Labour MP accuses Tories of giving into the hunting lobby over moorland burning

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the rule of six didn’t apply for grouse-shooting."

The Government is delaying a ban on harmful moorland burning because of their support for the grouse shooting industry, a Labour MP has suggested in an interview with Left Foot Forward.

Landowners are allowed to burn moorland on grouse shooting estates in the UK, despite a Government pledge to phase out the practice over a year ago.

Moorland burning is designed to encourage the growth of new heather shoots, to create a more attractive habitat for grouse.

But climate campaigners say it damages the peat underneath, releasing previously locked-in greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

A ‘burning season’ is currently underway in much of England’s moors, with over 600 fires understood to have been lit this year.

While major landowners such as the National Trust has banned moorland burning, the practice still continues on many estates – including large tracts of public land.

Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake will urge the Government to commit to an urgent ban, in a Westminster Hall debate on the issue today.

The Labour MP told Left Foot Forward: “They’ve had a year – and now we’re back in burning season. I’ve lived in Yorkshire my whole life – I know how important our moorlands are. It’s of great concern to a lot of my constituents,” Ms Blake added. “We should be helping to heal that landscape. We don’t want monoculture on our moorlands.”

She accused the government of capitulating to the ‘interests of the landowners’. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the rule of six didn’t apply for grouse-shooting,” she said.

Some landowners make considerable revenues through opening up their land for grouse shooting.

Earlier this week, environment minister Zac Goldsmith, told Sky that the committed remained committed to a ban. But there is no timeline for doing so – leading to allegations that the plans have been shelved.

But the Tories’ mooted ban on moorland burning was missing from the PM’s 10 point climate plan announced this Wednesday.

“This ecosystem is of huge benefit to the UK. [Moorlands] are very slow growing and repairing. Multiple fires pause the repair, and the damage is long-lasting,” Olivia Blake told this site. She said she was ‘disappointed’ it wasn’t in the PM’s plan.

“It’s hugely polluting when it does burn – you can see it and smell it when you’re up on the moorlands. This needs urgent action – if we wait until the end of this Parliament, there’s a risk that this is never done. Ministers need to set out a timetable to show when they’re going to move to this,” Ms Blake said.

Peatlands have been described as the UK’s equivalent of a rainforest, in terms of their benefit to carbon storage. “It makes no sense to be burning these ancient landscapes regularly for sport, when just restoring a living layer can add 60 tonnes of carbon per hectare to these iconic landscapes,” the Countryside Charity has stated.

Research by the University of Leeds has found that burning grouse moors degrades peatland habitat, releases climate-altering gases, reduces biodiversity and increases flood risk, the Guardian recently reported. The burning of peatland is believed to be the most environmentally damaging of this activity. Peatland occupies around 12% of the land area in the UK and is seen as a ‘natural carbon sponge’.

In September, a Friends of the Earth spokesman accused the environment secretary, George Eustice, of blocking the plans. “George Eustice must ban moorland burning now, before the burning season starts again on 1 October, and stop another cycle of destruction,” FoE’s Guy Shrubsole said.

Olivia Blake MP says she will try and build a cross-party alliance to push the government to act, and is exploring launching a backbench Bill on the issue.

A No 10 spokesperson said they did not have an answer as to why a ban on moorland burning was not included in the PM’s green ’10 point plan’ announced today.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

Pic: Stronghow Moor. Via Geograph

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