and email their views in to Natural England.
Blanket bog burning is a practice mainly carried out by grouse shooting landowners, to create and maintain a heather habitat that is favourable for raising grouse.
Over the last few years, Natural England and grouse moor owners have conducted fierce disputes about blanket bog burning, leading to aborted legal challenges and counter-challenges about its allowability in protected conservation areas.
Putting science at the service of blanket bog restoration
Following a 2012 review of the scientific evidence about the restoration of degraded blanket bog and the environmental impacts of blanket bog burning, Natural England has just issued draft guidance on how to put the science at the service of the achievable goal of restoring all of England’s blanket bog. It says a key to this is to phase out the practice of burning blanket bog.
Natural England says the new guidance aims:
“to enable our staff to reach effective, pragmatic and locally relevant judgements in their advice”
to upland farmers, land managers and Natural England’s partners.
Ban The Burn spokesperson Penny Eastwood said,
“The draft guidance from Natural England says what Ban the Burn has been saying, so we welcome it. But it has no timeline for phasing out burning blanket bogs. This lack of urgency is a problem for us. Hebden Bridge floods are made worse by burning the Walshaw Moor blanket bogs and we can’t wait for the burning to be phased out over an indefinite period.”
Jim Peterken, also from Ban The Burn, said,
“The general public may be interested in the issue that our hard-earned public tax money is being paid to rich landowners to flood us. Grouse moor owners are being paid millions of pounds through the environmental stewardship scheme, to protect the uplands. But they are burning blanket bog and making flooding worse in areas like Hebden Bridge. Not to mention destroying biodiversity.
“When public money’s being spent, it should be to support the science and slow the flow of water off the uplands.
“We want to know how this new Natural England guidance will affect existing consents to burn blanket bog, and current environmental stewardship agreements where such consents exist.”
Ban the Burn’s comments on the draft guidance
Natural England invites comments from all those who are affected by the measures proposed in the draft guidance. Ban the Burn is sending the following comments to Natural England:
“We welcome Natural England’s statement that all blanket bogs and other peatlands have the potential to be restored, and its conclusion that burning on blanket bog has a range of impacts which are overall negative and should therefore be phased out.
But Natural England’s guidance is not urgent enough – there is no timeline for the restoration of blanket bogs. We’re flood victims, this is urgent, we can’t wait.
We should not be giving public money to landowners who continue to burn blanket bog. For example, environmental stewardship subsidies should not be paid to landowners and farmers who are still carrying out managed burning.
When public money is spent on agri-environment schemes in areas that include blanket bog, it should be used to support blanket bog restoration based on scientific evidence identified in the 2012 Uplands Review.
We would like clarification of how the new guidance will affect current consents and environmental stewardship agreements that permit managed burning of blanket bog.”
Ban the Burn encourages everyone who is affected by the way landowners manage blanket bogs to read the Natural England draft guidance on restoration of blanket bogs and the phasing out of burning blanket bogs, and email any comments to Natural England, by 28th February 2014.
Last year, both Ban the Burn and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds made formal complaints to the European Union that Natural England was acting unlawfully in consenting to blanket bog burning in protected conservation areas. After hearing the UK government’s response to the complaints, the EU is investigating the issue further.
You can read more about Ban The Burn here: