For Peat’s Sake

A red grouse hen by Luke Massey/2020VISION

We are calling for an end to the damaging practice of burning upland peat bogs in the Peak District.

Normally carried out on land used for grouse shooting, ‘rotational burning’ currently allows land managers to set fires on areas of moorland - including already scarce peat bogs - by encouraging new heather growth to provide favourable conditions for red grouse.

Upland peat bogs (especially blanket bog) aren’t just incredibly good for wildlife; they provide an astonishing number of benefits to the public by reducing flood risk downstream, purifying drinking water, locking up carbon and slowing the spread of wildfires. Unfortunately, most of our blanket bogs are already in a poor state, having been damaged by many industrial activities over the last century, including burning.

Dark Peak by Jack Roper

Dark Peak by Jack Roper

The Government committed to end the practice after pressure from the European Commission. Now Natural England, the agency entrusted with protecting the countryside in England, is attempting to negotiate the end of rotational burning on over 100 grouse moors.

While some shooting estates have already agreed to stop rotational burning, others have been given permission by Natural England to remove heather as part of a wider programme supposed to restore damaged peat bogs, using a practice called ‘restoration burning’. Unsurprisingly, Natural England’s own evidence shows this burning actually damages peat bogs. By their very nature, bogs need to be wet!

Given the ongoing and increasing threat from climate change it is now absolutely vital that burning on our upland peat bogs is stopped.
Dr Jo Smith
CEO Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

Healthy bogs with peat-forming sphagnum mosses help counter climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it up in the peat. But damaged peat releases that carbon back into the atmosphere. As a direct result of burning the vegetation on peatlands, the annual CO2 released is equivalent to having 105,000 extra cars on the road.

Water quality is also affected by the condition of our peat bogs. 70% of the water that comes out of the tap in Britain comes from the uplands, and damaged peat bogs affect the quality of that water. As a result, water companies spend a lot of money each year cleaning up drinking water, and this cost is passed on to consumers through water bills.

Burning moors

Burning moors

Burning on peat bogs is only good for a handful of fire-tolerant species like heather, resulting in a monoculture instead of a rich mix of bog plants. In the main, it diminishes the biodiversity of our uplands by reducing the variety of plants and therefore the wildlife which depends on them.

Jo Smith, CEO of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said: “Peat bogs are a scarce resource worldwide, and our Peak District blanket bogs are too important for both people and wildlife to allow any further damage to take place. Given the ongoing and increasing threat from climate change it is now absolutely vital that burning on our upland peat bogs in the Peak District National Park is stopped. “