Nearly 80% of the UK’s peatlands have already been destroyed or degraded! And as peatland degrades, sequestered (stored) carbon is released, further speeding up climate change.
This reckless behaviour also causes erosion, and leads to devastating flash flooding after heavy rainfall due to the speed at which it runs off bare upland peat.
Burning also destroys the natural habitats for rare hen harriers, peregrine falcons, red kites, and short-eared owls, resulting in a monoculture of farm reared grouse.
On 1 May 2021, The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021 act came into force with the intention of protecting our ‘national rainforests’. This would have been a giant leap in the right direction if the ban wasn’t so limited.
For example, the law only prohibits the burning of heather, grass, etc, without a licence, on peat deeper than 40cms in a Site of Special Scientific Interest that is also a Special Area of Conservation and/or Special Protection Area. There are also a range of exemptions for English estates keen to carry on burning on blanket bogs, including areas that are steep or rocky and therefore inaccessible for mowing.
Consequently, this new law amounts to a partial ban on only 40% of the remaining blanket bog in England. And 70% of shallower, already degraded upland peat – which needs to be restored where possible to take full advantage of its capacity to capture carbon – is also at risk of further damage.
In the year when the UK is due to host COP26, when the eyes of the world are upon us, hoping that our government will demonstrate real leadership and committed action to tackle the climate emergency, ACAN simply cannot understand why this new law is so limited. Plus how is anyone supposed to monitor and enforce it when mapping of the depth of peatland is not yet available?
Yet again our government has ignored the recommendations of its Climate Change Committee which has called for a total ban on burning on peatland as part of a wider package of changes to the way land is managed. And this advice is based on the legal requirement to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – which many can already see is too little too late!
Instead our government prevaricates and hinders debate about – let alone the introduction of – urgently needed far-reaching legislation matched by the funding required to effectively tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.
We need to impose a complete ban on burning on all types of peatland, with licences granted only for limited purposes such as habitat restoration.
We need to stop draining peatlands for agriculture, which also releases CO2 into the atmosphere and causes erosion.
We need to stop planting trees on peatlands, which reduces the carbon that can be sequestered.
The goal of a voluntary phasing out of peat extraction by 2020 (set in 2011) has proved an abject failure. We therefore also need government to bring forward the ban on the sale of peat compost (currently planned for 2025), and provide financial support for upland and lowland peatland restoration programmes and improvement of hydrology.
In the last burning season volunteers recorded “more than 700 fires, including 55 on the deepest, most valuable peatlands and 646 on mixed deep and shallow peatland. This is a 27% increase on last season, when 550 fires were reported. Only 61 of this season’s fires would be illegal under the government’s new partial ban.” (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/may/01/its-become-them-and-us-battle-to-burn-englands-moorlands)
The burning season is due to start again in October. We therefore urgently need government, land owners, managers, farmers, scientists, etc, to work together to find better compromises and develop local wildfire control plans that do not contribute to climate change.
If you share our concerns, then please write to your MP about this (in East Hampshire, Damian Hinds MP), and buy only low-peat or peat-free compost and plants grown in peat-free compost.
You could also join Garden Organic’s campaign – they are lobbying Defra. See here: Garden Organic launch For Peat’s Sake campaign | Garden Organic