Still the ‘burning topic’

Gareth Dockerty

Gareth Dockerty

Gareth is BASC’s upland officer. Having joined in 2016, his current role focuses on ensuring decision makers, stakeholders and the public understand the benefits of shooting for upland habitats and rural communities.

The dust has now settled on the latest Westminster debate covering moorland burning. The debate was put forward by Olivia Blake MP (Sheffield, Hallam, Labour) who previously used her maiden speech as an MP to criticise grouse moors and their management, so we were prepared for the tone of the opening remarks.

This discussion was not ground-breaking in its content or opinions and simply reflected the diverse and often polarised views on heather burning and grouse moors in general. You can read the full transcript here.

The positive news is that BASC and the other shooting organisations rallied well and produced a variety of up-to-date briefs for MPs on the current situation, along with the latest scientific evidence base regarding controlled burning. The debate was announced somewhat out of the blue, yet key speakers had access to bespoke information in good time.

A number of excellent points were made by MPs on the benefits of controlled burning including;

  • The reduction in wildfire risk by reducing the fuel load and protecting part of the UK’s largest carbon store.
  • The benefits burning has for a variety of key declining species, including waders like the iconic curlew and other ground nesting birds.
  • The practicalities of using other methods, like mowing, and the pros and cons of these types of management when compared to burning.
  • The need to ensure a grown-up debate about communities and conservation.

We have recently produced a new burning brief which has been sent to all councillors across Northern England ensuring that decision makers digest the full burning evidence base and make informed decisions, so this topic is and will remain on the radar of our work at BASC.

The BASC position on burning is very clear and focuses on improving our peatlands. Burning vegetation in the uplands is an essential tool in wildfire management and mitigation. Burning can increase biodiversity. Its use is site dependent. It is wrong to say that you should always burn or never burn.

Those MPs who spoke against burning will again be invited to visit grouse moors, speak to the gamekeepers and communities and see the diversity of wildlife thriving in these special places. We maintain an open-door approach to dialogue and discussions with all decision makers.

This was my first Westminster debate of this type in my current role and it was encouraging to see how my colleagues in our political team ensure the key information is delivered. It was satisfying to see elements of the briefs used by a variety of MPs and the process working efficiently.

There is a broader grouse debate in the diary for early December, which follows another anti-shooting petition to ban driven grouse shooting. This will be a more comprehensive debate and will cover a broader spectrum of topics. Our briefs are being finalised and again will be tailored to the debate and will focus on the latest research.

Importantly, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, concluded the debate by discussing the awaited government peatland strategy (to which BASC has contributed). She focused on the need to communicate with the shooting

community (especially BASC, following an intervention by Jim Shannon MP) and to be driven by the latest science.

To use a sporting analogy, this debate felt like a sparring session before the main event in a few weeks. However, it did give us an opportunity to make sure we tackle key specific issues and claims, while keeping our argument freshly updated and led by the latest research.