12th July 2018
COUNTRYSIDE ORGANISATIONS WELCOME MINISTERIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF MOORLAND MANAGEMENT’S ROLE IN HELPING PREVENT WILDFIRES
The Countryside Alliance, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), today (Thursday 12th July) welcomed the Government’s recognition of the role of controlled heather burning in responsible moorland management to minimise the risk of uncontrollable wildfires.
In response to a written parliamentary question from Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick upon Tweed, the Defra Minister, Dr Thérèse Coffey, noted that burning in accordance with the law and the Heather and Grass Burning Code can help to reduce fire risk. The Government also recognises the work being done by moor owners and managers – working with government in restoring peatland.
We urge Defra to ensure that lessons are learnt from the devastating moorland fires of this Summer to ensure that there is consistent and responsible management across all heather moorland. Controlled burning is a vital part of any management – it reduces the fuel load and encourages healthy heather which benefits wildlife without damaging the underlying peat. Also welcome is the Government’s restatement of its commitment to the restoration of our blanket bogs, which is also vital to ensuring greater resilience of moorland to uncontrolled wildfires.
Jack Knott, Countryside Alliance Campaign for Shooting, said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about the use of burning in the management of heather moorland and it is very welcome that the Government has explicitly recognised the part that burning has to play in responsible management and in reducing the risk of uncontrolled fires. We must have a serious look at the terrible fires we have seen this Summer and do all we can to prevent them in the future. There also needs to be wider recognition of the enormous amount of work being done to restore peat bog by moor owners, managers and others working with government to achieve sustainable and resilient moorland.”
Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: “We have been working closely with Natural England to implement the Blanket Bog Restoration Strategy using guidance developed by the Uplands Management Group that prioritises revegetation of bare peat, restoration of hydrological function and sustainable vegetation management whilst reducing the risk of wildfire.
“Restored, functioning blanket bog will be more resilient to wildfire, while saturated peat is less likely to burn, and waterlogged conditions will reduce the growth of vegetation on the peat surface so there is less flammable material. In the longer term, there is a need for balance between peatland restoration and wildfire mitigation which in practice means the use of controlled burning to introduce strategic wildfire breaks and reduce fuel loads. Developing sustainable and resilient moorland habitats capable of withstanding both catastrophic incidents and other climate related environmental change is imperative.”
Richard Bailey of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisations said, “I am one of the many moorland gamekeepers that has been working with fire crews night and day to extinguish these devastating wildfires. It has been heart-breaking to see the remains of dead and burnt wildlife and the destruction of so much wonderful heather moorland habitat. Although we welcome this statement, I just hope that Government is as good as its word. With climate change becoming an increasing worry, it is crucial that we are able to use our expertise to manage our moors in a way that creates proper firebreaks. These are essential to prevent these catastrophic wildfires in the future.”
Matt Ellis, head of science at BASC, said: “Gamekeepers have a great deal of knowledge on managing fires and using targeted and controlled burns to reduce the fuel load on the lands they manage.
“Not only does this reduce the opportunities for fire to spread, but it also provides the mosaic of habitats so valuable for upland birds. Large expanses of invasive bracken and rank heather are typical of unmanaged uplands and provide the perfect opportunities for wildfires to spread. Fires in these areas can burn so hot they ignite the peat, destroying valuable habitat and releasing huge volumes of greenhouse gas.
“Properly maintained firebreaks provide valuable time to bring wildfires in these areas under control and prevent the devastating growth of fires such as the one we have seen on Saddleworth Moor.”
Copy of Dr Thérèse Coffey response below:
Moorland: Fire Prevention
Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan: 
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps the Government is taking to ensure the responsible management of heather moorland to minimise the risk of uncontrollable wild fires; and if he will make it his policy to include controlled burning in accordance with the Heather and Grass Burning Code as part of that management.
Dr Thérèse Coffey:
The Government and its agencies are working with moorland owners, land managers and their representatives to put in place long term management plans and stewardship agreements to restore the hydrology and vegetation on degraded blanket bogs. Raising water tables and increasing the coverage of sphagnum moss allows the processes of recovery that store carbon and reduce the risk of ignition of these habitats by wildfire. The risk of severe damage by wildfire on a wet, well functioning blanket bog is relatively low. In accordance with the Heather and Grass Burning Code, managed one-off burning or cutting firebreaks may help to reduce the risk of fires starting on other habitats such as dry heath, and reduce the spread of fire around likely ignition points.