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Moorland Association statement on Birdcrime report and heather burning

1st October 2020

Following publication of two reports from RSPB today (Oct 1), the Moorland Association, which represents moor owners and operators in England, issued the following statement.

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: “The figures in relation to bird crime are a decrease on the figures issued last by the RSPB last year, when it was revealed that less than half the incidents happened in counties in England where grouse shooting occurs.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms all forms of wildlife crime, including any incidents of bird of prey persecution, and the moorland sector has a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to such activity. The Moorland Association and its members are committed to restoring bird of prey populations to sustainable levels, and are delighted to have helped achieve the recent increases in their populations. For example, Natural England has recently reported a record breeding season for hen harrier in England with 12 out of 19 nests located on grouse moors producing 40 out of the 60 chicks. Given that grouse shooting takes place on about half of the land mapped as suitable for hen harriers in the  English uplands, we are delivering more for hen harrier recovery than any other land use.  There is also evidence of peregrine, merlin and other raptors doing well on grouse moors.

“Grouse moors are welcome habitats for a wide range of wildlife and we  work diligently alongside local police groups to tackle any criminal activity. For example, a recent report from the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative showed a marked decrease in raptor incidents. The report also highlighted the continuing improvements in the relationships between raptor fieldworkers, gamekeepers and shooting estates, noting that in areas where co-operation has improved, some of the larger raptor species are doing better.

“In relation to heather burning, it is regrettable that the misnomers ‘peatland burning’ or ‘peat burning’ are being used. It is important to distinguish between summer wildfires and controlled heather burning in autumn and winter. Removing the heather canopy by controlled burning does not harm the peat or moss underneath and allows more light in to the understory of vegetation. This benefits a range of peat forming plants and also birds of conservation concern, such as golden plover and curlew. It also reduces fuel loads and risk of wildfire, such as those which caused such devastation at Winter Hill and Saddleworth Moor. There is growing evidence from the United States, which is suffering again from wildfires, and Australia that the abolition of controlled burning was a source of deep regret.

“Recent scientific research has shown that areas of blanket bog can be capable of increased levels of carbon capture with burning as part of the management. Heather (not peat) burning, therefore, is a crucial tool – amongst others – for the restoration and protection of our peatlands. Burning is only carried out where there is no realistic alternative. We should also point out that grouse moors have been actively involved in the blocking of old agricultural drains in the uplands and planting of sphagnum, which help to mitigate flooding.”




Did You Know?

75% of Europe’s remaining upland heather moorland is found in the UK – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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