From: Tina Brough, North Yorkshire Moors Moorland Organisation.
AS we view from the North York Moors the catastrophic wildfires that are devastating the poor people, animals and nature of Australia, we can’t help but compare our current situation to theirs. The one refrain which is being repeated by many of those in Australia is that one of the reasons the fires have spread so ferociously is due to a lack of ‘prescribed’, or ‘controlled’, burning.
These planned burns, which have been practised in Australia for thousands of years by the aboriginal people, create fire control lines and burn off dead and excess vegetation on the forest floor, which otherwise allows wildfires to spread. In recent years, however, prescribed burning has been practised less and less due to government restrictions, and this excess fuel load on forest floors has enabled the fires to spread easily.
It is not only in Australia that the clearing of vegetation through burning is becoming a controversial topic. Here in the North Yorkshire Moors, we practice rotational controlled burning of heather, which allows the heather to regenerate and stimulates plant growth and, like in Australia, removes the dead undergrowth which, if wildfires do ever start, provide fuel for the fires. Of course, the British climate is very different from that of Australia, but even here wildfires are a very serious and real threat.
Take Saddleworth Moor where, in 2018, there was a devastating wildfire during the peak breeding period for many animals and ground nesting birds. It also caused the loss of the equivalent of 7cm peat across the whole site and released 30 tonnes of lead into the river system which had been trapped in the peat since the Industrial Revolution.
It might seem strange to burn the moors in order to look after them but, as the native Australians know over there, and we know over here, it works. Not only does burning reduce the fuel load of the moors, but the quick, cool rotational burns that we practice during the winter months have a huge benefit to birdlife.
These are just some of the reasons why we believe that, both here and in Australia, the burning practices that have been going on for hundreds, if not thousands of years, are vital for the preservation of our wildlife and their habitats. So-called ‘green’ campaigners claim that a ban on burning will somehow help our moors. This could not be further from the truth.