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22nd July 2022

The Moorland Association, whose members manage nearly one million acres of heather moorland, today called for a ‘major rethink’ on how best to tackle devastating wildfires.

The association said today the surge in wildfires in the UK and internationally serves as the ‘starkest reminder’ of the need to reduce the fuel loads that drives wildfire.

Swathes of moorland in England’s National Parks have been shut to the public due to wildfire risk, for the first time.

Vegetation is being left to grow unchecked as a climate change mitigating measure, but is having the opposite effect.

Fire and rescue services that have had to deal with around 450 outbreaks of wildfire in the UK in recent days and continue to rage across Europe as well as other parts of the world, causing massive emissions.

Mark Cunliffe-Lister, chair of the Moorland Association, said: “We have all seen the horrific impact of wildfire as never before and wherever a wildfire takes hold, the fuel load is what will determine the consequences.

“We need to take on board what people facing different threats around the world are learning – the best possible way to tackle wildfire is through managing the vegetation. This is the available fuel for the fire.

“Our focus is on the moors of northern England and wildfire is the greatest single threat to this precious upland habitat. Government Ministers recently acknowledged during an uplands workshop that the threat needs to be taken more seriously and what we need now is to act on the lessons learned.”

The Moorland Association says there is a need to use every tool available to reduce wildfire risk. On the moors that means as much public information, signage and education as possible, keeping vegetation short alongside popular walking routes, car parks and litter bins. Large areas of woody vegetation should be broken up with smaller, controlled heather burning or mowing to reduce the amount of vegetation available for a wildfire.

Skilled, controlled burning of old heather is one method of reducing fuel load; a proven way of creating fire breaks and limiting the spread of wildfire. The Fire and Rescue Services agree and support the practice.

Opponents of heather burning claim the practice is bad for the environment and contributes to CO2 emissions. However, while there are some short-term emissions from smoke, recent scientific evidence has demonstrated that in the medium to long-term burning can assist carbon capture and peatland protection.

Mark Cunliffe-Lister added: “Moorland managers are wholly committed to playing their part in tackling climate change working towards net zero.

“A recent survey of over 100 of our members found that they had restored more than 3,157 hectares of bare peat whilst planting 1,275 hectares of trees – capturing 43,530 tons of CO2 in the process, equivalent to taking 20,533 cars off the road.

“However, in the uplands, all these efforts could be so easily undermined by wildfire.

“Controlled burning should only be done in the right place at the right time but can be a massive help in tackling wildfire threats. There needs to be a collective rethink about this rather than continuing pressure being placed on Ministers for further restriction or banning of vegetation management by burning in the uplands.”

Last year the government banned controlled heather burning on peatland over a certain depth in protected areas and burning has been severely curtailed on other areas.


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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