Many years ago, I joined the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I did so because I understood it was a charity whose purpose was to protect birds. It is not the royal society for the politicisation of birds, but is quite clear that the RSPB has long had a campaign, motivated primarily, I suspect, by its hatred of grouse shooting. I do not shoot myself, but I live in the countryside and I see how shooting shapes the countryside and preserves it. In particular, I salute the work of gamekeepers. The fact is that the evidence does not support this campaign of the RSPB.
The recent call from the RSPB to stop burning peat—a rather emotive phrase in itself—seems to deliberately confuse controlled and uncontrolled burning. As my right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill has made clear, the press release makes six references to burning peatland and blanket bog, all in connection with management practices and consents that are actually for the controlled burning of heather, the surface vegetation, and not peat, which is the underlying soil. Controlled burning of surface vegetation is permitted only in the winter, when it is cold and wet. It is deliberately limited to small areas—the heather and grass burning code suggests a maximum of 30 metres by 600 metres, with cut margins as firebreaks surrounding them and a firefighting team of gamekeepers in attendance with fire fogging units and leaf blowers to extinguish flames quickly.
I was inspired to come along to this debate by the excellent article by Lord Botham. I always knew he was a great cricketer and I once saw him do his wonderful century, but I did not know that he was such a fine campaigner for rural issues and rural people. It is about time that people such as Ian Botham were allowed to speak up for those of us who live in the countryside.
Grouse moors are not the emissions problem. Farming and forestry produce far higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions per hectare than grouse moors. There is a risk to wildlife of not burning, as Lord Botham said in his article last week:
“For years the RSPB has been attacking the ancient practice of burning heather during damp winters. Britain’s gamekeepers use such controlled activity to reduce the risk of summer wildfires—just like indigenous people in Australia and North America.”