Moorland Burning

Part of Asylum Seekers and Permission to Work – in Westminster Hall at 4:47 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:47 pm, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend Olivia Blake on securing this important debate. Before moving on with my remarks, I will be the first to take up the offer of Mr Goodwill to come and visit his moorland to compare and contrast the differences required in managing that with what is perhaps required in my part of the world, and he has already touched on some of those elements.

Nearly a quarter of England’s blanket bog habitat is located in Yorkshire—I am pleased to see the region well represented in the debate—with about 50% of the country’s peatlands in the Pennines. Its wellbeing is, therefore, crucial for us in Calderdale on a number of fronts. If we manage our moorland and peat bogs responsibly, as we have already heard, they lock in water, which protects us from flooding, and carbon, which helps us to mitigate the extreme weather that presents such a challenge to us in a steep-sided valley. Kept wet, they will also protect us from the damaging wildfires that we have already discussed.

We have suffered devastating floods twice in the last five years—first, in December 2015 and again in February this year. In addition, there have been several significant wildfires in the same period, so the integrity of the moorland in the upper catchment is essential if we are to manage the different risks.

We have had an ongoing challenge with burning, largely undertaken by those involved in the grouse shooting industry to engineer grouse breeding habitats. I am pleased that in July, Calderdale Council supported a ban on burning in an attempt to restore the peatlands, alleviate the pressures on our fire service, enhance biodiversity and contribute to the package of measures that we need to have in place to mitigate flood risk.

It is frustrating, however, that although the potential for carbon storage is enormous, the Committee on Climate Change has estimated that 350,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted each year from upland peat in England, the majority of which is due to burning on grouse moors. I welcome its recommendation that legislation to address that should be forthcoming before the end of the year.

Last year, I visited one such moorland restoration project above Dove Stone reservoir with the RSPB, which is restoring and cultivating nature’s great super sponge, sphagnum moss, and aiding natural flood management alongside the work on leaky dams and gullies. Like the RSPB, I am really keen to know when we might see the publication of the England peat strategy, as part of the delivery of the 25-year environment plan.

The Minister will be aware that where water run-off is increased and hastened due to burning, it washes peat into our reservoirs, which has to be cleaned out of the water supply. On a related point, I will take the opportunity to remind to the Minister that I have tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill—it is up for debate in Committee next week, if I am not mistaken—that would require the Secretary of State to make regulations to grant the Environment Agency additional powers to require water companies and other connected agencies to manage reservoirs to mitigate flood risk. I will write to the Minister on that point ahead of the Committee discussion next week.

I finish with a final plea to the Minister. Moorland restoration was one of several issues that we were hoping to discuss at the promised Yorkshire floods summit. Inevitably, given coronavirus, the summit was delayed. The Minister did seem genuinely taken aback to hear that West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire were surprised that it was a South Yorkshire-only summit that took place recently. I have the letter from the Secretary of State sent to me on 1 April this year, deferring a number of issues that I had raised until what was called the “Yorkshire roundtable” could be arranged. I very much hope that we can convene that further discussion without delay.