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UK landowners told to stop burning moorland after Yorkshire blaze | UK news


Landowners have been told to stop burning moorland for grouse shooting after firefighters condemned them for using up valuable emergency resources at a time when the the UK is fighting the coronavirus crisis.

The Moorland Association, an industry body for landowners, said this week landowners must stop any controlled burning. The instruction came after a managed fire in West Yorkshire got out of control and spread into a mile-long fire front.

West Yorkshire fire brigade urged all landowners to cease controlled burning after the uncontained moorland fire at Deer Hill reservoir in Marsden tied up firefighters for days.

The fire brigade said: “We are currently trying to focus our resources on supporting the national effort to respond to coronavirus and this is unhelpful to us. We will be making every effort to contact landowners over the forthcoming days and to reiterate this message.

“It is not where we want to be focusing our energies at this time.”

Campaigners say their request was ignored by many landowners, and this week the Moorland Association stepped in to call for landowners to cease burning.

The association said: “Following the increased risks of wildfire and Covid-19 restrictions we have supported the suspension of heather burning and have advised our members to use cutting instead.”

Landowners burn moorland to remove old shoots and expose new shoots that are a source of food for grouse, in preparation for the shooting season. They have threatened to take legal action if the government imposes a ban on burning.

Moorland burning is condemned by environmentalists, and the environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to put an end to the burning with a new law. He has said legislation is necessary because a voluntary approach has not worked.

Peat bogs, a threatened moorland habitat, are one of the UK’s biggest carbon stores, yet they are intensively managed by grouse moor estates, who burn the moorland heather to maximise numbers of grouse for shooting.

Green campaigners argue the burning harms the environment and wildlife by releasing climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, worsening flooding and degrading a precious habitat.

The Peak District national park – where several moorland fires have got out of control, has also asked people to cease burning.

Sarah Fowler, the park’s chief executive, said: “At a time when our emergency services are already under enormous strain as a result of Covid-19, it is vital that we do not add to this pressure.

“With these services already stretched, we cannot expect our fire crews to attend incidents that are putting their teams in close proximity to each other, as well as the risk placed on moorland managers not being able to heed the need for social distancing, and taking fire crews to often remote locations. Our focus must rightly be on supporting the coronavirus response for all our local communities.”

Fowler said it was unacceptable the burning was taking place at a time when many wildlife species were at the beginning of their breeding season. The burning season begins on 1 October and lasts until April.

Campaigners said a curb on burning should be made permanent. Luke Steele, a spokesman for Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, said: It speaks volumes that it has taken grouse shoot operators sparking a mile-long fire on Meltham Moor during a national emergency to persuade the Moorland Association to call off the burning season.

“Burning moorland on sensitive peatland degrades ecosystems releases climate-altering gases into the atmosphere and worsens flooding and wildfire risk.”

Steele said there had been more than 550 burning incidents recorded on Yorkshire’s moors since October, including fires that had started after the request to cease from the West Yorkshire fire brigade. He said it was time the government ensured the burning season ended for good.

The Moorland Association said they decided to ask for burning to be suspended after being contacted by a large number of landowners who had already ceased controlled burning.

Amanda Anderson, director of the MA said: “Controlled burning is an important tool in managing our moorlands when used in the right place at the right time. This is not the right time.”

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