Activists say England’s ‘rainforests’ have been burned illegally

Some shooting ranges in England are burning deep peat moorland in protected areas despite a government ban, say the RSPB and Greenpeace.

England’s deep peat soils support rare ecosystems and store huge amounts of carbon. Bog vegetation has traditionally been burned to create and maintain habitats for raising grouse for shooting. Last year the government banned the burning of peat deeper than 40cm in some protected areas in England.

Peatlands cover around 12% of UK land and store around 3 billion tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of all the forests in the UK, Germany and France combined. The government has labeled England’s peatlands “national forests” because of the amount of carbon they store.

Burning Moor at Stanghow Moor (Mick Garratt).

But evidence gathered by the RSPB and Greenpeace suggests these “rainforests” are still being illegally burned in England. The government told the BBC it had received evidence which purported to show illegal burning and said: ‘any cases where a breach of consent or regulation is suspected will be investigated.’

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A traditional practice in shooting ranges, burning paves the way for new green shoot grouses that like to eat, but also releases stored carbon into the atmosphere. Burning on peat soils in the highlands is already limited to a “season” which runs from October 1 to April 15 each year.

When the government introduced the new regulations, it said there was ‘a consensus that burning vegetation on blanket bogs is detrimental to bog formation and habitat condition’ . He said the new rules in England were intended to protect these rare and delicate habitats and help the UK achieve its goal of reducing emissions to net zero carbon by 2050.

The only exception to the ban would be if a license has been granted or if the terrain is steep or rocky but no license to burn on deep peat has been issued during the last burning season, said the government at the BBC.

The Moorland Association, which represents moorland owners, says careful burning has been a traditional part of moorland management for more than a century. It says vegetation typically recovers from well-managed burns within three years, and the practice can promote biodiversity and significantly reduce the risk of wildfires.

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