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Growing support to save the Peak District's upland peatlands

Last modified: 22 October 2014

Round-leaved sundew, Drosera rotundifolia

Burning on deep peatlands can permanently damage fragile habitats.

Image: Andy Hay

A range of organisations including local councils and wildlife groups are backing an RSPB campaign to bring about the end of burning on deep peat, a harmful practice that is destroying parts of the Peak District. 

Formed over millennia, the upland peatlands of the Peak District provide many benefits for society such as storing and purifying water, locking away carbon and giving a home to a variety of plants and wildlife.

Sadly, most of the Peak District’s upland peatlands have been damaged by historic industrial atmospheric pollution and a range of management activities including grazing, drainage and burning. As atmospheric pollution has been reduced, conditions are now suitable for bog forming plants, such as sphagnum mosses to grow. However widespread burning is preventing the recovery of these bogs.

Burning is widely used by game managers to help create the best conditions for red grouse.  Carefully managed burning on shallow peat is not normally cause for concern but when it takes place on deep peatlands, it can permanently damage these fragile habitats.

An evidence review by Natural England (the agency responsible for the protection of the countryside) concluded burning on deep peatlands has a negative effect on carbon storage, water quality, and on some plants and wildlife.

Earlier this month, Leeds University published the results of a five-year study, providing further compelling evidence that burning has wide ranging harmful effects on deep peat.

An analysis of burning intensity for grouse moor management has identified the Peak District  as one of the most intensely burnt areas in the UK so the RSPB decided it was the most fitting place to launch its For Peat’s Sake, Stop the Burn campaign. As a result, more than ten organisations including Sheffield City Council and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have joined its call for Natural England to put an end to the burning on deep peat.

Roy Taylor, the RSPB’s Area Manager for the Peak District, said: “We are delighted that so many organisations are already supporting our campaign and we are confident this is just the beginning. It is becoming increasingly clear that burning on deep peat is an extremely harmful practice, which is causing a lot of harm to society affecting the quality of our drinking water and releasing carbon, which is contributing to climate change.”

Tim Birch, Conservation Manager for Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Derbyshire Wildlife Trust are fully behind this campaign to bring to an end the damaging practise of burning on deep peat, which is widely practiced across the Peak District.

“The recent findings from Leeds University highlight the negative impacts that this activity has on our fragile upland environment. We want to see this brought to an end as quickly as possible and urge the Government to act before further damage is done.” 

For more information about the findings of Leeds University’s EMBER  (Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River basins) project, visit:  www.wateratleeds.org/ember/

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