Authorities beneath rising strain to ban burning on England's moors

A year after saying they would ban bog burning, the government is still getting its way.

Today a group of England's leading environmental organizations urges the government to do what is right for people and nature by keeping their repeated pledge to ban the practice of deliberate burning on the country's precious bogs.

Plantlife, CPRE – The Rural Charity, Friends of the Earth, National Trust, RSPB, Wildlife and Countryside Link, the Wildlife Trusts and Soil Association are calling for a burning ban.

The coalition notes that exactly a year ago today, the British government announced plans to introduce a law to ban the burning of bogs.

Rebecca Pow MP, Minister for the Environment, said:

"The government has committed itself to stop rotational burning on raised bogs … The government will set out its further plans to restore and protect peat in the English peat strategy."

European golden plover, copyright Pawel Gebski, from the Surfbirds galleries

However, the organizations say no such ban has been put forward and the government's long-awaited English peat strategy is still not in place.

The latest available data (from Natural England in 2010) suggests that up to 260,000 tonnes of CO2 can be released each year through rotary combustion on bogs. Eliminating this source of CO2 pollution would mean taking more than 175,000 cars off the road.

The coalition also underscores the Prime Minister's commitment to protecting 30% of Britain's natural land by 2030, including 400,000 acres of virgin land in England. He did this and said:

“We have to act now – now. We cannot afford to tremble and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today and at a terrifying rate. "

Dr. Pat Thompson, RSPB's senior policy officer, said: “We are in a climatic and ecological emergency. In a year from now, the world will watch the UK host the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26, November 1-12, 2021), where new commitments to reduce emissions are expected from all national governments. The end of the burn in the highlands of England shows that the UK is a world leader in climate ahead of our COP26 presidency.

And proper protection of our moors must certainly be an integral part of the Prime Minister's stated ambitions to protect nature. Despite the Prime Minister's call for action now, this fall and winter, the burning of peat will continue to damage the moorland in several national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty that government estimates would qualify as "conservation".

Ben McCarthy, director of conservation and restoration ecology at the National Trust, said: “We applaud the Prime Minister's promise to save 30% of the land for nature, but that ambition will be undermined if bog burning is allowed to continue in so many of the country's protected areas. Burning has a tremendous impact on peatlands' ability to support nature, releasing their massive carbon stores into the atmosphere, and diminishing the role they can play in storing water and reducing flood risk. Allowing this type of practice in areas that are intended to be protected for nature is contrary to Britain's drive to take global action against climate change and restoring nature.

"In order for the UK to take credible leadership in hosting the UN climate change talks next year, it must act to protect our moors and meet Defra's stated goal of banning the burning of peat bogs. In the UK's moors, they are total UK annual emissions for 20 years and up to 6% of UK annual emissions are released each year due to burns and lack of restoration. However, the UK does not currently count these emissions in its national greenhouse gas accounts Not taking into account the emissions from burning and poorly managed bogs, this cannot hide the very real impact they have on the atmosphere, making climate stability more difficult to achieve. "

Jenny Hawley, Policy Manager at Plantlife, said: "It's simple. Bogs must stop burning knowing that it is contributing to both climate and biodiversity emergencies. The government assures us that it is becoming a legal one Ban, but a year has passed without meaningful action. Just two weeks ago, Boris Johnson pledged to protect 30% of the land for nature by 2030. Let's start with the exquisite carbon-absorbing carpets made from moss, cottonseed, sundew and wild flowers like moor asphodel, cuckoo flower and marsh violet, which would thrive and support the wildlife on healthy moors. "

Crispin Truman, CEO of CPRE, the rural charity, said: “Bogs are the rainforests of Britain. They sequester over three billion tons of carbon, are one of our best natural allies and one of the rural areas' contributions to dealing with the climate emergency. But the government continues to turn a blind eye to the regular burning of huge swamps. Now is the ideal time for Ministers to say how and when to implement an ambitious peat strategy for England. If we continue to do nothing, it could lead to a fiery heather for next year's COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow that undermines Britain's claims to international leadership. It's time for the government to tackle peat burning. "

Paul de Zylva, Director of Nature for Friends of the Earth, said: “There is no point in letting the nation's unique moors go up in smoke and it is more difficult for ministers to deliver on their commitments to restore nature, reduce flood risk and to take to store carbon to stave off dangerous climate change. Whatever ministers have said of lobbyists, burning bogs have no place in credible conservation practice. It is time to ban burning and properly invest in bog restoration. "

Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “It has been a year since ministers recognized the need for a legal ban on cremation and now is only one year to end this destructive practice before the COP26 climate negotiations . Peatlands are Britain's largest carbon sinks and wonderful habitats for wildlife. As we urge other countries to save the rainforests and protect 30% of land and sea for nature, protecting and restoring our moors is fundamental to the government's credibility. "

Louise Payton, Policy Officer at the Soil Association said: “The problem of peat emissions is severe and in many areas questions remain how we can drastically reduce emissions from peatlands in the lowlands like the Fens, where 37% of English vegetables are grown. A ban on burning peat, on the other hand, is a quick win. It is also extremely evident as it is adding to not only our climate crisis but also our wildlife crisis. It's time to stop delaying. "

Nikki Williams, Director of Campaigning & Policy at Wildlife Trusts, said: “As one of the world's hardest hit countries, actively destroying wildlife does not only contradict vital efforts to halt and reverse the decline of nature. It also runs counter to the “green recovery” from the Covid pandemic, which our society rightly calls for. We must see an end to the peat burning now. "

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