Conservation at Work

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Moorland Association asks Olivia Blake MP to clear the air

3rd April 2024

Small particles in the air we breathe can be detrimental to human health.

In city centres these can come from a wide range of activities, from wood burning stoves to vehicle emissions and brake wear from vehicles. Each of the devolved nations and the UK government have set targets to keep reducing these particulate levels (more here).

The threshold for each type of pollution varies as does the threshold duration. Some are set as averages over a day, whilst others are assessed over a year. It is easy to see why averages are used because, for example, the levels jump significantly on November 5th during bonfire celebrations and firework displays but as one-off events these are unlikely to cause any long-term harm (here).

Cities across the country have air monitoring stations with staff employed to assess standards.

Those working at Sheffield City Council must have been surprised to hear Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam, say that smoke generated on nearby moors, as a result of heather burning, had resulted in the city’s pollution levels being “four times over the legal limit”. This claim was made during a Westminster Hall debate in January. We know the heather burning incident happened in October 2023 but is the claim true? No.

The Moorland Association has asked Blake to correct the Parliamentary record.

We are concerned that elected politicians are seemingly content to repeat misinformation from groups campaigning against grouse shooting for their own reasons.

Controlled burning is a crucial moorland management tool and is one of the most effective ways to prevent wildfires, and to limit their spread when they do occur, by reducing the mass of vegetation which fuels the fire.

The moors close to Sheffield are at particular risk of a wildfire because of their proximity to major towns and cities. The Peak District National Park has an estimated 13 million visitors a year, bringing with them a heightened risk of a devastating wildfire, whether caused by accident or a deliberate act.

The graphic below shows the predicted plume of smoke from a Peak District wildlife. Within 24hrs it has reached 87km. In 2018 the Saddleworth Moor and Winter Hill wildfire belched out particulate pollution for seven days and impacted five million people (here).

With the Committee on Climate Change predicting that our summers will become both hotter and drier, we need a better level of discussion at Westminster.

Members of the Moorland Association are already making a huge contribution to carbon capture through peatland restoration. We have completed 60% of the restoration work identified by the government as required on our members’ land. The most recent programme of work conducted by our members is equivalent to removing 61,126 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year.

In addition, our members have blocked up over 7,000km of ill-advised historical agricultural drains, installed in the postwar period to improve farm livestock production.

Simply put, we do not want to see degraded and eroding peatland on the moors, because that has no benefit for any aspect of our work. Bare peat is devoid of insect life and that means less food for upland birds to eat.

Wildfires, unlike controlled burns, generate huge temperatures and set light to the peat itself, releasing vast amounts of stored carbon and destroying habitat for rare birds.

Ms Blake has been invited by the Peak District Moorland Group to visit a moor in order to better understand the importance of their conservation work. We very much hope she will accept.

Andrew Gilruth

Chief Executive





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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