Anti-heather burning legislation brought forward as Yorkshire environment groups celebrate

The government has announced that new legislation to prevent heather burning on much of the region’s moorlands is being brought forward.

Heather burning is to be restricted on much of the county's moorland. Pictured: heather being burnt at Blubberhouses in Nidderdale
Heather burning is to be restricted on much of the county's moorland. Pictured: heather being burnt at Blubberhouses in Nidderdale

The legislation has been welcomed by environmental campaigners who say that heather burning could have played a direct role in flooding seen across Yorkshire because burning it releases carbon into the atmosphere and stops the habitat being able to hold water.

But a body representing owners of moorland said that controlled heather burning is vital to the protection of the region’s moorland and prevents wildfires.

The new regulations will prevent the burning of heather and other vegetation on areas of deep peat (over 40cm depth), but landowners will still be able to burn heather in certain conditions if they are approved for a licence.

Many landowners practise controlled burning on an eight to twelve year rotation, in part to create optimal breeding conditions for the grouse-shooting season.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the new legislation will protect “England’s national rainforests”.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Our peatlands have great potential as a natural store of carbon, as well as protecting habitats, providing a haven for rare wildlife and being a natural provider of water regulation.

“We want to work with land owners to restore the natural hydrology of many of these sites through our new agricultural policy to support our ambitions for the environment. The burning of heather on these sites makes it more difficult to restore their natural hydrology which is why we are taking this step today.”

Tom Chadwick, chairman of the North Yorkshire Moors Association, said: “This is welcome that heather burning has been taken seriously by the Government, but there are some

clearly some loopholes being suggested.

“The main issues clearly with heather burning on moorland is it damages the peat, if peat is in good condition it can prevent flooding.

“And the smoke from burning heather gives off emissions which are harmful.

“There is no need to burn heather as extensively as it is at the moment.”

But there are concerns from land owners about the implications of the legislation.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association which represents landowners, said: “Heather burning is a vital tool for moor owners and managers who are heavily involved in peatland restoration.

“This is an extremely complex issue.

“We’re at one with environmentalists, and it’s unfortunate when it’s pitched one against the other.”

The Association say heather burning helps protect ground-nesting birds who prefer different depths of grassland, and that a blanket ban could mean an increased wildfire risk on moorland.

Luke Steele, spokesperson for Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors which campaigns against grouse-shooting, said: “England’s grouse moors are woefully under regulated so we welcome today’s announcement.”